Interview with Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSlateMcSweeney’sMother Jones, the Boston ReviewTor.comTin HouseConjunctionsWired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

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

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

Sure! I’m a trans woman in San Francisco who writes science fiction and fantasy. I also organize local events, including a ton of spoken word events, but also the monthly Trans Nerd Meet Up here in SF. I love karaoke and queer performance art, and I have been known to do some pretty outrageous performances myself. I won a Lambda Literary Award for transgender/genderqueer writing, and helped to organize a national tour of trans authors called the Cross Gender Caravan. Lately, I’ve helped to create a trans superhero for Marvel Comics named Escapade, who’s appearing in a miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion that I’m writing — it debuted in March 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest books, the Unstoppable series?

The Unstoppable trilogy is an epic story about figuring out who you are and how far you’re willing to go to save the people you love. Tina Mains looks like a normal human girl, but she’s secretly a clone of an alien hero who died — they hid the clone on Earth, disguised as a human baby. And now it’s time to return to the stars and reclaim her heroic legacy. Tina is expecting to leave home and step back into her former self’s life, but it turns out things aren’t that simple, and being a hero is kind of a messy business. Luckily, Tina’s not figuring it out alone: a group of other Earth kids join her in space, and they help her realize that instead of trying to be the second coming of the heroic Captain Argentian, she should try being herself. And then in the sequel, things get a lot messier, and there’s a fascist takeover and we learn the truth about an ancient threat to all life in the galaxy, and Tina pays a heavy price to save her friends.

What was the inspiration for this series?

When I was a kid, all I wanted was for aliens to drop out of the sky and tell me that I didn’t belong here on Earth — that I was secretly an alien, and I belonged with them. As a visibly queer kid with a really severe learning disability, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere here, and I just wanted someone to take me away from this honestly disappointing planet. So when I started thinking about writing a young adult novel, I wanted to write a book for my younger self — about what would happen if aliens showed up and took you away on a huge, awesome adventure in space.

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

I’ve always loved making up weird stories, and that was a huge part of how I dealt with the aforementioned learning disability. I’ve written fiction in lots of different genres, but I keep coming back to speculative fiction because it’s the best way to deal with how strange and confusing the real world is. People are constantly pretending that stuff makes sense, when it really doesn’t. At all. Especially nowadays, the world is changing too fast to keep up with, and tons of people loudly pretend that their imaginary rules are super important and real. And I’ve found that goes double for young adult fiction: when you’re a teenager, you’re surrounded by adults who are pretending that nonsense makes sense, and sometimes it seems like everyone else is playing along. I love stories that gently (or not-so-gently) point out how fake and bizarre all the stuff we pretend to believe in is.

How would you describe your writing process?

It really varies, but I try to do some writing every day, when I can. I know some writers who only write on weekends, or on some other schedule, but I find that if I can keep the story fresh in my head, it flows easier every time. I like to try and get some writing done in the mornings with my coffee, and then take a super long walk to the ocean or to Chinatown, to clear my head and just kind of work things out in my head. Long walks are a big part of my writing process, and so is hanging out with my cat.

As a writer who has written on the importance of fiction as a form of healing and accessing agency, particularly your book, Never Say You Can’t Survive, I’m wondering if there’s anything you could say now on what creative expression and art means to you personally?

Making up stories helped me survive some rough times in my childhood, and it’s still doing that now. Writing stories helped me figure out my gender when I was transitioning. I love getting lost in my own imaginary world, where I can identify with my characters as they struggle to survive and do the right thing, and I especially enjoy when my characters are having a deep emotional conversation that speaks to something in my own life. Writing is my happy place.

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

As a kid, I loved big escapist stories with larger than life adventures, and I definitely wanted to be Wonder Woman when I grew up — I also loved Doctor Who for the way that the Doctor used creativity and silliness and kindness to solve problems instead of just shooting everything in sight. I also loved Monty Python and Victor/Victoria, which fed my love of anarchy and seemed to hint that gender was something you could reshape to tell your own story. The books that spoke to me were weird, surreal things like Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time and the works of Daniel Pinkwater. In my early teens I discovered Prince, and his music and his image changed my life.

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

Oh, so many. There are so many incredible authors writing right now — N.K. Jemisin’s work has changed the way I think about stories, over and over again. A whole bunch of amazing trans/non-binary authors have come along recently in speculative fiction, and their giving me life and encouraging me to take bigger swings creatively. Among others, Isaac Fellman, Ryka Aoki, Naseem Jamnia, Nino Cipri, R.B. Lemberg, Elly Bangs, April Daniels, H.E. Edgmon, Aiden Thomas and Rivers Solomon… I’m just scratching the surface. It’s a wonderful time to be a trans SFF fan.

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

Man, I have good days and bad days, like most people. I love it when the characters are speaking through me and doing stuff that surprise me — that’s the best thing ever. And then there are the times when I know I need a scene where something happens, but I can’t come  up with it to save my life. Revision is also often a nightmare, because you have to make the best of all the choices that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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

I used to belong to a skipping team. My cat’s name is Marcus Aurelius Sassafras Vespasian IV, but sometimes he goes by Dr. Sassafras or just Dr. Sassy. I used to have a giant collection of Doctor Who memorabilia, but I sold it all and gave the money to charity.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You have to be simultaneously humble and arrogant — you have to believe that your work is amazing and important and will change people’s lives, so you’ll keep going and doing the boldest and most audacious work you possibly can. But you also have to remember that there are a million other writers out there who are also doing awesome work, and that you’re part of a whole community of creative people who need to support each other. You have to be okay with tons of rejection — I racked up hundreds and hundreds of rejections when I was starting out! — and not take it personally. Also, you should totally make writing a communal activity as much as you can: join a writing group, organize writing dates with friends, share your work online, take part in open mics and other readings. Just find ways to make it a social thing.

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

I already mentioned this at the start, but I’m writing a miniseries for Marvel called New Mutants: Lethal Legion. It includes Escapade, the trans mutant superhero I created with artists Ted Brandt and Ro Stein, who has the power to trade places with anyone. The plot has to do with Escapade organizing a heist with some of her mutant friends, which (not surprisingly) goes pear-shaped. And the New Mutants are forced to face off with some of the worst villains in the Marvel Universe. It’s a super silly, heartfelt, goofy comedy miniseries about trauma and what we do to take care of the people we love.

Charlie Jane Anders is a guest this year at Flame Con on August 12th and 13th at the Times Square Sheraton.

Interview with Victoria Ying

Victoria Ying is a critically acclaimed author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese Curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again and hanging out with her husband and cat, Bandito. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She is the author and illustrator of her own series “City of Secrets and City of Illusion” through Penguin/Viking and the illustrator of the DC series “Diana Princess of the Amazons.” Her upcoming graphic novel projects her YA debut, “Hungry Ghost” and the Marvel/Scholastic “Shang-Chi and the Secret of Immortality.”

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

CW: Discussion of eating disorders

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

Hey there! I’m an author and illustrator of the new graphic novel, Hungry Ghost! I started my career in animation working at Disney on films such as Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero Six and Moana. I wanted to tell my own stories so I left to pursue my dream of writing. Hungry Ghost is my YA debut based on my own experiences but fictionalized.

What can you tell us about your upcoming graphic novel, Hungry Ghost? What inspired you to write this story?

I struggled with an eating disorder for nearly a decade and the thing that surprised me about media surrounding ED was just how much of it didn’t reflect my experience. As a child of immigrants surrounded by western culture, I saw the stories of worried families and emaciated young white girls and didn’t see myself in those stories. I wanted to share what the experience is like beyond the gory details of protruding bones and write a story about what it FEELS like to actually live with an ED.

Doing some research, I noticed that the term “hungry ghost is a common concept in Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion. Was that intentionally chosen in mind when choosing the title and/or developing the story itself?

It is definitely a concept in folklore, but in my family, it was used with derision if you ever ate quickly. “You’re like a hungry ghost!”

I wanted to use the phrase because it felt appropriate for Val’s struggles. She’s hungry, not just for food, but for love as well.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, specifically comics? What drew you to the medium?

I had always loved comics. Comics drew me to an artistic career in the first place when I was in middle school, but once I got to college, someone told me about the tough working conditions in comics and I pivoted. I came back to the medium after working for a few years and was able to advocate for myself in the labor market. I got to work with amazing editors at First Second for this project and I couldn’t be happier with my comics experience.

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in? Is there anything like that now?

As a second generation child of immigrants, It’s difficult to see yourself in any media. As a kid, I saw token representation for Asians sometimes and when I would express my alienation, people would tell me to watch Chinese media. But I wasn’t Chinese either. I couldn’t speak fluently and it just made me feel even more alien. I’m glad that we live in a media environment where we’re talking about immigrants and kids of immigrants. We’re in the golden age of diaspora stories! Films such as the Oscar winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once” prove that our stories can be relatable and unique.

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

My inspirations are changing all the time, but I love people who follow their creative spirit. I love watching directors like Taika Waititi tell wildly different stories and yet still hold onto their special voice. Whenever I can tell that an artist is being true to their creative vision, I am most drawn to them.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process?

It’s like the process for making a drawing, but expanded out into a longer process. You start out with the script, get that working, and then move onto thumbnail drawings, where you draw the whole book in tiny scribbly little doodles. Once that’s working, you take those scribbles and tighten them up to something that people can actually look at. Once it’s presentable, you can add color. I worked with a fantastic colorist Lynette Wang for this book and others. Last but not least, you add in the final text.

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

I love the first draft of something and the inking phase. I love telling myself a story and seeing the whole thing come together. It’s fun and feels organic and natural. I also really enjoy the inking phase because I can actually let go of my storytelling brain and just get lost in making the artwork look the way I want it to. I find artistic flow most easily here.

Spoiler, regarding the main character’s mother, I really appreciated how you depicted a familial relationship that was filled with both love, but also misunderstanding and some toxicity. Would you mind speaking about that here?

I felt like a lot of parental relationships in media never rang true for me. Our parents are human. They have their own flaws, their own traumas, and to treat them as cardboard cutouts of “good parents” never really works. I was really inspired by “The OC” in high school because the parents were complicated, they had their own lives and that effected how they related to their kids. I wanted to write a mother like that. I wanted to show how ED is often passed down and how sometimes, we don’t get a fairy tale ending with the mythical apology, but we still have to move on and build a life for ourselves.

What are some things you would want readers to take away from Hungry Ghost?

It’s okay if the people you hoped to rely on can’t be there for you. You can be there for yourself and even though that’s not ideal, you can build your own support system and heal yourself.

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

Write short stories and write a lot of them. I had to learn how to tell stories with structure and catharsis and if I had only done full length stories, it would have taken me a long time to fix the mistakes. If you write short you can see the whole thing laid out in front of you and learn to be a better storyteller faster.

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

I’m an elder millennial and it took me this long to have something worth saying. My path to publishing is long and winding, but I don’t regret a single moment of it because it all led me to the place that I am now.

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

“How do you manage your time to avoid burnout?”

One of my biggest things I advocate for with young comics artists is never to schedule yourself to the max. Yes, you CAN work 7 days a week, but that can’t last and you’ll be an absolute husk of a person in a matter of months. Whenever you are figuring out how long a project will take, protect your weekends and evenings. 8 hours a day MAXIMUM. Also, remember to build in two weeks of sick time! You’re your own HR department, so be that for yourself!

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

I have a book coming out with Scholastic for Marvel’s Shang-Chi on October the 6th! I was allowed to write a fun, twisty little story for this character and I can’t wait to share it.

I’m also working on a second YA contemporary about growing up on the internet and navigating inappropriate relationships.

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

Ooh! I just finished Ryan LaSala’s “The Honeys!” It was a fun, queer, horror romp that I can’t stop thinking about!

Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through My Geeky Glasses – Fantasy and Supernatural

Sapphic Adventurers Unite!

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR): Read these books for some Sapphic Fantasy (Supernatural) Realness!

Gideon the Ninth- Tamsyn Muir;

Hench – Natalie Z. Walschots;

Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo;

Valiant Ladies – Melissa Grey;

Warrior of the Wild – Tricia Levenseller;

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland.

Let us know what you think!

Welcome to a world of magic, wonder, and representation where Sapphic adventurers take center stage. If I’ve learned anything from Drag Race …

As an avid reader and fantasy enthusiast, I can’t help but don my geeky glasses and immerse myself in fantastical realms where diversity and inclusivity reign supreme. Of course I still love dimension hopping, but Fantasy is what got me started in my reading journey as a young person in Indiana. Join me as we embark on a journey through six remarkable fantasy and supernatural novels that explore compelling LGBTQIA+ issues and storylines. From necromancers to superheroes, these tales showcase the power of diverse narratives .

6. Gideon the Ninth (by Tamsyn Muir):

Content Warnings: Gideon the Ninth is about Necromancers. There’s a lot of bones and gore and violence and such. Its a darkly funny story in a dark universe. Please proceed with caution.

The Best way to Sum it all up ….

Gideon Nav, a snarky and sword-wielding orphan, is bound to her lifelong frenemy, Harrowhark Nonagesimus (her very few friends call her Harrow), to serve the Ninth House in a deadly cosmic competition. This epic tale combines dark fantasy and science fiction elements, enthralling readers with its unique blend of magic and technology. As we traverse the dangerous halls of the Emperor’s crumbling palace, we encounter a tantalizing romance between Gideon and another powerful necromancer that is not what it seems. Tamsyn Muir’s masterful storytelling highlights the struggles of queer characters while delivering a thrilling mystery and adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Gideon’s unyielding spirit and witty banter make her an instantly likable and relatable character for LGBTQ+ readers who have often sought more assertive representation in the genre. Her struggles with self-acceptance and the journey towards embracing her identity resonate deeply, mirroring the experiences of many individuals within the queer community.

The novel’s strength lies not only in its LGBTQ+ themes but also in its nuanced exploration of power dynamics, loyalty, and the complexities of human relationships. As Gideon and Harrow navigate a treacherous game of politics and dark magic, their compelling dynamic unveils layers of emotion and vulnerability beneath their seemingly adversarial exteriors.

Tamsyn Muir’s world-building is nothing short of mesmerizing. She crafts a vivid, macabre setting that immerses readers in a chillingly gothic universe filled with ancient mysteries and ominous secrets. This eerie ambiance serves as an ideal backdrop for a story that delves deep into the hearts and minds of its characters, showcasing their triumphs and traumas.

I picked this up on the recommendation of my local Providence Bookstore, and I couldn’t be happier. Tamsyn Muir’s skillful storytelling, multi-dimensional characters, and darkly enchanting world-building combine to create a singular reading experience.

5. Hench (by Natalie Zina Walschots):

Content Warnings: Some violence, blood, gore, imprisonment, and torture.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Harper Collins Publishing Group, LLC.

Ever wondered about the lives of henches working for supervillains? (And no, I’m not talking about Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Dara Khosrowshahi.) Hench takes us on a journey with Anna, a data analyst working for various nefarious villains. Amidst the chaos of superhuman battles, we witness a budding romance between Anna and a fellow hench. Natalie Zina Walschots’ engaging narrative sheds light on the vulnerability and strength of LGBT characters in a world where villains and heroes blur the lines of morality.

At the heart of “Hench” is Anna Tromedlov, a talented data analyst who finds herself entangled in the machinations of superheroes and villains. As she navigates the dangerous world of powered individuals, Anna’s compelling character arcs offer a profound exploration of identity, ambition, and the pursuit of personal agency. Her journey to embrace her queer identity resonates with authenticity. It highlights the struggles and triumphs faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As Anna becomes entangled with the enigmatic and charismatic villain, Leviathan, the novel explores a complex queer relationship that defies the binary notions of good and evil. The exploration of queer romance in “Hench” transcends token representation and delves into the depths of emotional connection, showing the profound impact of authentic love regardless of societal norms.

In a genre often dominated by cisgender and heterosexual protagonists, “Hench” boldly carves out a space for queer representation and narrative complexity. The novel’s unflinching exploration of identity and agency mirrors the struggles of many in the LGBTQ+ community, highlighting the need for greater inclusivity and visibility in all forms of storytelling.

4. Empress of Salt and Fortune (by Nghi Vo):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

In this evocative novella, Nghi Vo explores the life of a non-binary cleric, Chih, who unravels the secrets of an exiled empress through the eyes of an elderly servant, Rabbit. Set against a rich tapestry of East Asian-inspired mythology, the story delves into power, betrayal, and resilience themes. As Chih and Rabbit’s paths intertwine, the novella offers a tender depiction of queer love, acceptance, and the endurance of the human spirit.

At the story’s core is a timeless tale of resilience and defiance, centered around the exiled empress, In-yo, and her loyal handmaiden, Rabbit. As their untold story unfolds through the narration of the nonbinary cleric Chih, readers are drawn into a mesmerizing journey that challenges traditional gender roles and explores the profound bond between women.

Nghi Vo’s exquisite prose creates a vivid tapestry that paints a nuanced picture of power dynamics, patriarchy, and the hidden strength of women who have often been relegated to the sidelines of history. “Empress of Salt and Fortune” celebrates the agency and wisdom of female characters while shedding light on the overlooked aspects of their contributions to shaping kingdoms and empires.

The novel explores the consequences of silenced voices and histories and profoundly resonates with contemporary social justice issues. By portraying the multifaceted impact of colonization and erasure, “Empress of Salt and Fortune” becomes an allegory for reclaiming marginalized narratives and identities.

As Chih unearths the hidden truths of the past, the novel reveals a narrative that celebrates the resilience of women, the beauty of queer connections, and the power of reclaiming history.

3. Valiant Ladies (by Melissa Grey):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

Set in the spirited landscape of 17th-century Peru, “Valiant Ladies” is a historical fantasy novel that centers on the gripping tale of Kiki and Ana, two women from starkly different backgrounds. Kiki hails from nobility, while Ana has been raised in a brothel. Despite societal differences, they form an unyielding bond and begin a thrilling secret life of night-time adventures, gambling, and rescuing the oppressed. When tragedy strikes close to home, they find themselves in the heart of a murder mystery, their growing love for each other intertwining with their pursuit of justice. Based loosely on real historical figures, the story is a riveting blend of reality and fiction, serving as a fresh take on the fantasy genre.

“Valiant Ladies” is an engaging blend of historical fantasy and sapphic romance, offering a refreshing narrative in Young Adult and New Adult literature. It beautifully captures the budding romance between the two main characters, presenting a realistic, intimate exploration of a lesbian relationship that is still sadly underrepresented in fantasy.
The novel successfully fuses fantasy tropes with a distinct LGBTQ+ narrative. Kiki and Ana’s story challenges the familiar heteronormative narratives found in many fantasy novels, bringing to the forefront a tender sapphic romance that resonates deeply with the LGBTQ+ community. It is not simply a token romance but an integral part of the plot as they navigate their growing feelings amidst societal expectations and high-stakes adventures.

The book’s historical context provides a unique backdrop for exploring issues of acceptance and identity. Ana’s acceptance by Kiki’s noble family and their non-judgmental approach towards her past provide a poignant commentary on acceptance and breaking societal norms, a theme many in the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

Moreover, “Valiant Ladies” doesn’t shy away from weaving feminist themes into its narrative. The heroines challenge the gender norms of their time – they are vigilantes, gamblers, and fighters, subverting expectations in a predominantly patriarchal society. This aligns with the broader themes of resistance and agency explored in LGBTQ+ narratives.

“Valiant Ladies” is a fun, engaging historical fantasy that offers a heartwarming sapphic romance, an exciting adventure, and a thoughtful exploration of LGBTQ+ themes. While it doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it adds a much-needed voice to the diversity of narratives within fantasy literature. It’s a must-read for any Queer geek seeking representation and relatability in their fantasy adventures.

2. Warrior of the Wild (by Tricia Levenseller):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

In “Warrior of the Wild” by Tricia Levenseller, embark on a captivating journey into a Viking-inspired world where honor, love, and identity intertwine. As the story unfolds, Rasmira, a fiercely skilled warrior, faces the heartbreak of betrayal and is cast out to the perilous wilderness. To redeem herself, she must accomplish the impossible – slay an oppressive god. In this action-packed tale of self-discovery and resilience, Rasmira’s unwavering spirit challenges societal norms. An unexpected romance blooms, transcending boundaries and making an empowering statement for LGBT representation in fantasy.

Rasmira’s journey as a robust and skilled warrior mirrors the struggles of many in the Queer community who face discrimination and prejudice based on societal expectations. Her resilience and determination in the face of adversity are an empowering parallel to the real-world challenges of self-acceptance and embracing one’s true identity.
The novel artfully incorporates LGBTQIA+ themes, offering readers a heartwarming and authentic portrayal of same-sex love through the character of Iric. As Rasmira’s banished companions, Iric and his partner defy society’s expectations, and their relationship becomes a beacon of hope for those seeking representation in fantasy literature.

Beyond its focus on LGBT representation, “Warrior of the Wild” delves into broader social justice issues. Through Rasmira’s journey to defeat an oppressive god, the story symbolizes the fight against systemic injustice and the struggle to dismantle oppressive power structures. The battles she faces in the wilderness are potent metaphors for overcoming societal prejudices and finding one’s place in a world that often seeks to marginalize and silence diverse voices.

Tricia Levenseller’s masterful storytelling unfolds with a perfect blend of action, romance, and rich world-building. While the novel adheres to classic fantasy tropes, it gracefully subverts them to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. The characters are beautifully developed, and the solid sisterly bond between Rasmira and her sister adds depth to the narrative, emphasizing the importance of family support in the journey toward self-acceptance.

1. Dread Nation (by Justina Ireland):

Content Warnings: Racism, racial violence, gore.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Titan Books

I know what some of you are thinking. I just did a review of Survival Horror Books. How did I end up with a Zombie Book on the Fantasy List? That is a valid question, but holy cow look behind you!

What if the Civil War was interrupted by a zombie apocalypse? Dread Nation presents a gripping alternate history where African American and Native American children are forced to train as zombie-fighting warriors. Among them, the bold and capable Jane McKeene stands out, fearlessly challenging the norms of her society. She forms a complex bond with another girl along her path, showcasing a powerful portrayal of queer love amidst the undead chaos.

“Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland is a riveting and groundbreaking novel that deftly weaves together alternate history, zombie horror, and social commentary while championing intersectional representation with a fierce and complex protagonist. This genre-blending tale transports readers to an America where the Civil War takes an unexpected turn when the dead rise, forcing a new narrative of survival and resistance.

At the story’s heart is Jane McKeene, a fierce and intelligent Black protagonist who navigates a world where racial oppression intersects with the threat of the undead. As a student in Miss Preston’s School of Combat, Jane is trained as an Attendant, meant to protect the wealthy white citizens from the relentless zombie hordes. Her narrative embodies the struggle of Black people throughout history, navigating a society that seeks to control and limit their potential.

Justina Ireland’s writing is engaging and thought-provoking, immersing readers in a vividly depicted world that mirrors the complexities of our own history. Through Jane’s journey, the novel delves into themes of identity, survival, and rebellion against oppressive systems, resonating deeply with readers who face similar challenges in the real world.

As we conclude our journey through these enchanting worlds, we celebrate the wonders of fantasy and supernatural fiction and the importance of queer representation. So, whether you’re a seasoned fantasy enthusiast or a newcomer to the genre, these books promise to leave you enchanted and inspired, opening your heart and mind to the power of Sapphic adventurers and their quest for love, acceptance, and triumph. As always, if you think I missed any great reads, let me know. Happy reading!

Interview with Lin Thompson

Lin Thompson (they/them) is a queer author of books for middle-grade readers. Lin grew up playing pretend games in the backyard and basement of their home in Kentucky. Now they get to write pretend stories in the backyard and basement of their home in Des Moines, IA, where they live with their wife and cat.

I had the opportunity to interview Lin once again, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been and could you tell us a little about yourself to readers who haven’t met you yet?

Thanks for having me, I’m very excited to be back! I’m a trans author of two books for middle-grade readers: The Best Liars in Riverview (out last year) and The House That Whispers (which just came out in February!). I grew up in Kentucky and love to write stories about queer kids growing up and figuring themselves out.

What can you tell us about your latest book, The House That Whispers? What was the inspiration for this story?

The House That Whispers is about an eleven-year-old trans kid named Simon and his two sisters as spend a week in their grandmother’s house—but when Simon starts sensing a ghostly presence there, his hunt for the ghost turns up more feelings and family secrets than he’d anticipated. I knew fairly early on that I wanted to write about a trans kid who starts the story knowing who he is, even if no one else in his life does yet. And I had a pretty good sense of Simon’s character and of the emotional arc I wanted for him. But if I’m honest, what inspired me to make this book a ghost story was watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. I love how the show uses horror elements to explore the characters’ emotional journeys, and I started thinking about how I could use some of the classic ingredients of a haunted house story to draw out this internal journey I was imagining for Simon and bring it out into his world.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically middle grade fiction?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for longer than I can remember—storytelling is just something I’ve always loved. Even when I wasn’t reading or writing as a kid, I was always playing pretend games or making up stories with dolls or stuffed animals. I love writing for middle-grade specifically because it’s such a formative time in developing your worldview and starting to understand more of the world outside yourself. I probably read more at that age than I have at any other point in my life, and so many of the books I read back then have stuck with me, in big ways and small.

How would you describe your writing process?

Somehow both very organized and very chaotic at the same time. I almost never write or revise in order—I’m always jumping around depending on which scene is caught in my head that day or which scene has gotten me stuck. I love being able to just follow where my interest takes me. But it also means I have to have a very solid sense of the plot and structure before I can get very far into working on a story. I love making outlines and beat sheets and lists of scenes—even when those lists inevitably change about a hundred times through the process.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this??

I definitely understand that challenge—even though I’ve been writing for my whole life, my debut was only the second book I’d ever actually finished, and it took me years and years to even get a first draft done. But I think the biggest help for me is having external accountability—someone besides just me to push me and ask when the book will be ready, haha. The House That Whispers is the first book I’ve written under contract with a publisher, and it made a huge difference to have that official deadline and to be able to work with my editor throughout the process. (To compare with that years-long timeline from my first book, this one went from an idea to a draft to a fully revised manuscript in less than a year total.)

But that external accountability doesn’t have to be an agent or editor or anything official—it can be a friend, or a beta reader, or a made-up deadline you’ve set for yourself and told your friends to hold you to. I might never have finally finished that first book if I didn’t have my amazing writing group to help push me. Writing is such a solitary activity, but it can be hugely helpful to have a community of other writers where you can all cheer each other on.

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

There were definitely books that I connected with as a kid, but I don’t remember reading a book with a specifically queer character until I was well into college. Instead, queer fanfiction sort of filled that role for me, and had a big hand in helping me realize that I was queer. There were so many amazing queer creators writing these beautiful, nuanced explorations of identity in ways I’d never seen before, and that helped me see myself reflected in ways I hadn’t even known to look for yet.

And now, even just within middle-grade, there are so many books coming out that would have totally changed my life if I’d had them as a kid. I cried more than once reading Kyle Lukoff’s Too Bright To See because of how closely the narrator’s experience of gender mirrored my own in younger years, before I had the words for what I was experiencing. And Nicole Melleby’s In the Role of Brie Hutchens explores what it’s like to be a queer kid raised in a very Catholic environment in a beautiful, funny way that hit me really hard.

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

I love to branch out into other creative projects when I hit a writing block—baking, painting, doing embroidery. All of it feels so much better than just staring at a blank page feeling bad about myself, and having other hobbies can really help refill my creative well. My latest project is historical fiction, so sometimes when I’m stuck on something in it I’ll give myself permission to just poke around through the research and go down all kinds of rabbit-holes into weird and interesting parts of history, and see what sticks.

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

My absolute favorite feeling when I’m writing is when I know something in the plot isn’t working but I’m totally stuck on how to fix it—and it’s incredibly frustrating, and I’m sure there’s no solution. And then finally, I find some piece of the story that I’ve been assuming has to be a certain way, and I realize that it doesn’t, actually, and I can just change it to fix the problem. Because it’s all made up. Which sounds so obvious, and yet somehow I forget that every time! But I made the whole story up in the first place, and I can adjust whatever I need to, and it’s empowering and terrifying at the same time. I always feel like I’m breaking the book when I make changes like that, but I love the feeling of getting to put it back together better.

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

I have a cat who’s very cuddly and too smart for her own good and is absolutely perfect. I really enjoy studying old maps and am slightly obsessed with historic sailing ships. And this last one is a little bit of a brag but—like Simon in The House That Whispers, I am also very good at Tetris.

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)?

Have you ever lived in a haunted house? Which, I don’t think so, but my old high school was definitely haunted, and the teachers had all kinds of stories, and sometimes for drama club we had to store props in the haunted section of the third floor and it was terrifying.

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

Figure out the writing process that works for you! Everyone’s brain is different and no one’s creative process is going to look exactly the same, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different strategies and approaches and see what feels right for you.

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

I’m still in the very early brainstorming stages for my next middle-grade book. In the meantime, though, I’ve been working on a YA historical fantasy that’s very, very queer, which has been a really fun challenge and something I’m really excited about!

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

In middle-grade, I loved Camp QUILTBAG by Nicole Melleby and A.J. Sass. In YA, I’m super excited for Jen St. Jude’s If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come (I got to read an older draft of it and was fully bawling in the most beautiful, cathartic way). Others I’ve loved lately include We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, When The Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb, and The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas.

Header Photo Credit Katherine Ouellette

Rebelle Re-Views: ‘A Strange Loop’ Takes London, An Interview with Kyle Ramar Freeman

Kyle Ramar Freeman attending the opening of "A Strange Loop" on Broadway, 2022.

A Strange Loop, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical by Michael R. Jackson has leapt across the pond for a limited run on the West End. On a drizzly and overcast London evening, I got to sit on a Zoom with the show’s star, the lovely and soft-spoken Kyle Ramar Freeman, as he takes the helm as the protagonist, Usher. Usher is a young, Black, fat, gay man writing a musical about a young, Black, fat, gay man writing a musical about a young, Black, fat, gay man writing a… rollercoaster of self-contemplation and we are all along for the ride. During our conversation, Freeman (who was the understudy for Usher in the original cast on Broadway last year) talked about how London audiences are responding to a “big, Black and queer-ass American Broadway show,” what he is still learning about himself through playing Usher, how his all-British cast mates are faring playing the thoughts inside an American’s head, and the exciting upcoming year for Freeman when his time in A Strange Loop wraps up in September. 

Hey Kyle! Thank you for hanging with me for a little bit. How are you?

I’m great, yourself?

I’m doing alright! It’s a very London-y day today, very rainy and overcast, at least where I’m at. So, before I ask you anything about A Strange Loop I want to go back in time a bit. I saw an interview you gave a while back where you mention that, as a kid around 8 years old, you knew you wanted to be a performer. Do you remember what show it was that you saw and were like, “Yes, that’s the thing!”?

It wasn’t anything I first saw, it’s what I felt. I was in an art’s school in elementary school and we got a chance to do Annie. I was not in the drama program I was in the dance program and I was also in the chorus of the school. And the actor they had could not sing “Easy Street,” so they incorporated different people from the chorus to sing songs from the show and that was my first taste of performing, and singing, and having choreo, and doing that in front of an audience and I was like, “oh that feels good!” And then right as YouTube started to become a thing, one of the videos that was on there first that I saw was Billy Porter doing “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease. I saw him do that and I was like, “Oh that’s what I want to do.” I want to be in crazy costumes and sing. 

That’s amazing. I love that story so much! To fast forward a bit, you start integrating that into your life, you graduated from AMDA, at what stage in A Strange Loop’s development did you sign onto it?

I joined A Strange Loop right at the beginning of their Broadway run. It was Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, and then it went to Washington, D.C., before doing Broadway. They were looking for more people to join the Broadway cast and that’s when I auditioned. Then from the very first day of rehearsals until the last day on Broadway I was there. 

We both have a mutual in common, Jason Veasey (originator of Thought 5). How was it coming into this production with people who had been a part of it for a decade, at least, at that point? 

First of all, everybody knows Jason [laughs]. I’m like, how am I in London and people know Jason? Jason was actually the first cast member to reach out to me. He was the first person to say “welcome to the family” so that made me feel really good and so I wasn’t completely just blind coming in having not said anything to anybody. It was fun! Everybody that did it on Broadway are stars. They are just amazing performers. So, the first day of rehearsals, for instance, as an understudy or anybody doing the show, you think you’re going to come in and everybody learns the show together. Everybody starts out on the same level. When we got to rehearsal we just watched the cast perform the show. That was completely intimidating because they had fully fleshed out these characters, they had lived with them for years, they understood the material better than anybody. They were just doing the show so, it was playing catch up for at least 3 months because everybody besides the four new understudies knew the show. I was just like, “Oh, this is going to be interesting!” [Laughs]. So, I had to learn the show on my own. It was intimidating but it all worked out. 

What a crash course that must have been. How much did you know about A Strange Loop before you auditioned for it?

I didn’t know much of anything. When I first heard of it I had a friend of mine call me up and say, “Kyle, you gotta go see this show called A Strange Loop. It’s playing at Playwrights Horizons and you gotta go see it.” And I was like, ok, and he was like, “No you HAVE to go see it because it’s telling our story. It’s Black, it’s gay, it’s saying something” and I was like ok ok ok I’ll go see it! I didn’t get a chance to go see it, of course, and another friend of mine [was] calling me up and saying, “You gotta go see this show. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.” Then the next time I ran across it was in auditions for it and when I got a monologue. That one monologue alone I was like, I have never seen anyone write these words and put it in a show and have people hear it. I was like, this is brave and it felt like somebody had went through my personal journals or read my brain because it was saying a lot of the things that I had felt in this life as a Black, fat, gay performer. So, it was crazy intimidating but a breath of fresh air. 

From left: Tendai Humphrey Sitima as Thought 4, Danny Bailey as Thought 5, Yeukayi Ushe as Thought 3, Kyle Ramar Freeman as Usher, Sharlene Hector as Thought 1, Eddie Elliot as Thought 6, and Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea as Thought 2

Because you’ve had the opportunity to live with Usher for quite a long time now I was wondering what you are still learning about him and, in addition to that, what has Usher taught you about yourself?

What I’m still learning from Usher is that things in life take time to develop. Even how you talk to yourself. Even how you go about doing your creative work. It takes time… when you’re creating something sometimes it reveals something about you that you didn’t know you had in you and that’s what Usher continuously teaches me. To take my time to figure out what I want to present while figuring out who I am as an artist. 

On the topic of thoughts, you have cast members now who are all British and playing the Thoughts in the head of an American… are they ok?

They are terrible. [Jokes]

They’re really struggling right now? [Laughs]

No, everybody in this company is remarkably talented and fiercely kind to each other and to the work. Everybody is ten toes down and ready to tell the story. They were excited about the work. What the show does to the audience, you kinda confront your own beliefs and ideals about your own self and your own place in the world and they [his cast members] were so beautifully exploring that, which made me explore the piece more as well. Everybody brings such a crazy, unique energy to the piece that makes it feel new.

Even though I’m kinda doing the same show I did before, but having this set of actors they all bring something so specific and beautiful to the telling of the story. It’s so fun to watch because I could never be… I won’t say I could never be, it would be hard for me to be in a British show and try to do a British accent and understand a culture that I did not grow up in. The fact that they are doing an American accent, telling an American story, yes, they’re all Black, but Black people are not the same everywhere you go. There are cultural differences and they’ve been able to adapt so beautifully that I’m really amazed at their ability to do that and do it so well. They are top tier talent.

Yeah, I saw you guys a couple of weeks ago and it was such an amazing performance. I mean you, first of all, sing like an angel and sing your face off and the amount of vulnerability and levity that you balance together is just so wonderful to watch. To piggyback on the cultural differences you brought up, that’s something I’m interested in understanding more from your perspective. Not only from working with people who grew up in a different culture but also the differences in the American versus British audiences. What are the biggest things you’ve noticed?

Well, with the audience, Americans are loud, and rowdy, and boisterous. So when we go see theater and that theater piece invites you to laugh out loud and make noise it’s no problem for us to do that. We are like, oh this is what you want from us, we will give it to you one thousand percent! The audience here, while they are very similar to American audiences with laughing at certain moments in the show, they’re just a bit more reserved. Because they haven’t received theater like this in this way and the show invites you to go on a rollercoaster ride and to make noise and to laugh out loud and do all the “oohs” and “aahs” because that adds to the fun of the show. They’re a bit more hesitant, but about midway in they are fully on board. It’s amazing to watch. 

Yeah, and with the heavier topics, what are you receiving from people in terms of the Gospel number “Precious Little Dream/AIDS Is God’s Punishment” and also the racist history that’s illuminated in there as well? Has there been a difference in how those moments are received from audience to audience?

The show covers topics that are uncomfortable wherever you go, so it’s pretty much the same. It is always like, the first top of the show is fun fun fun, laughing laughing laughing, joke joke joke. There comes a point where it just gets uncomfortable and you have to sit in that. And that’s gonna be a universal thing wherever this show goes because Usher is a person who has to drive the point home in such a big way, so the things that we have to do are big in its presentation. The words that we’re saying are so heavy [and] there comes a point where we’re gonna make you sit and be uncomfortable, we’re gonna make you sit with Usher being complicated and maybe not showing his best side and you may be a bit upset at him for doing what he does in the show. But it’s not much different and I think at a certain point people are like, “Oh no, what have I walked into” [laughs]. 

One review I quickly skimmed over gave [the disclaimer] “Lots of American references!” Have you experienced any feedback specifically around those references and people just not getting it?

Honestly, in New York, a lot of people didn’t understand some of the references because it’s a lot of gay lingo.

Interesting! (Internally screams: “Get it together New York!”)

And there are certain people who are titans in the business of entertainment that everybody’s just not privy to. The big one here that I’ve seen is that people just don’t know who Tyler Perry is. 

I was going to ask that, I was curious if anyone knew [Tyler Perry] because he’s such an American staple and I feel like his story is very specifically American and [shows an aspect of the] African American [experience]. I was very curious about whether any of the Tyler Perry references were going over people’s heads. 

Yeah, I think some have heard of him, of course. But they don’t know the weight that he carries in the entertainment industry or even him being a billionaire. Or him, you know, changing the way Black media is seen. They don’t really get that. So, I’ve laughed a few times [when I’ve] heard people be like, “Who is Tyler Perry?” [Laughs].

You [as Usher] talk about Tyler Perry quite a lot!

That’s really the major one that’s come up where people just don’t know who he is. 

On the topic of London, generally, when did you come out here to start rehearsals?

I came here in May, so [it’s been] about two months.

How has it been for you?

It’s been great! I mean, I’ve been starting to see London because I was in rehearsal every day and at the theater all day so I was not able to see much of it. But now that I have my days, I can go out and I’m able to do all the touristy things now. But beforehand I was completely just at my flat and then at the theater. 

That makes sense. What’s been your favorite thing about being over here? 

People are polite here. They are very nice. Compared to New York City, it appears to be much cleaner. I think it’s just the nature of the culture here, people are just more polite and reserved and coming from America everything is like, overt and larger than life. Everybody here is pleasant and they have proper tea breaks, which is lovely. 

Anything you miss from home?

I do miss that, specifically in New York, things are open past 11 o’clock. [Laughs]. Everything here kinda closes at midnight or stops serving food and what will happen is like, after the show, we’re done by 10pm by the time we’re out of costume and then you go out to meet people and say “Hi” and they wanna go out and you have like, an hour before things are shut down. Especially in the area that we’re in. It’s very much a business part of town so there’s really nothing around. And that sucks. That’s about it. 

This is a limited-run show, just going through September, do you have any idea of what’s coming up after for you? Or is the main focus the show right now? 

Yes! For the first time in my career I know what I’m doing for the next year of my life, which is interesting. After I leave here I will go back to New York, to start the tour that will eventually land on Broadway. That show is called The Wiz! And I will be the Lion in The Wiz. It’s a huge show that’s coming back. It hasn’t been on Broadway in 40 years. 

Yeah wow!

Yeah, it’s a big deal! It’s been trying to come back to Broadway for years. It’s one of those shows like Dream Girls, that we haven’t had in America in forever but we’ve talked about bringing back. And now I’m finally doing a show that’s so heavily anticipated. I’ll get to do the tour for 5-6 months and then we’ll go to Broadway and that’s until August of next year [2024]. 

That’s amazing, congratulations! So, we only have a few minutes left. At Geeks OUT, on our podcast our host [Kevin Gilligan] will ask the guest what they’re getting down and nerdy with. So, I’d love to know what you’re getting down and nerdy with?

Well, I love podcasts in general. I will discover a podcast every week or so and give it a listen. But I also love TV and I have been deep into Black Mirror because that is just what I love. I love the type of stories they create, their branding of mixing reality with technology and how that affects the world and how it could affect the world. I love having conversations about that.

Yeah, it’s like magical realism but spooky [laughs]. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

Thank you, I loved it!

See the wonderful Kyle Ramar Freeman and his exceptional cast mates in A Strange Loop, currently running at the Barbican Theatre in London through September 9th, 2023. 

Interview with Terry J. Benton-Walker

TERRY J. BENTON-WALKER grew up in rural GA and now lives in Atlanta with his husband and son, where he writes fiction for adults, young adults, and children. He has an Industrial Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State. When he’s not writing, he can be found gaming, eating ice cream, or both. Blood Debts is his first novel.

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

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

Thank you so much! As a geek myself, I’m honored for the opportunity. I’m Terry J. Benton-Walker (it’s also okay if you call me TJ), the author of Blood Debts, my young adult contemporary fantasy debut coming from Tor Teen on April 4th in the US and from Hodder & Stoughton on April 6th in the UK. I’m also the author of Alex Wise vs the End of the World, my middle-grade contemporary fantasy publishing with Labyrinth Road and Random House Children’s on September 26th. I am a toddler daddy, which means I’ve been fighting on the front lines of the Preschool Plague Wars™ for my second year now and am battle-weary but love being a parent to my son, who’s actually a really cool little guy. I’m also a video game geek, who is presently struggling as I’ve banned myself from gaming until I meet my current deadlines.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Blood Debts? What was the inspiration for this story?

Here’s a short synopsis of Blood Debts:

Terry J. Benton-Walker’s contemporary fantasy debut, Blood Debts, is “a conjuring of magnificence” (Nic Stone) with powerful magical families, intergenerational curses, and deadly drama in New Orleans.

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen. Now, Clement and Cristina Trudeau—the sixteen-year-old twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family—discover their mother has been cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

Clement and Cristina’s only hope of discovering who is coming after their family, is to trust each other, to trust their magic, and solve the decades-old murder. If they don’t succeed, New Orleans may see another massacre. Or worse.

The inspiration for Blood Debts was three-fold. First, I was inspired by my personal experience with Game of Thrones and wanted to create a world where Black and Black Queer people could be centered and represented authentically in an epic fantasy story.

Then, while drafting the manuscript, I went through a rough time where I struggled with injustice both in the world at large and my personal life. Writing Blood Debts (in addition to therapy) became catharsis for me, as I got to process my complex and nuanced feelings about justice while exploring concepts of intergenerational trauma and the cycle of violence.

Lastly, anyone who follows me on social media most likely knows that I adore the video game, The Last of Us Part II, in which the story developers crafted an exceptional tale about the danger of perpetuating the cycle of violence through a unique dual perspective that was pitch-perfect and incredibly effective (albeit highly divisive among hardcore fans). The story of Blood Debts is also told through multiple perspectives of characters who are all seeking the justice they believe they’ve been wrongfully denied, whether right or wrong in their pursuits. This experience is meant to probe the layers of morality and justice through a story crafted with a 360-degree view of the central issues between these deeply complicated and compassionate characters.

As a story rooted in New Orleans, much of the story seems to rely on its historical significance, as well as its connection to Black magic/belief systems. Could you expand on your choice to center your story there?

I created Blood Debts for Black and Black Queer teens (and adults, y’all can enjoy it too), which means for them to have a truly immersive and heartfelt experience, the foundation of this story had to be authentic and Black. A major part of Black culture is our connection to our history, the good and the bad and the veiled, and our family, those who are still with us and those who are not. I wove those elements into the foundation of this series, because I want readers to feel at home from the first page, and on the last, I want them to close the book and hug it to their chests with pride in knowing that that is their story and Clem and Cris and Valentina belong to them.

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

I’ve been a fan of stories from as young as I can remember. My mom always fed my curiosity as a kid, and when it came to stories in any form, I was ravenous. Life wasn’t always great for me growing up for several reasons, so I often escaped into the speculative worlds of books, video games, and movies. And I still have the same habits as an adult.

I enjoy writing both young adult and middle grade fiction, because I adore kids and have so much respect for the innocence and honesty with which they view the world and the people in it. As a parent, I’m very careful to respect and nurture that in my son, though I also worry about the day he goes out into the world and external influences start chipping away at that innocence and honesty to replace it with respectability politics and other nonsense. The stories I write are entertainment first and foremost, but they also represent the lessons I’ve learned through tough experiences in my life that I hope, in sharing with kids, helps them hold onto their authentic selves and not make the same (or as many) mistakes as I have.

How would you describe your writing process?

My writing process is incredibly organized, because otherwise my high-functioning anxiety would not allow me to be great. I’m a heavy planner/ plotter, so before I draft a single word, I need to know everything about the world, the characters, and the plot. I front-load the majority of the heavy lifting at the beginning of my writing process, which means drafting takes me a bit longer, but revisions tend to go super fast for me.

I also created a Novel Planning Kit that I use for plotting and writing stories, which is available for download on my website as a free resource to help authors with their own projects. 

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

Growing up, I had no stories at all that made me feel truly seen. If I wanted to escape, I had to learn how to connect with stories and characters who were nothing like me. The media landscape has significantly improved since then, despite still having a long way to go. There are so many stories featuring Black and Queer characters in so many genres that at times I’m jealous of the treasure trove of content available for today’s kids to escape into. However, it’s my hope that publishing and other media industries continue to champion intersectional stories in speculative fiction, particularly ones centering authentic Black gay characters like Blood Debts and Alex Wise and Jamar Perry’s Cameron Battle series.

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

I’m endlessly inspired by Black creatives who are never complacent but continue to push their talent and skill with each new project. Whenever they level-up, they also motivate me to keep pushing the limits of my creativity and developing my own craft. Some of my recent favorites and inspirations: Beyoncé. Issa Rae. Jordan Peele. Quinta Brunson. Regina Hall. SZA. Kalynn Bayron. Jordan Ifueko. Alexis Henderson.  

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

My favorite element of writing is how extraordinary it is that we start with a literal blank page—nothing—and create entire worlds with rich characters and intricate stories that ripple through the very real lives in our world. Art in every form is the closest form of magic that’s accessible to almost anyone, and we artists are all magicians in that way.

The most frustrating element about writing is how slow it can be sometimes. My creative brain is very temperamental and doesn’t always want to clock-in when I want or need it to, but I’ve found that if I allow myself and my brain the time I need and take breaks to recharge, we always find our way through eventually.

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

Since this is Geeks OUT, I’ll share a geeky not-so-secret secret with you. I was a total band geek in high school. I played the Alto Saxophone and was pretty good at it (second chair in symphonic and first chair in concert band). I have not played in years, though I miss it dearly. My horror short story in Karen Strong’s Cool. Awkward. Black. anthology (which is out now, by the way) was inspired by my love for playing music. It’s titled “Requiem of Souls” and is about a Black gay band geek who finds supernatural sheet music that summons the dead—and something else far more dangerous than ghosts.

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 love talking about craft, so I’m always game to discuss some of the cool craft tricks I did with Blood Debts. Everything I write is curated to be enjoyed more than once. I try to be extremely deliberate with every sentence so that on multiple reads, readers should find new and intriguing pieces of information they hadn’t picked up on during prior reads.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

It’s hard, especially now, but you owe it to yourself not to give up. Blood Debts recently got a starred review from Kirkus, and on the day it was announced, I received a status memory on Facebook of a post from exactly ten years ago where I’d sent out over a hundred queries for a fantasy series I was hopeful would interest an agent. Spoiler Alert: It did not. But I didn’t quit. And ten years later, I have a starred review on my debut young adult contemporary fantasy story. I hope it doesn’t take you as long, but the only way it won’t happen for you is if you quit.

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

Yes! Later this year, September 26th to be exact, my debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, Alex Wise vs the End of the World is publishing from Labyrinth Road / Random House Children’s. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy whose summer vacation takes a dramatic turn when Death, one of the spirits of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, possesses his ten-year-old sister and threatens the end of the world.

I’m also working on a YA horror anthology, The White Guy Dies First, which is coming from Tor Teen, Summer 2024. It features 13 scary stories from 13 BIPOC authors that subvert classic horror sub-genres and, most importantly, where the cishet white guy always dies first. The lineup is epic. In addition to a story from me, readers can expect frights from bestselling and award-winning authors: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Kalynn Bayron, Kendare Blake, H.E. Edgmon, Lamar Giles, Chloe Gong, Alexis Henderson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Adiba Jaigirdar, Naseem Jamnia, Mark Oshiro, and Karen Strong.

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

There are soo many LGBTQ+ books coming out this year that I’m super geeked about—and I’m also super jealous of Queer kids who’re getting all these amazing stories because I had to live vicariously through Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony haha.  

The first LGBTQ+ book I’m hyped about is The Black Queen by Jumata Emil, which is a YA thriller coming from Delacorte on January 31st. It’s sapphic, utterly addictive, and thought-provoking—easily one of my most anticipated thrillers of the year!

The second is Your Lonely Nights Are Over by Adam Sass, coming from Viking / Penguin Teen on September 12th. It’s a witty, fun Slasher that’s a Queer Scream meets Clueless, and I cannot wait for more people to read it this fall.

Last, but certainly not least, is Godly Heathens by H.E. Edgmon, which is coming in November from Wednesday Books. H.E. is also one of the contributors in The White Guy Dies First, so I know first-hand how adept they are at crafting gripping, visceral experiences that still hold tight to you long after you finished the last word. Can you tell I’m excited?

Header Photo Credit Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT

Interview with Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc is a writer and disability rights advocate. She is the author of THE CENTAUR’S WIFE (Random House Canada, 2021), DISFIGURED: ON FAIRY TALES, DISABILITY, AND MAKING SPACE (Coach House Books, 2020), and THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN (ECW Press, 2013). Her essays and stories have appeared across Canada, the US, and the UK, and she has spoken across North America on accessibility, inclusion, and disability in storytelling. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she serves as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.

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

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

Of course! I’m a Canadian author and disability rights advocate. I’ve written several books: a nonfiction book called Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, which was published in 2020, and two novels, The Centaur’s Wife, published in 2021, and The Miracles of Ordinary Men, published in 2013. I currently live in Hamilton, Ontario, where I write and serve as the Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.

As an academic, what can you tell us about your book, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space? What was the inspiration for this book?

Disfigured is a hybrid book—a blend of memoir and cultural criticism that looks at several well-known fairy tales from a disability rights lens. I look at my own lifelong fascination with fairy tales and explore how that, along with my disability, shaped how I grew up and viewed disability in the world.

What are some of your favorite stories/fairytales concerning disability, or containing disabled coding?

I think that Beauty and the Beast is a really great example of a fairytale that is deeply coded in disability. The Beast, as a character, is made to look different, is othered, as a result of his bad behaviour. This carries the message that those who look (or walk, or act) differently from the “norm” are this way because they somehow deserve it. It’s the kind of message that we can (sometimes!) deconstruct as adults, but it’s often difficult for young children—who are most often exposed to fairytales in their formative years—to understand this. And as a result, we grow up internalizing these kinds of messages—the good things that happen to so-called “normal” people versus what happens to those who are perceived as different in some way.

How did you find yourself getting into writing, both fiction and non-fiction? What drew you to those mediums?

I have always wanted to be a writer, since the time that I was very small. It’s just always something I’ve wanted to do in the world. I was initially drawn to fiction first, and spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties focused on learning how to write stories and novels. So it came as something of a surprise to discover in my thirties that I was also very interested in non-fiction, and in exploring the ways that this genre in particular could shift and grow and change.

How would you describe your writing process?

It’s very organic. Usually I start a book thinking of one specific scene or idea. With Disfigured, I was interested in the fact that so many of the fairytales I’d been introduced to as a child featured disability but were never discussed in explicitly those terms, so I set out to write a book that explored this idea, and along the way the book incorporated memoir and hybrid forms as a part of this discovery. With my latest novel, The Centaur’s Wife, I had a scene in mind of a woman who was struggling with her marriage (and with the world ending) but also secretly in love with someone else. I was interested in exploring what “taboo” love can mean, and looking at how grief and desire can intertwine. Then, as I was exploring these things, the novel began to incorporate elements of disability into the story as well.

When I write, I don’t generally have an outline—I start with something small and then build on that, and the outline gradually reveals itself to me as the story goes on. The initial part of writing—that first scene or idea—can often be quite slow, and I’ll spend months or years just jotting down little notes to myself and thinking through the world of the novel and what it’s trying to say. But then gradually the momentum builds and once I’m in the thick of a writing project it usually comes out in a steady fashion. At the height of things I like to shoot for a minimum of 1000 words a day, but I don’t always get there.

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

I love Karen Russell’s work, and Kevin Brockmeier, and Carmen Maria Machado—I think they’re all doing really interesting things with form and voice, and the “reality” of the worlds that we as writers try to build.

I was, and still am, a huge fantasy and sci-fi nerd. When I was young I read a lot of the fantasy and sci-fi classics, like Octavia Butler and C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien, and it’s a genre that I still love escaping into, particularly when my own writing is proving difficult, (which it often does!). I love Sarah J. Maas, and am waiting impatiently for her next book.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that I’ve reached a place where inspiration seems to come from everywhere—I find creative influences everywhere I look, from the shows I watch through to my daily walks with my dog. It’s really wonderful and I wish this for all writers—to be able to look at the world around you and see creativity everywhere feels like such a gift!

What advice would you give for authors for portraying disability (whether that of their own or of others) within their own work? 

I think it’s important for all writers to be honest with themselves around the question of portraying a character with a disability, particularly if that disability isn’t your own. You need to ask yourself: am I the best person to tell this story? Or should I be amplifying the voice of someone else who is already telling this story in some way?

If you really think that a character must have a disability of some kind, and you don’t have that experience yourself, you must pay to have your work read by someone with lived experience—in publishing they’re often known as sensitivity readers—so that they can give you advice on the portrayal of your character and suggestions for how it might improve.

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

I love creating new worlds and imagined futures (and presents, and pasts!) and then getting to play in them. It’s the greatest thing. The challenging part of that is making sure that everything then makes sense in the context of the story!

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

I write a regular newsletter ( and also work across North America as a disability rights advocate, giving presentations on accessibility in events and the presence of disability in storytelling.

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

I wish that interviews talked about book advances and the financial realities of writing more! The reality is that most writers who are working in the world today do not write full-time—most of us have day jobs and do all of our writing on top of that. I think that a lack of discussion around this can perpetuate this idea that anyone who is a public writer has someone found a way to make a lot of money doing it, and that is so often not the case.

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

I have a new novel called Wild Life coming out in Canada next year—and hopefully in other countries too—though I’m not yet sure exactly when that will be. It follows two hyenas who walk upright and talk like humans, and the writing of it is probably the single most enjoyable time I’ve had as a writer to-date. It was so much fun to do.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

I think a lot of advice to writers boils down to don’t give up. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. Don’t give up! There is a time and a place for your stories. What I’ll add to this is: your work will find its audience. And that audience is not going to look the same for everybody. But that’s okay! Understanding your connection to your readers—what people are drawn to in your writing, and how your writing shapes the world that your readers inhabit—is part of the magic of being a writer. May you know that moment when it arrives, and treasure it forever.

Finally, what books/authors, including possibly those related to queerness and/or disability, would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

So many! Carmen Maria Machado for sure (Her Body And Other Parties, The Dream House), Keah Brown (The Pretty One), Emily Ladau (Demystifying Disability), and Alice Wong (The Year Of The Tiger, Disability Visibility), just to name a few. Happy reading!

Interview with Jen St. Jude

​Lambda Literary Fellow Jen St. Jude grew up in New Hampshire apple orchards and now lives in Chicago with her wife, daughter, and dog.  Their debut YA novel, IF TOMORROW DOESN’T COME, will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s (US) and Penguin Random House (UK) in 2023. 

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

CW: Discussion about mental illness and death.

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

Thank you so much! I’m a big fan of your organization, so this is fun for me. I’m a queer YA writer who truly loves to geek out about anything I love. That includes books, of course, but also women’s sports, pop music, and queer-coded action films.

What can you tell us about your debut book, If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come? What was the inspiration for this story?

I’ve been working on this novel for over a decade now, and for so many years it was just a constellation of thoughts. Hard to say which one was the true start of it all, but I wrote my way into this story because I had so many questions. If we’re all going to die, why don’t we live that way? Why don’t we treat each other better, chase the things we want, experience every big and beautiful thing that we can? I also live with depression and when I started this book I was in some of my worst stretches. For many moments and years it was too debilitating to write. But when I could, I put these scenes and characters on the page in an attempt to ask why Avery felt the way she did, and could she ever feel better? Could people in the very worst circumstances still find some light?

Mental health is a big part of the conversation within and around this book. If you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about that means to you?

To this day, I feel shame around my mental illness, even though I know I shouldn’t. Even though I have been working on it so hard and for so long. Sometimes it’s romanticized in media and I was very aware of that in my writing; I didn’t want to do that. But in real life, it often looks like self-destruction, and worse, it impacts other people in a negative, devastating way if left unchecked. There is absolutely no shame in struggling, and if more people talked about this, more people would get help. Maybe everyone would hurt just a little less. This novel is my way of talking about it.

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

When I was a little kid I would play with dolls for hours, or with my brother and the other neighborhood kids, imagine we were the characters from Power Rangers or Captain Planet and run around the yard making up stories about ourselves. I really think that was the beginning of it; writing fiction is play (even when it’s not feeling very fun). Speculative fiction in particular feels very liberating to me because we can explore our reality through a lens that makes us question our day-to-day, just a little. It also lets us feel ever so distant from the events happening in the story. It gives us perspective.

On our website, we’ve featured a few other writers who have Lambda Literary Fellow, such as Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson. Could you maybe touch upon your experiences within the program?

Oh! The best question. I attended the Lambda Literary retreat for emerging writers during the summer of 2018 and was in the YA cohort. Like any writing workshop, it takes quite a bit of luck for it to work. It’s always about the chemistry and personalities of the group. But it was also the first time I was in an all-queer space for writers (actually maybe the only time I’ve been in that space), so it was transformative for my work. I used to be adamant that Avery wasn’t depressed because of her queerness, because I knew people were looking for queer joy and I didn’t want to imply being queer makes you mentally ill. In that workshop it became clear we all shared similar experiences and it shaped my perspective on the novel. No, Avery isn’t depressed because she’s a lesbian, but it’s also true that living in a family and culture that tells her she’s wrong, that she may go to hell, that she might lose everything she holds dear if she comes out…yeah, that’s not going to help.

The people in my cohort were the real magic of Lambda, though. emily danforth was our workshop leader, which was an entire dream come true. She was generous with her time and advice, and offered to read every single one of our novels if we completed them that year. The other writers in my cohort included Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson, as well as Jas Hammonds (We Deserve Monuments), J.D. Scott (Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day), Avery Mead, Tia Clark, Amos Mac, Amal Haddad, Kirt Ethridge, and Caitlin Hernandez. I’m still in touch with everyone, but a group of us still talk every day (pretty much all day). It’s become one of my most treasured families.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll admit I’m still figuring it out. I’m working on a new project for the first time in a long time, and just trying to let myself have some fun and lean into the character dynamics and play around with setting and voice. Jas has said If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come is my winter book, and this next one is summer.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

 I actually pursued my master’s almost completely because I just needed structure and help finishing a draft. I was having such a hard time on my own. Tip one: Did you know if you work at Harvard you can take classes at the Extension School for $40?! But tip two: You don’t need a master’s to finish your novel, but you may need some structure. You could create that through taking classes, joining a writing group, or finding a friend to hold you accountable. You’re not lazy and you’re probably not even uninspired, you might just need something to keep you on track. I’d also say that sometimes novels *should* sit dormant for a while. You collect live experiences and change as a person, and so your writing changes too.

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

You know, not really? The first time I really saw myself on the page was when I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post as an adult. This is so completely embarrassing but I cried while telling emily that Cameron was the very first character I felt truly represented by. I could relate so much to the voice, so much to Cam’s desire, gender expression, and sense of humor. It took me a long time to realize I’m not alone in the way I thought I was.

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

I really love sharing my work with my trusted peer readers. It’s such a joy to read their raw drafts and see how their brains work, and what their first instincts are. I also really appreciate their feedback on my work. I never know if scenes or lines or even specific words aren’t working until I get to see them through the eyes of someone else. I’m always deeply grateful for the time people spend in my messy drafts. I think one thing that’s really frustrating is how patient you have to be. I’m sort of a fixer by nature, so I want to just sit down and bang out a draft and know every answer. I’m always so embarrassed to not have the answer! But the truth is, it may not exist yet. I might need to go for a walk, read a beautiful book, or talk to a friend. Not everything I need to write exists in my head, and I always feel so frustrated until I remember I have to go out and find the tools and words I need.

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

 Forgive yourself. For taking too long, for not writing, for not being perfectly polished. Forgive yourself if you don’t have time to read or write during a season in your life. Forgive yourself for your typos and your weaknesses. And find strength in that forgiveness. It all means you’re trying. It all means you’re wanting. I’m saying this because I need to hear it too.

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

 I’m currently working on a second novel that is tentatively coming out from Bloomsbury in 2025. It may change completely, we’ll see. But right now it’s about a high school soccer team, climate change, and the way we keep people in our life when things are destroyed and shifted. And, yes, everyone’s gay.

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

Oh, I could be here all day! I read all genres and all age levels. Jas Hammonds, Lin Thompson, and Sacha Lamb are must-reads. But just a few more: In the adult romance space, my editor Camille Kellogg’s book Just as You Are. It’s a hilarious and deeply queer Pride and Prejudice retelling. I found it incredibly healing. I’m currently reading Alex Crespo’s San Juniper’s Folly and loving every minute of it—I keep pitching it as Practical Magic meets Cemetery Boys. Adrienne Tooley’s The Third Daughter is out this summer and it completely blew me away. Jenna Miller’s Out of Character is out now and it’s the role-playing romance you absolutely need.I so love Justine Pucella Winan’s Bianca Torre is Afraid of Everything, and they have a middle grade book out this fall too with Bloomsbury called The Otherwoods. Each book is so different but so playful and wonderful. Other MG favorites include Ellie Engle Saves Herself by Leah Johnson, Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon, Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley, and The Song of Us by Kate Fussner. And I am DYING to read Vicki Johnson’s picture book, Molly’s Tuxedo. A few more adult recs: Marissa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, Ruth Madiesky’s All Night Pharmacy, Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly. I’m incredible excited for The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson. And finally (I am forcing myself to stop) I am writing this from Des Moines, Iowa where I met an author named Anya Anya Johanna DeNiro whose novel, OKPsyche is forthcoming from Small Beer Press. Their pitch: An unnamed trans woman is looking for a sense of belonging, a better relationship with her son, and friends that aren’t imaginary in this playful and aching short novel. I mean, yes! Sign me up. I cannot wait to read it.

Interview with Sabrina Imbler, author of How Far the Light Reaches A Life in Ten Sea Creatures

Sabrina Imbler is a writer and science journalist living in Brooklyn. Their first chapbook, Dyke (geology) was published by Black Lawrence Press. They have received fellowships and scholarships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Tin House, the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat, Millay Arts, and Paragraph NY, and their work has been supported by the Café Royal Cultural Foundation. Their essays and reporting have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, the AtlanticCatapult, and Sierra, among others.

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

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

I’m a cancer living in Brooklyn with my partner and our two cats, Melon and Sesame. I love gummy candy and having multiple beverages of different temperatures on hand at any moment.

What can you tell us about your latest project, How Far the Light Reaches A Life in Ten Sea Creatures? What inspired the book?

The summer after I graduated college, I moved to New York to intern at a magazine that paid me $10 an hour, so I also freelanced for an ocean nonprofit. I would scour Google News every week to find weird or surprising news about the ocean, which helped introduce me to many of the creatures in this book. But there was one headline in Reuters that I never forgot: “Octopus mom protects her eggs for an astonishing 4-1/2 years.” I read through the story, which described a deep-sea octopus at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that guarded her eggs for four-and-a-half years without moving or eating anything. I was stunned, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I knew octopuses have an incredible, bodily intelligence that extends beyond the reaches of what our human brains can imagine. I knew octopuses could escape their tanks and unlock jars and hide themselves in coconuts. What was it like for such an animal to sit, unmoving and wasting away, for so many years? 

The octopus had implanted herself into my mind, and I knew I wanted to write about her but wasn’t sure how. A few years later, I saw the online magazine called Catapult had opened submissions for columns. I pitched a column inspired by the octopus, where I would mix memoir and science writing to see what lessons I could draw from the ways sea creatures survive in the ocean. The first essay was about the mother octopus and my own mother, which I expanded for the book. All the creatures in the book have carved out space in my heart, the mother octopus is at its beating center, the creature whose life felt refracted from my own.

Many writers, including Hugh Ryan, have noted the historical and fictional connections between queer people and the water. What are your thoughts on this relationship and why queer people are drawn to the water?

I love Hugh’s exploration of queer Brooklyn navy yards and Coney Island performers in his book When Brooklyn Was Queer, and I am glad to be in a lineage of queer people finding ourselves in the ocean. I believe everyone has their own route in, but to me the ocean represents a place of possibility, where bodies move differently, where we sink and float, where we can be outside the prying eyes of society and with other queer community. And no one has a more wide-ranging, wonderful notion of sex than the animal kingdom.

Where did you each find your love for writing (and by association marine biology)? What specifically drew you to non-fiction?

As soon as I started reading, I knew I wanted to write. I always felt at home near the sea, and initially wanted to write about the ocean and sea creatures from a totally impartial perspective. But my experience of the world inflects all that I write, and so the most honest way to approach the subject became weaving my own story into that of the sea.

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

Like many other gay people, I grew up worshipping at the altar of Tamora Pierce. I dreamed of living in the young-adult kingdom of Tortall. All of Pierce’s young protagonists were role models for me, gender-bending people who shed off societal expectations to become the person of their dreams. There’s Alanna, the young girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight. There’s Kel, the girl who becomes a knight as a girl (thanks to Alanna’s trailblazing.) But my favorite of Pierce’s series in Tortall is “The Immortals,” starring a girl named Daine, who can speak to animals, briefly lived with wolves after bandits murdered her family, regularly communes with The Badger God, and also raises a dragon before it was cool. Daine is my number one, and Pierce’s books were probably the reason I wanted to become a writer. I remember sometime when I was in elementary, Tamora came to my local bookstore to sign some books and I brought my heavily dog-eared copies in a sizeable stack, and she was kind enough to sign every single one.

What inspires you today?

The sea, invertebrate animals of all kinds, my cats, my friends, my partner, trans people, local bookstores, the orcas sinking yachts in Spain.

How would you describe your writing process? 

I write slowly and need to put everything on the page before I can understand the shape of an essay.

What are some of your favorite things about writing? What do you find to be some of the most difficult/frustrating?

I love when I have no idea where a piece will go until I’ve finished a draft, and my conclusion is actually the beginning of the piece. I find it very difficult to motivate myself to write outside of my day job, which is also writing.

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

If I could go back in time to any period, I would go to the Cambrian Period and snorkel.

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

I believe in unions, in community organizing, in gender-affirming healthcare for all. 

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

Write to your own community and let everyone else catch up; never compromise the nuances of the story you want to tell for some imagined general audience. The work will always be strongest when you write something you’d want your friends to read.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’m focusing on rest and personal growth right now, but I’m thinking about another book about bugs!

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

Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky and Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Star Trek (But Make it Gay) – Bonus (and very out of order, both chronologically and in release order – Edition!!)

If you missed out, please see my reviews on Deep Space Nine,  The Next Generation, and The Original Series

Busy Geek Break Down (TL;DR): Updated to include this weeks episode … So far this new season of Strange New Worlds has everything my Queer Trekkie Heart could ask for, and you need to get on the transporter and join the Away Mission to check it out! Haven’t seen season One? Get on it!!!

There’s awesome rogue missions while the Captain is away, there’s emotional outbursts by Vulcans, there’s devious Romulans, Time Travel, Court Room scenes, Kirk has a star-crossed mini romance, and we get some wonderful character development for our favorite Security Officer (sorry Tasha Yar).

*** Note, and out of context spoiler *** Leaving a loaded Glock on the bedside table of your adolescent historically reprehensible ancestor is not a great move … will this come back to haunt us, or is it like a Starbucks cup in Westeros, or Jeans on Mandalore ? Who knows!!!

Anyway, for total Star Trek Redshirts Provisional Ensigns Red Squad Cadets Back to Redshirts, Yay!!!:

post star trek red shirt mind blown reDv

Watch and share Post Star Trek Red Shirt Mind Blown ReDv GIFs on Gfycat

One might not immediately correlate Star Trek’s courtroom episodes with LGBTQ issues. In the expansive universe of Star Trek, has provided poignant narratives that delve into complex societal, political, and ethical themes. In particular, these legal dramas have shed light on issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity, boldly going where few mainstream television series have ventured before.

Many grumpy old cishet white dues on the internet keep asking when Star Trek got ‘woke’… uh, 1963, dude!

Yet, in retrospect, they’ve provided the franchise with an ideal narrative platform to tackle the complex discourse surrounding sexual orientation, gender identity, and society’s views. This subtlety, this social commentary woven into captivating narratives, is a part of Star Trek’s enduring appeal.

Perhaps the most memorable of these courtroom episodes is “The Measure Of A Man” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here, android officer Data is on trial to determine if he is Starfleet property or an autonomous being with rights and freedoms. Although not directly addressing LGBTQ issues, the episode subtly echoes the struggle for recognition and rights by marginalized communities, including LGBTQ individuals. In the face of misunderstanding and prejudice, Data’s quest for self-determination mirrors the journey many LGBTQ people face in asserting their own identities and rights.

“The Outcast,” another Next Generation episode, also comes to mind. In this episode, Commander Riker falls in love with Soren, a member of an androgynous species known as the J’naii, who secretly identifies as a woman. When her society discovers her preference for gender identity, she goes on trial. While the episode has received criticism (including from me) for its lack of explicitly queer characters, it raises relevant questions about societal pressure, conformity, and the right to determine one’s identity.

Turning to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the episode “Rejoined” presents an engaging tale of a taboo love story between two symbionts in women hosts. In the Trill society, re-association with past lovers is forbidden, turning this once-married couple’s attraction into a controversial matter. Despite not using the usual courtroom setting, it employs a similarly structured debate about societal norms, reinforcing the show’s commitment to discussing gender and sexuality issues.

In Star Trek: Discovery, the franchise made more explicit strides in representing LGBT characters with the relationship between Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber, breaking barriers as one of the first openly gay couples in Star Trek history. (although in the Kelvin timeline, there is a very brief exchange that shows that Sulu has a husband), and of course we have Queer and Non-Binary characters, including some awesome Trill – which we’ll get to in an upcoming Blog.

Star Trek’s courtroom episodes have, thus, offering a canvas for discussing the rights and struggles of LGBT individuals in a metaphorical yet impactful manner. We anticipate further engagement with such themes as we look forward to the unfolding narrative in the new Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. We are especially eager to see how the show might incorporate and reflect on contemporary discussions around LGBTQ issues.

Another week, another thrilling journey into the Star Trek universe! Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to push the envelope with its second episode, “Ad Astra per Aspera.” The series addresses social issues head-on in a standout courtroom drama, channeling echoes of the classic episodes “Measure of a Man” and “Court Martial.” Yet, what sets this apart is its reflection of contemporary societal struggles, most notably the experiences of the LGBT community within the military.

Now, enter stage left, the fabulous Yetide Badaki as Una’s lawyer, Neera. A galactic civil rights powerhouse, she was hellbent on showing everyone that laws aren’t always serving those they’re supposed to protect. Let me tell you, watching her face off against Melanie Scrofano’s Captain Batel was like watching two drag queens in a lip-sync battle: all claws out and no mercy.

Then there was this flash to little Una’s past. Picture it: a little girl with a glowing immune system – part of her genetic modification – a secret that could get her family ostracized faster than a lousy wig at a drag show. Fast forward to grown-up Una facing down a plea deal that would have kept her out of jail but would also put a stain on her shiny Starfleet record. A real conundrum, right? Especially since they wanted to sweep her and the issue of her genetic modification under the rug like last night’s sequins.

Meanwhile, Captain Pike, played by the rugged Anson Mount, was trying to find someone to help Una. After being repeatedly shot down by Neera on an inhospitable planet, he finally convinced her to take on Una’s case. It wasn’t about saving Una but shining a spotlight on Starfleet’s sketchy laws.

Back on the Enterprise, the tension was thick! Batel was all up in arms because Una had the nerve to reject her plea deal. Conversely, Pike stood by his officer, believing that Starfleet’s law was as wrong like Straight Pride Month.

The courtroom drama that followed was as tense as a corset at a drag show. Batel was determined to have Una serve 20 years in prison for daring to challenge Starfleet’s decision. But Neera, the fierce queen that she was, fought back. She knew that to win this case, she’d need more than just a heartfelt monologue. So, she started gathering evidence faster than a queen collects her tips on a Saturday night.

The trial brought up some uncomfortable truths about Starfleet and its laws. Neera compared them to past discriminatory laws, pointing out that in their fear of a repeat of the Eugenics Wars, the Federation had become the persecutor. Can you say, ‘hypocrisy’?

Una’s friends came forward to defend her character, each painting a different but touching picture of her. Meanwhile, Neera discovered that the person who had leaked information about Una stood to gain from doing so. The plot was thicker than my foundation, darlings.

Finally, Una herself took the stand. Her testimony was heartfelt and moving, much like a drag ballad. She revealed her past, fears, regrets, and hopes. She confessed that she had turned herself in to make a point: to show Starfleet that being different didn’t make her any less of a person, any less worthy of acceptance.

Despite a last-ditch effort from the prosecution to drag her down, Neera stepped in with a surprise move. She’d found a loophole, honey!

The writers have woven these contemporary struggles into the very fabric of the episode. Just as service members of the LGBTQ community have often been forced to conceal their true identities, Una’s past reveals a secret genetic enhancement that jeopardizes her career and personal life. Through these parallels, the episode serves as a potent metaphor for the military’s erstwhile policies regarding transgender service members, reinforcing the value of diversity and acceptance within Starfleet and beyond.

In a broader context, the Ilyrian struggle within the episode symbolizes the ongoing fight for acceptance in the face of adversity. As the Ilyrians grapple with their own battles for identity and self-determination, LGBTQ military personnel have also had to contend with societal prejudices and institutional barriers. The parallels to the real-life experiences of the LGBTQ community are impossible to ignore, mainly reflecting the historical burdens placed on Queer military service members and the infamous policies such as “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the trans ban.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to use its platform to promote acceptance and understanding of diversity, offering a powerful social commentary through its narrative. Season 2, Episode 2, is a riveting watch and an insightful exploration which continues the Star Trek tradition of holding up a mirror to our society, reminding us of our collective struggle for acceptance, justice, and equality. Through its artful storytelling, Star Trek reminds us that it is not just our laws but the individuals who uphold them that genuinely define the measure of justice.

The courtroom episodes of Star Trek have, time and again, provided a vessel to tackle thought-provoking issues around LGBTQ rights and identity. They are a testament to Star Trek’s tradition of projecting humanity’s potential futures, imagining societies that embrace diversity and engage in critical ethical debates. As we continue to traverse the Star Trek universe, we can hope it will keep challenging us, prompting us to question and evolve our understandings of identity and equality.

To quote Bizarro Timeline Kirk, who is definitely not a Vampire, “Let me guess, you live in a Utopia”? Well, not 100%, but a far stride closer than where we find ourselves in the early 21st century.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)