Monstrous Misdirection: Unmasking Moral Panic and Celebrating Geek Fandoms

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR):

Don’t support any of the listed authors below. Yes, people (read: parents) took them seriously. I know it sounds ridiculous but the panic was real, even if the actual threat was not.

Do be queer and do geek stuff. (D&D, TMNT, and Pokemon are super cool!)

For those of us born in the 1900’s, in that magical time when we had very little parental supervision, but also could play Oregon Trail in school and call it educational

The internet was an excellent opportunity to explore all those things our parents didn’t understand, get dubiously backed up answers to questions we were afraid to ask, or ask random strangers ASL? Which, of course, was not American Sign Language.

…. or use the 14.4k modems at the Public Library to look up the Space Jam Website

(of note, that JNCO Baseball on NEX, and playing NBA Jam on SNES were mostly the extent of my sports involvement until college) 

Anyway, the 1980s and 1990s were decades marked by a phenomenon known as “moral panic.” 

During this time, a slew of books emerged that ignited widespread fear and controversy, often targeting LGBTQ+ themes and characters. So today, right in time for spooky season,, we’ll embark on a journey through the pages of these moral panic books, examining their impact on the LGBTQ+ community and how they continue to shape discussions today.

Disclaimer: I read these hilariously awful books so you don’t have to, and don’t worry – I read them at the public library (yes I said at the library) so no money went to these jokers and their demand won’t inch up at all. I do not believe in banning books, but I’m also not going to help these folks out, which is also why I won’t be linking for you to buy any of these in the post like I normally do. If you really want a copy, you can go searching. 

To understand the moral panic books of the ’80s and ’90s, it’s essential to grasp the socio-political context of these decades. The AIDS epidemic, Reaganomics, neo-Mccarthyism, conservative politics, and a general discomfort with changing societal norms all played a role in the creation and promotion of these controversial texts.

Moral Panic #1: The Truth About Dungeons and Dragons – by Joan Robie

This book actually went out of print so fast it appears it’s now become somewhat of a collector’s item. Fun!

That didn’t stop it from making some geeks’ lives miserable. This was my first foray into Robie’s writing, and it came up when a teacher was concerned because my friends and I were playing Magic the Gathering during lunch. She was concerned we worshipped Satan or something (whatever happened to religious freedom, right). Anyway, I became a vegan due to my poor spelling at a young age.

Anyway, “The Truth about Dungeons and Dragons” by Joan Hake Robie is a book published in 1991 during the height of the Satanic Panic era. The book attempts to link the popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) to various moral and psychological concerns, including claims of promoting occult practices, violence, and psychological harm to players, especially teenagers. And if you’re too young to remember this, it went way beyond a few poorly written books. There was even a nebulously created (later entirely debunked) theory that a college student at Michigan State University played so much D&D that he got lost in maintenance tunnels under the campus and died. The fact that this was entirely false did not stop the media, and then countless parent groups from repeating it over and over.

By the specific examples the author uses, and the direct quotes from gamers, it’s clear that the only interviews she conducted were with some adolescent boys who thought it would be funny to mess with her. Reading these sections feels a lot like getting smack talked when I tried to play Fortnite with my nephew.

The book is primarily a product of its time when fears and misconceptions about the influence of D&D were prevalent, often fueled by religious and moral concerns. Robie’s writing reflects a profoundly conservative Christian perspective, which colors her analysis throughout the book. She asserts that allowing children to play D&D is akin to opening their minds to occult practices and harmful psychological effects.

Robie presents anecdotal evidence and case studies, often emphasizing the adverse outcomes of some individuals who played D&D. She also makes questionable connections between the game and themes such as prostitution, sex perversion, cannibalism, and even psychotherapy, which she frames negatively.

Throughout the book, Robie suggests that D&D can lead to a range of societal ills, and she often employs religious references and quotes to support her arguments. She portrays the game as a potential gateway to the occult and other perceived moral dangers.

“The Truth about Dungeons and Dragons” is a book deeply rooted in the moral and religious fears of the time it was written—the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Robie’s work reflects a strong religious bias and a lack of understanding of the nature of tabletop role-playing games like D&D.

While the book claims to analyze the potential dangers associated with D&D, it relies heavily on anecdotal evidence and case studies that may not represent the broader gaming community. Robie’s interpretation of the game’s content often stretches credibility, such as linking it to prostitution and cannibalism.

Robie also suggests that D&D can harm players, particularly teenagers, by alienating them from their peers and leading them into dangerous territory. However, her arguments often lack nuance and do not consider the diverse experiences and motivations of individuals who engage in tabletop role-playing.

One notable aspect of the book is its extensive bibliography, which includes references to articles and materials related to the history and impact of D&D. Some of these references offer valuable insights into the historical context of the game’s rise in popularity.

In retrospect, “The Truth about Dungeons and Dragons” is seen as a product of its time, reflecting the irrational fears and moral concerns surrounding role-playing games during the Satanic Panic. While it may serve as a historical artifact that sheds light on the circumstances of that era, its arguments and interpretations are discredited by both the gaming community and scholars who have examined the impact of D&D.

The book provides a glimpse into the unfounded fears and misconceptions surrounding D&D during a particular historical period. However, its analysis is heavily biased and needs more depth and nuance to fully understand the nature of tabletop role-playing games and their effects on individuals.

Moral Panic #2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Exposed – by Joan Hake Robie

Hey, kids, she’s back! “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Exposed” by Joan Hake Robie, published in 1991, is a controversial examination of the popular TMNT franchise. In this book, Robie sets out to provide a “critical analysis” of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Still, the analysis leans heavily toward criticism, especially regarding themes of violence, commercialization, and the perceived negative influence on children.

The book is only 75 pages long (which reads like a Flat Earther trying to write an open letter disputing an acclaimed orbitologist) and offers a basic overview of the TMNT phenomenon, including their origin story and popularity in the 1990s. Robie delves into various aspects of the Turtles’ universe, from the movies and action figures to their music tour, “Coming Out of Their Shells.” One section of the book, titled “The Philosophy of the Turtles,” delves into the moral and philosophical aspects of the TMNT concept.

Robie expresses concerns about depicting violence, stereotypes, and the representation of women in the TMNT series. She argues that the show’s emphasis on violence and its commercialization are problematic, potentially desensitizing children to real-world violence. Robie also criticizes the lack of nuance in portraying good versus evil in the series.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Exposed” is a highly critical examination of the TMNT franchise, focusing primarily on concerns related to violence, commercialization, and gender representation. Robie presents a biased and firmly rooted perspective in her personal beliefs, which may not align with the views of all readers.

One recurring theme in the book is Robie’s worry about the influence of violence in children’s entertainment, particularly in TMNT. While the concern about violence in media aimed at children is legitimate, Robie’s arguments often lack nuance and rely on exaggerations and misinterpretations of the series.

Robie also raises concerns about gender representation, highlighting the character April O’Neil as an example of the sexualization of women in the series.

While on the surface, it’s tricky to argue that point, considering her iconic skin-tight yellow jumpsuit in the 1985 cartoon, and the fact that more than one person likely realized they weren’t entirely straight because of Ms. O’Neil, the specific arguments in the book rely heavily on cherry picked biblical passages, seem to ignore other areas in popular media where women are sexualized, and lack a thorough understanding of the source material, leading to questionable assertions.

The book is poorly written, with numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout. Robie’s writing style is disjointed, and her arguments often lack coherence. This lack of clarity may make it difficult for readers to fully grasp her points.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Exposed” is a book that attempts to critically analyze the TMNT franchise but falls short due to its biased perspective, lack of depth in its arguments, and poor writing. While it raises some valid concerns about violence in children’s entertainment, it fails to present a well-reasoned and balanced critique of the series. Readers interested in thoroughly examining the TMNT franchise will be immensely disappointed.

Moral Panic #3: POKEMON is of the Devil!

Ok, so I didn’t find any specific books about this one (yet – I’ll keep looking because these things amuse me to no end) but the panic was very real.

In the late 1990s, a phenomenon swept the globe, captivating the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. Pokémon, short for “Pocket Monsters,” emerged as a cultural juggernaut with its video games, trading cards, animated TV series, and merchandise. But a moral panic was brewing beneath the vibrant colors and endearing creatures.

The moral panic surrounding Pokémon can be traced back to several key factors.

Pokémon’s trading card game quickly became a sensation. As children eagerly collected and traded cards, adults worried about the potential for addiction and financial strain on parents. Simultaneously, the Pokémon animated TV show followed Ash Ketchum’s and his friends’ adventures as they traveled the world capturing Pokémon.

Critics argued that the show promoted materialism and consumerism, relentlessly focusing on collecting creatures. Moreover, some religious groups voiced concerns that Pokémon promoted occultism and encouraged children to summon “demons” by capturing and battling creatures.

The Pokémon moral panic manifested in various ways. Some schools banned Pokémon cards due to concerns about theft, distraction, and student disputes over trades and battles. Pokémon was accused of promoting occultism and even satanic themes, often centered on the concept of “evolution” in the game, where Pokémon would transform into more powerful forms.

Parents worried about how much time their children spent playing Pokémon games or watching the TV show, fearing it could lead to a sedentary lifestyle or addiction.

Over time, the Pokémon moral panic gradually subsided for several reasons. As more information about Pokémon became available, parents and educators better understood the game’s mechanics and objectives. This demystification reduced some of the fear and misinformation. Moreover, Pokémon encouraged strategic thinking, problem-solving, and social interaction among players, overshadowing the negative perceptions.

Pokémon continued to evolve and adapt to changing societal norms. The franchise expanded its offerings to include games that promote physical activity, such as Pokémon GO. Many parents started to engage with their children by learning about Pokémon and playing the games together, fostering a sense of bonding. Then of course, came the panic over people walking into traffic, but that’s a whole other story …

The Pokémon moral panic of the late 1990s was a complex interplay of concerns over addiction, occultism, and consumerism. However, education, positive experiences, and a better understanding of the franchise helped dispel these fears over time. Pokémon continued to thrive as a beloved and enduring part of popular culture, proving that beneath the initial moral panic lay a world of imaginative storytelling, strategic gameplay, and cherished memories for generations of fans.

Lessons for Today:

I could do an entire series on real panics set off by fake threats, and maybe I will at some point. Whether it’s Comic Books convincing kids they can jump off buildings, Teletubbies turning kids gay, Fraggle Rock turning kids into communists, Celeste making kids think that they are trans (and making trans kids believe they can double jump?) – people claiming to ‘defend family values’ will always find a way to stir up fear and hatred.

This type of panic, of course, disproportionately impacts BIPOC, Queer, and other marginalized communities. This post is not meant to downplay the genuine harm that can be done when people, especially those with the power to create violence with weapons, words, or legislation, stir up panic. It is here to let you know we’ve been here before, and it will happen again. Arguing each instance on the merits may be a waste of time, I don’t know. But I know that when we gather to celebrate our Geeky fandoms, find Queer joy, and have Pride in who we are and love, we will win out.

Have other topics you want me to babble about artlessly? Let me know!

Interview with Sophia N. Lee and Christine Almeda, Creators of Lolo’s Sari-sari Store

Sophia N. Lee grew up in the Philippines. She wanted to be many things growing up: doctor, teacher, ballerina, ninja, crime-fighting international spy, wizard, time traveler, journalist, and lawyer. She likes to think she can be all these things and more through writing. She is the author of Soaring Saturdays; What Things Mean, which won a Scholastic Asian Book Award’s grand prize; Holding On; and Lolo’s Sari-sari Store.

Christine Almeda is a Filipino American freelance illustrator and lover of sunshine from New Jersey. Lolo’s Sari-sari Store is her first picture book. Christine believes that, through the power of creativity and storytelling, art can make life more beautiful.

I had the opportunity to interview Sophia and Christine, which you can read below.

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

SL: Hello to the readers of Geeks OUT! I’m Sophia N. Lee, a Filipino author. I write books for kids and young adults.

I was born and raised in the Philippines, and I grew up around a huge extended family – on my mother’s side, I have 11 other aunts and uncles, and what must be close to a hundred cousins, nephews, and nieces by now. On my father’s side, I have a lot of lolos and lolas, because my grandmother had eight siblings that lived close to where she did in the province. It was really fun growing up around so many colorful individuals – so many of my story inspirations come from my memories of being with them.

Last year, I released a picture book titled Holding On, written by me and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. It’s about a girl who visits her Lola (Filipino for grandmother) in the Philippines over the course of different summers, and how she learns to love and to hold on by observing the way her Lola does it. This year, Christine and I released a second book titled Lolo’s Sari-sari Store, and we’re so excited to share it with everyone. It’s about choosing kindness, and learning to build community, no matter where one finds themselves in.

CA: Hello! I’m a Filipino-American freelance illustrator from NJ with a love for children’s media.

How would you describe your literary/artistic background? As a creative, what drew you to writing/illustrating, especially picture books? Were there any books that inspired that storytelling path?

SL: Even from a young age, I have always been writing – especially growing up in a family like mine, there were always lots of stories to observe. But I think too that growing up in a household that had so many people in it led me to becoming a reader. I loved the quiet that books afforded me. I loved being able to escape into these different worlds beyond what I was able to imagine. Because I was also surrounded by the books everyone else in my house was reading, I learned to read widely at a young age. While I was raised on Nancy Drew and devoured most of The Sweet Valley series, in secret I also started reading many of my dad’s hard-boiled mysteries, my older cousins’ Sweet Dreams books, and my Titas’ collections of Harold Robbins, Danielle Steeles, and Judith Krantz books. I thought – how cool to be able to live all of these different lives and to understand people in deeper ways. I appreciated being able to tell a lot about a person based on the kind of books they were reading.

Once I started developing a keener sense of what I liked though, I realized that the books I naturally gravitated towards, the ones I read over and over for comfort, were the books I read when I was younger. I loved that books always afforded me a safe space to kind of learn and figure out the kind of person that I wanted to be, and so when I began dreaming of becoming a writer, I knew that I wanted to write stories for young readers. I think there’s something really special about the way a child or even a teen loves a book – when a young person reads a book, they themselves are wide open, and I think parts of the characters you create live on in them.

That’s why it’s both so hard and so important – it’s such a delicate balance, and you always want to get it right, because the stakes are so high.

CA: I grew up loving anime and animation, as well as reading a lot of manga – it definitely still influences how I draw. I went to college thinking I wanted to work in animation/visual development, but illustration and books was what I always gravitated towards.

Sophia N. Lee Photo Credit Faith Santiago-Paz

What can you tell us about your latest book, Lolo’s Sari-sari Store? What was the inspiration for this story?

SL: Lolo’s Sari-sari Store is one of those stories that I’ve carried with me for a really long time. We had a sari-sari store in our family when I was growing up, and in the summer, my cousins and I would take turns watching the store. As a kid, I loved being able to have access to all the snacks I wanted, but what I especially loved about watching the store is how I’d be able to see almost the entire community passing by. Our sari-sari store was a community hub, just as many sari-sari stores around the Philippines are. People go there to get what they need, but they also go there to be with people they’re at home with.

My Lola’s eldest sister Aurora also had a sari-sari store in the province, and when I was there, one of my favorite things to do was to run her store with her. She didn’t have children of her own, but it was almost like the whole town was her family – people came to tell her stories, and to ask her for advice, to share good news and bad with her. She would let me go home from her store with whatever I wanted.

We had “sukis” or regulars who trusted us to always carry what they needed. We made sure to stock up on goods at different price points to cater to everyone in the community. From a young age, I understood that things like sachet packets (the smallest unit of shampoo or conditioner or lotion one could buy) existed because not everyone would be able to afford entire bottles or packages of those products. I knew what “lista” (Filipino for keeping a tab) meant, and I understood that those were kept for people who didn’t have money to pay for their purchases until a certain date. I learned so much about kindness, empathy, and generosity from how the grownups around me ran our store. I knew I would want to write about those stories someday – and I’m glad that I’m able to share a part of that with everyone.

Looking at Lolo’s Sari-sari Store and the other books you’ve both worked on, it appears Filipino representation seems to be an important element in your creativity. Could you tell us what it might mean to you to see that representation on the page?

SL: Being able to see characters that look like me in books means the world to me. Growing up just after martial law ended in the Philippines, there weren’t a lot of stories written by and for Filipinos. As a child, I had this silly notion that all books came from America, because everything I had access to only ever featured mostly white, blonde, blue-eyed characters – and they never lived in towns like ours, or had incredibly large extended families that looked like mine. I couldn’t articulate then how worried I was about what that meant – weren’t we meant to be heroes in stories? Were our stories not good enough or not interesting enough?

I’m glad to see that’s changing – but sometimes, I feel as though it’s not changing fast enough. We’re still learning how important it is for kids to see themselves represented in the media that they consume. In the Philippines, we’re still battling remnants of colonial mentality – whether it’s through colorism, or from thinking that Western ideas and products are better – I’m so glad that I can put a Lola, a Lolo, a sari-sari store front and center in a story. It’s such a privilege to be able to contribute in this way.

CA: It’s always fun to see and relate to something in a book, especially if you’ve never seen it on a regular basis while growing up. So I hope people are just as excited as I am to see more Filipino representation in their books.

For Lolo’s in particular, it’s been so nice to see the reaction from the parents and adults who read the book to the children in their life. The feeling of homesickness in the story really speaks to their own story of immigrating from the Philippines. Children’s books are for all ages.

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

CA: There are SO many illustrators whose work constantly inspires me. This includes artists like Dung Ho, Elizabeth Shippen Green, or Matt Rockefeller. In terms of subjects or story, I’m usually inspired by my family, food, seasons, and childhood memories.

Christine Almeda Photo Credit Michael Vitales

When you’re writing/illustrating picture books, what typically goes through your mind? And how would you describe your creative routine?

SL: For me the most difficult part of writing the story, especially for picture books, is coming upon a good idea. I can go for months just thinking about concepts in my head – from memories I want to explore, to stories that I’ve admired, to things that I think would make for good stories. It’s never easy to come upon an idea that will translate well into a picture book format, because you’re striking a balance between having the words and the pictures tell the story. Once I’m able to find that idea and figure out how it works, at least in my head, the next step is deciding how best to tell the story – how and where does it begin? Where do I want it to go? Once I know that, the actual writing part goes really quickly. For example – it took me months to figure out everything I wanted to say for my picture book Holding On, but once I did, the actual writing of the first draft took about 30 minutes. From there, I tweak until I feel like the text is the best version of itself, and then I share it with readers I trust before sending it off to my agent Wendi.

CA: I try to let the story play out like a movie or show in my mind, so my process involves a lot of sketches and various compositions. I want to see the character arcs, the passage of time, and bring a different angle to each page.

As a creative, who has collaborated with various illustrators/writers for the picture book projects you’ve worked on, how would you describe the collaboration process? Or the general process that goes into making a picture book?

SL: After I’ve turned in the manuscript to my editor, I try to be really hands off. I try to give the illustrator as much space as they need to bring the story to life visually. I know I’m not an expert in illustration. I don’t want to ever impose my vision on theirs while they’re working on the art because I trust that they know how best to enhance the story. I think if I ever had an art note, it was just to emphasize that I wanted to make sure the characters were depicted as kayumanggi or brown-skinned, the way the majority of Filipinos are. Everything else, we go back and forth on – I love seeing how spreads change from the tweaks we make. So far – this approach has paid off for me. I’ve been so lucky to work with talented illustrators, art directors, and editors. I’m so proud of the books we’ve made together – I know I’m biased, but they are so beautiful!

CA: As the illustrator, I typically work with the art director or the editor. We go back and forth about the art with notes and feedback that they’ve discussed with the author. This part is so valuable to me as I always want the art to get better, which can be achieved with different creative perspectives.

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

SL: Every time I face a blank page, it’s a challenge for me. I think that’s why for me, so much of writing is mental work. I like to think of the story and its parts for weeks, sometimes even months, before I actually get to writing. It’s almost like the story takes place in my head first, and I don’t get started actually writing it until the story takes on a clearer form in my mind, and I have a solid idea of how I want it to flow. Sometimes, the writing will take me elsewhere, but having all of those mental markers is a bit like a roadmap for me. It lets me move forward and get things down on the page.

CA: Time management and staying organized – still learning how to do this!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers/illustrators?

SL: Don’t be afraid to let yourself be curious about things. Wherever you find yourself, take a moment to see what stories are taking place around you. Also – don’t let your fear of being bad prevent you from getting things down on the page. Every first draft is imperfect – but if you edit yourself before you even finish, you’ll never be able to get to the heart of your story. Embrace being bad, have the heart of a beginner, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

CA: It’s definitely not always going to be easy, but if you’re going to draw – draw what you love!

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

SL: I just started on a picture book manuscript inspired by my Lolo Tom, who was a photographer. I’m also working on a YA novel manuscript that’s about food. So excited for everything to come together.

CA: “Box of Dreams” written by Faith Kazmi, coming out May 2024- so glad to have illustrated another Filipino-American story, this time about balikbayan boxes and returning home.

Finally, any new books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

SL: Candy Gourlay is an author that I admire so much – I think everyone should read her newest book, Wild Song. Other books I’m excited about are Chloe and the Kaishao Boys by Mae Coyiuto, Freddy & the Family Curse by Tracy Badua, and Marikit and the Ocean of Stars by Caris Avendaño Cruz.

CA: “Maribel’s Year” written by Michelle Sterling and illustrated by Sarah Gonzales.

Interview with Author Rory Michaelson

Rory Michaelson (they/them) is the author of the multi-indie-award winning Lesser Known Monsters books, a queer dark fantasy series with a diverse found-family cast. Rory is always too busy but rarely doing the things they ought to be. They are generally a solitary creature that can often be found hunched over their laptop eating cookies in London, England.

Tiktok: @RoryMichaelson
Twitter: @RoryMichaelson
Instagram: @Rory_Michaelson_Author

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

Thank you so much! I feel welcomed. I’m very much an introvert (though publishing demands I pretend otherwise on social media). I’m queer, neurodivergent, non-binary, and love writing stories. It’s something that allows me to connect with other people in a really special way. If I can make you laugh on one page and cry on the next, I’ve done my job–but if I can make you laugh and cry at the same time, even better. Interesting fact: though I write about monsters and darker themes, I am too scared to watch most horror films (but do need to read the full synopsis of every horror film I hear about on Wikipedia and look at the cast to know what happens to each character!).

Congratulations on your very successful series, Lesser Known Monsters! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

Oh I don’t know about ‘very successful!’ Maybe if there’s ever a TV adaptation or something? Lesser Known Monsters has found quite a few people that it really connects with that tend to be loud about how much they love it. That’s my favourite kind of success, really though. 

The Lesser Known Monsters series follows a character called Oscar Tundale who is “entirely average in many ways and less than average in more.” Oscar gets dragged into an investigation of his workplace crush and discovers that not only do monsters exist but for some reason they’re very interested in him. Now, the fate of the world is in Oscar’s dithering hands, and the best he can do is try to not end it by mistake.

With Lesser Known Monsters I really wanted to give urban legends and folk-lore some love and send people into google-loops to learn even more about them. I often find traditional ‘hero’s journey’ and ‘chosen one’ narratives a bit uninspiring and tired, so writing Oscar–who is far from heroic–gave me an exciting angle into that world. Because he’s overwhelmingly human, I got to explore the world of monsters through a character who struggles with his own agency being faced with difficult situations. The stakes of the story in terms of events might be apocalyptic, but the heart of it is absolutely Oscar finding his own kind of strength, even if it doesn’t seem like much to others.

As a writer, what drew you to writing LGBTQ+ fiction, especially that intended for mature audiences?

As a queer person who grew up in section 28 in the UK I was very starved of representation. I was a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and when Willow and Tara kissed it was like an awakening. I got to see queerness brought into a world and characters that I loved, and it made my existence feel more possible. When young people don’t get to see characters like them, I think it really impacts the growth of their identity. I don’t think I really hit what should have been my ‘teens’ until my early twenties. This made that sort of ‘new adult’ phase an incredibly important growth period in my life and one I wanted to try and represent. I remember hearing V.E. Schwab talk about how when she writes, she does it for a very specific version of herself, so I wrote Lesser Known Monsters for that tired and fragile adult version of Rory that was struggling to figure things out. As creators we put parts of ourselves in our work, and we also are gifted with the chance to create a place for others, too. Now I get to help other people feel like their existence is more possible, just like Willow and Tara did for me. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters featured in your books?

I really wanted to center the story on a small found-family that was representative of a few different parts of our community. The main character is a gay man, and his best friends are a lesbian (Zara) and a trans man (Marcus). All of the characters come into the story fully realised in terms of their queer identity. Queer trauma and coming-out narratives are super important, but I wanted to write stories with queer leads that were just getting into trouble and experiencing peril and joy of a different variety! We later get to meet bi/pan, and non-binary characters who play important roles, and there’s a variety of different romance pairings throughout the cast. Personality wise, I really wanted to create a group that, whilst they were all very different from each other and at times argued or fought, they offered a real sense of belonging both together as a group and to the people reading.

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

I don’t think I really found books that spoke deeply to me until I was quite a lot older, maybe even in my thirties. When I was a teenager I mostly remember reading a lot of Buffyverse books, and then moving onto The Wheel of Time. Interesting that these both have a lot of found family vibes, right? I didn’t really get access to queer literature until I was older–at least not without the sense of shame around it that had been forced on it and me whilst I was growing up. I try to read a lot of stories now that nourish my inner teen and find that incredibly healing; reading the books today that I wish I’d have been able to read when I was growing up. I’ve started writing YA too, which adds a whole new layer to that. This is why a lot of authors joke about writing being cheaper than therapy, huh?

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

Fanfic! I used to write secret stories about my favourite TV shows but make the characters queer–creating my own representation since I couldn’t get it elsewhere. I think I stopped doing that when I was about sixteen. Then I was wrapped up in the drama of college and university and things, then went into a career in science, so all my writing became of a strictly academic nature. I don’t think I did any creative writing at all then for maybe fifteen years, until I finally found myself in a space to start rampantly consuming media that primarily focused on queer characters. It was incredibly revitalising and refilled a creative well inside me that I didn’t really know existed anymore.

I’ve always gravitated toward fiction. I love the escapism and adventure of it all. I suppose transplanting personal parts of ourselves to characters into fantastical settings and putting them through grueling, thrilling, and liberating experiences is a way for us to find a different sort of satisfaction that which we consider ‘mundane’ at a safe distance. It just scratches that itch that I can’t quite reach otherwise.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

Because of the little snippets I put in chapter breaks in Lesser Known Monsters (which feature things like poems or doodles) I technically became not only a published author, but illustrator and poet, too. This is hilarious to me because I think I’m pretty awful at the latter two things. Honestly though, I’d also love to be invited to things like events and panels. It’s quite a challenging prospect for me (as I’m very anxious and shy), but one I’d also really love to explore more. In terms of writing, I’m working on a book with a non-binary main character which I’m really excited to share in the future as I think it’s something we need more of, and also something which is really fulfilling for me to create.

The second book in the series, The Bone Gate, deals with a world wide illness, was that inspired from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

It doesn’t feature much! Early on in The Bone Gate, I mention that there’d been a pandemic following the events of the first book, but never really elaborate (beyond a little speculation of the magical-realism variety). It was mostly because I wrote it amidst the height of COVID-19 and it seemed strange to completely separate the world I was writing from the world we live in. I think the characters having experienced that event provides a grounding for relatable context within the narrative for readers. The pandemic was a life changing event for lots of us, so showing an echo of that in my story allows people another step closer to being tethered inside the characters heads, but it also doesn’t feature enough to be distressing.

Your main couple, Oscar and Dmitri, exhibit a few common tropes in their relationship, but you also seem to be having them grow beyond that. Was that all planned out? Or did it change as you wrote them?

Yes! I love tropes, but even more I love subverting them. One of my guilty pleasures is taking something that people expect and understand and giving it to them until they’re about to get sick of it, then revealing that it was actually something else all along. Lesser Known Monsters was the perfect story to do that with. I honestly don’t think that what I’m doing really starts to hit hard until the middle of the series, which I realise is pretty risky, but I’m so happy with how the series turned out all put together. I’m very much a discovery writer, so I like to let my stories run wild as I create them, but most of the big character and plot notes I absolutely had in mind from the beginning. There’s quite a lot of foreshadowing throughout–even from small occurrences in book one that pick up again in the finale. 

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

I actually have two books finished that I’m querying with agents at present! They’re both YA and sit within different shades of horror. The first is my spin on one of my favourite movies ever The Mummy, and features a queer autistic librarian as the lead. The other is about trying to rescue all of the queer characters killed off in stories before their time with a Happy Death Day meets Addie Larue sort of vibe. I’m also working on a few other things in earlier stages. A YA horror about a sleep paralysis demon, an adult fantasy about steampunk sky pirates with superpowers, a heist, and perhaps a standalone foray back into the Lesser Known Monsters universe from a different angle…

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

So much of my time is spent balancing overstimulation and understimulation. I work a full-time day job and spend just as much time on my writing work as I do there, but I also love playing video games (Dead by Daylight, and recently Baldurs Gate 3). I’m also a big fan of traveling and holidays (though I usually need a few weeks and a spreadsheet to prepare myself and spend almost all my time when I’m there writing). That’s all quite a lot, isn’t it? Sometimes I just lie under blankets holding my big plushie bulbasaur and close my eyes.

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

There are so many incredible creators out there that I’m terrified of missing someone amazing out. Terry J. Benton-Walker is doing incredible things in YA (Blood Debts) and MG (Alex Wise) with rich and heartbreakingly brilliant storytelling and vivid characters. Adam Sass is another one that somehow destroys and nourishes me in equal parts with amazing YA stories like Surrender Your Sons and Your Lonely Nights are Over. Both of them have such wickedly addictive writing but also descriptive and exciting voices.  I’m also a huge fan of Jonny Garza Villa (Ander & Santi Were Here), A.J. White (Hell Followed With Us), Xiran Jay Zhao (Iron Widow), Kalynn Bayron (You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight), and V.E. Schwab (The Shades of Magic). I also beg people to check out indie and self-pub authors which have so many diverse voices that bring new and exciting perspectives and imaginative stories you won’t find in other places. Check out books by Tiny Ghost Press who are an indie imprint specialising in Queer YA fiction, and also explore work by authors like Jayme Bean (Untouched), Gabriel Hargrave (The Orchid & The Lion), and Gideon Wood (The Stagsblood Trilogy) among so many others!

Interview with Lyndall Clipstone, Author of Unholy Terrors

Lyndall Clipstone writes about monsters and the girls who like to kiss them. A former youth librarian who grew up running wild in the Barossa Ranges of South Australia, she currently lives in Adelaide, Australia, where she tends her own indoor secret garden. She is the author of Lakesedge and Forestfall.

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

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

Hi! Thank you for having me. I’m Lyndall Clipstone, author of the World at the Lake’s Edge duology and the upcoming Unholy Terrors. I live in Adelaide, Australia, in a 100-year-old cottage with my partner, our sons, and a shy black cat. I love all things dark, arty, and spooky. When I’m not writing you can find me immersed in a video game or drinking a big cup of espresso coffee.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Unholy Terrors? What was the inspiration for this story?

Unholy Terrors is a standalone dark fantasy where Everline Blackthorn, a holy warrior unable to work the necromantic magic of her sect, must team up with the monstrous boy she’s sworn to kill, for the chance to discover what really happened to her traitorous mother seventeen years ago.

It’s my gothic fever dream with intense Sofia Coppola vibes; lush, lyrical, aesthetic, and intensely romantic. I was inspired by a range of things: Gideon the Ninth, particularly the delightfully prickly relationship between Gideon and Harrow, Lost Souls which is the OG goth, vampiric romance story written in delectable prose, and Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, particularly the scene where Rey and Kylo Ren set aside their differences to fight side by side.

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

I’ve always loved to write, and storytelling is an enormous part of how I make sense of my emotions. Especially as a young adult, a time in my life where I felt quite adrift, immersing myself into books and writing provided so much solace. I love the endlessness of possibilities with speculative fiction, and how I can use things like magic, or monsters, or body horror as a lens through which to examine the real world.

How would you describe your writing process?

A mixture of organization and chaos, which is how I approach life in general, haha. I’ll start with plenty of vibes: playlists and moodboards and reading lists form a huge part of my early brainstorming. I like to have a loose outline before I start writing, and aim to visualize at least three key moments of the book very clearly. But as I draft, I will change things based on how I feel; new ideas always come up as I write and I let instinct guide the direction of the story.

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

The works of Australian YA authors Margot Lanagan and Sonya Hartnett were immensely influential to me, particularly Tender Morsels and The Devil Latch. And Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls was the book of my teenage heart.

As an adult, two books which will always be special to me are The Secret History by Donna Tartt and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I will reread them each at least once a year, and I have a collection of different editions which I treasure.

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 very visually inspired. I love cinema – some of my favorite directors are Sofia Coppola, David Lynch, Ari Aster, and Guillermo del Toro. I also love watching music videos – Florence + the Machine’s MVs are amazing.

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

I love writing romance scenes, or big moments of emotional introspection. Anything character focused. I adore the lyricism of prose, too, so any scenes where I can create an evocative atmosphere with descriptions are always very enjoyable.

The most challenging part of writing for me is the emotional self-care side of author life. Letting the story go, knowing it belongs to the readers, and coming to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to make anything I write “perfect” because there’s no such thing.

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 wish there was a magic answer for how to finish a book but I think it’s just persistence. There is so little we can control in publishing, but we do control the writing. Showing up and putting down the words is one of the few things completely in our hands.

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

I’m an illustrator and drew all of the artwork that appears inside of Lakesedge, Forestfall, and Unholy Terrors.

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)?

Which monster first made me want to write about monster romances. It was Hannibal Lecter. I’m completely obsessed with Thomas Harris’ novels and the 1991 Silence of the Lambs film particularly, but the tv show and the Hannigram ship also have rights.

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

I’ve always tried to treat writing like a job, even before I was published or agented, and set aside dedicated work hours to spend writing. Give yourself permission to value yourself as an author, regardless of what stage of career you are in. You deserve to carve out time for creativity.

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

Next year, I have my first ever short story, Cryptophasia, publishing in Neon Hemlock’s Crawling Moon anthology. It’s a dark academia homage to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and is my first published adult work. And I may or may not have a few more book-shaped secrets which I hope to share soon!

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

I’ll never stop raving about With Fire in Their Blood by Kat Delacorte, which is a dark contemporary fantasy written in delicious prose and featuring the messiest, most chaotic bisexual love triangle ever.

Interview with St, Illustrator of English translations for The Husky and His White Cat Shizun and Remnants of Filth

St., aka Suto, is a Taiwanese-American illustrator with an anime-inspired art style. They are the illustrator for the English translations for The Husky and His White Cat Shizun and Remnants of Filth both by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou, and have provided artwork for the Barnes and Nobles edition of Scum Villain’s Self Saving System by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. When they’re not busy drawing, they’re busy playing video games and sleeping. They are currently set to illustrate the English translations for Ballad of Sword and Wine: Qiang Jin Jiu by Tang Jiu Qing.

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

All statements and opinions are my own (St.) and do not represent Seven Seas or JJWXC.

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

Hi hi, thank you so much for having me, it’s an honor! I’m Suto, also known as St., a Taiwanese-American illustrator/dreamer/cat, dog, and fox lover.

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I’m a mostly independent artist who does illustrative work and other small jobs for a bunch of things. What I do is nothing crazy, haha. Some of the things I’m working on I can’t say much on, so apologies for the boring answer!

Meanwhile, during my free time, I like to doodle and write down stories and ideas for my original characters.

What drew you to illustrating? Could you describe your artistic background for us?

I’ve been drawing and doing all sorts of creative-related things since I was able to pick up a pencil, but I don’t really have any formal artistic training. The highest level of art education I’ve received was an art elective during high school.

Actually, I was offered a scholarship to an art program back when I was applying to colleges. But I ended up not accepting it… instead, I became an English literature major while doing a minor in East Asian Studies. Even funnier is that my focus was/is Japan, and not China, so it’s a little funny I ended up as an illustrator for historical Danmei works.

As someone known for their work illustrating the English translations for The Husky and His White Cat Shizun  and Remnants of Filth both by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou, what draws you to this author’s work?

At first it was the interesting plots with all the twists and turns, but then it was definitely the characters that kept me drawn into Meatbun’s writing. I’m pretty sure the cast in Husky is my favorite cast of characters out of all the Danmei stories I read. Also, the humor! I think Meatbun’s works are really well known for angst (for a good reason!) but the comedy had me stifling laughs at 2 AM when I stayed up reading.

What are your thoughts on the current danmei (Chinese genre of literature and other fictional media that features romantic relationships between male characters) publishing field and fandom?

Regarding the publishing field for Danmei, I cannot offer much. All I can say is that it is a complicated and difficult business, so I wish fans would be a little more understanding and patient when it comes to official international releases.

Fandom-wise… It is also difficult to express all my thoughts. As with all fandoms, there are pros and cons.

For Danmei specifically, there are issues of culture appropriation, fetishization (whether intentional or not), misinformation, and so on.

But on the other side, people can be very very supportive and excited when it comes to Danmei. There’s just tons of creativity spilling out from fanworks shared online and other sorts of positivity. I’ve been seeing more and more people (re)connecting with their Chinese background and history, as well as others wishing to learn more about Chinese culture thanks to Danmei – which is always a delight to see!

What are some of your favorite danmei or queer Chinese titles in general?

Mo Du by Priest

Qiang Jin Jiu by Tang Jiu Qing

Here U Are by Djun

Tamen De Gushi by Tan Jiu

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

I’m always admiring and being influenced by various and fellow artists online on sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, pixiv, etc.

But to list a few more inspirations:

-My family

-Character arts from mobages (mobile games) such as Granblue Fantasy and Fate/Grand Order

-Behind-the-scenes concept works from basically anything, such as games to live-action movies

-Chinese shanshui and Japanese ukiyo-e style artworks

-Costumes and historical dress from various cultures, although I’ve been focused primarily on China these days due to my work. The Ming Dynasty is my favorite fashion-wise, and the history of some of the fashion choices is incredibly fascinating too.

-Various types of music ranging from Gufeng and Qinqiang styles to niche EDM

-Touhou Project

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

There isn’t any specific question that I’d like to be asked, I think. But if there’s a topic that I’d like to be asked about and that I could go on and on talking about it’d probably be about my original characters haha… I will spare the interview from my rambling, though!

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

I love cats and think they are super cute, but I’ve only ever had dogs and probably will only raise dogs in my life. I’m allergic to mangos. One of my hobbies is doing research, so I have a love-hate relationship with academic databases. I truly believe the old animated Barbie movies are some of the peakest/most peak(?) fiction to exist. Also, I think everyone should read The Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi Ono at least once in their lifetime.

As an illustrator, what advice would you give to aspiring creatives? 

Health-wise, remember to regularly stretch and take breaks. Many of us creatives have terrible and unhealthy lifestyle habits, so don’t forget to drink and eat regularly (setting up alarms helps sometimes…). And also try to get as much sleep as you can no matter how busy you may be. I often joke about staying up all night and having to rush to deadlines, but in reality, I do try to get as much sleep as possible.

Creative-wise, I think it’s good to take a look at other things or do something unrelated to your creative work from time to time, and not just do the stuff you like. Such as taking walks outside in nature, watching YouTube lectures or documentaries on a bunch of different things, going to a science museum, and so on.

Making art takes a lot of brain power, so it’s easy to get stuck. I think it’s always important to take breaks from thinking creatively and let yourself have a breather.

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

There are a few things I’m working on now that I cannot reveal at the time of this interview, but I’m excited for when it gets revealed publicly.

As for a more personal project, I’ve been working on a series of original character illustrations inspired by the Chinese 24 Solar Terms. At first, it was just something I decided on a whim and I wasn’t really that serious about. But I’m now halfway done, so I’m quite proud that I’ve gotten so far and pushed myself to do this illustration series. I might do something similar but simpler next year though…

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

Until I Met My Husband by Ryousuke NanasakiMy Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

Interview with Natalie Caña, Author of A Dish Best Served Hot

Natalie Caña writes contemporary romances that allow her to incorporate her witty sense of humor and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her. A PROPOSAL THEY CAN’T REFUSE is her debut novel.

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

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

Hi all, I’m Natalie Caña (pronounced K-ah-n-ya). I’m a Domini-Rican author of saucy Latiné romances with shenanigans and sabor. I’ve been writing for many years, but my 2022 novel A Proposal They Can’t Refuse was my first published work. I’ve had multiple careers throughout my adulthood, but being an author is the most authentic and personal.

 What can you tell us about your latest book,  A Dish Best Served Hot? What was the inspiration for this story?  

The original inspiration for A Dish Best Served Hot was my personal experience teaching in an urban school district with not many resources. As I dug deeper into the characters and the world became chaos thanks to the pandemic, the story evolved into something much deeper. It became about the essence of community and the ways we, not only, affect it as individuals, but how it affects us in return. The story became about how we have the tendency to base our value off our communities (whether a neighborhood or a family) and how we serve them. 

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

I have always been a storyteller. From the moment I could talk I was telling stories. I used to spend hours creating elaborate tales with my Barbies to the point where none of my cousins wanted to play with me because I was doing too much. (I stand by my stance that every single story needed an ending!)  

I honestly believe that my love for romance in general began with the telenovelas I used to watch daily with my grandmother. I loved that in the end good overcame evil and everyone who deserved it received their happy ending. That balance after all of the chaos, spoke to me on a deeper level even as a kid. When I discovered that same feeling in romance novels…it was a wrap. I knew that’s what I wanted to create. I set out to do so. 

As a queer and Latinx author, what does it mean for you featuring queer and Latinx representation in your books?

Man, it means everything to me. I grew up going to schools where BIPOC people were the minority. I felt an immense pressure to assimilate even though I knew it would never truly work. One look at me was enough to prove that I didn’t belong there regardless of whether I wore the same name-brand clothes, spoke the same way, or straightened my hair to match those around me. It took me a long time to accept and appreciate that my “otherness” was a gift not a curse. 

It took even longer for me to acknowledge my queerness. Even as I supported and did my best to uplift the queer people around me, something held me back from looking more closely at myself. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve taken that deep dive into myself if it weren’t for Lola, the heroine of book 2. Researching and writing Lola, made me come face to face with aspects of myself that I’d been ignoring for over 30 years. It made me finally acknowledge and accept that I’m a bisexual woman and that’s a valid existence no matter who I am or am not in a relationship with. 

At the end of the day I want readers to take that away from my books: It doesn’t matter what you look like or who you are attracted to, we are all deserving of a love that nurtures and accepts us wholly. To be able to spread that message is priceless to me. 

How would you describe your writing process?

The only way to describe my process is “contained chaos”. I try so hard to be one of those organized plotters who has every chapter planned out and just sits down and cranks out words. Unfortunately, I am not that person. If I plan my scenes too much, my brain tells me “Ugh, we already did this. Let’s do something else” and I struggle to get any words out. I’ve learned that I just need to tell myself what is the main thing the scene needs to accomplish and then let myself go from there. I do end up all over the place, but I fix all of that in editing. That’s where I really dig in and shape the story into what it needs to be. I end up doing more work because I inevitably have to rewrite scenes and chapters, but it’s honestly the only thing that works for me. 

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

I was not a reader growing up at all. I mostly watched Disney and/or Shirley Temple movies. However, when I was sixteen I heard that J.Lo (my idol at the time) had started her own production company and was going to be making a movie based on the book The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. Of course, I went and bought it immediately so I could see what it was all about, because I’m nosey like that. It was a revelation. Here was this book that was being sold in the big named bookstores that was 100% about Latinas and their lives. They weren’t the sassy sidekicks dishing out advice to some basic white woman. They were the main characters and they all had very different personalities. It blew my mind. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that and for a long time it was the only instance. 

Now there is a growing list of Latinx women writing romance that feature many ethnicities and sexualities and everytime I read one I feel seen in the same way I did back then. It’s a beautiful and inspirational experience every single time. 

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

I know I mentioned them already, but I have to bring up telenovelas again. The fact that these are relatively short stories (only a new months) that feature all the drama one can think up, but still end with a happily ever after for the main characters is what really influences me as a writer and as a person. It gives me hope that no matter what happens, everything will be good in the end. That message is exactly what drew me to the romance genre and what makes me continue reading and writing it. I want my stories to give someone that hope.

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

I think my favorite aspect of writing is building the characters. If y’all could only see how much work I put into developing each and every person who shows up on the page, it would look like that GIF of the guy standing in front of his crime wall with the pictures and the red string all over the place. You know the one I’m talking about. That’s me creating a rich backstory for every character whether they are in every chapter or they show up one time. I know I go overboard, but I can’t tell you how many times it has saved my butt. The heroine of book 2, Lola, is the perfect example. She was originally just a blimp in the hero’s past, but when it became clear that the heroine I’d chosen was not the right one for him, I had to go back and look at his backstory. That’s where I found Lola, the girl who gave Saint his nickname, changed his life, and disappeared. And boom, just like that, book 2 had a new heroine and a way better plot. 

As for challenges: setting has always been the most challenging for me to write. I see things so clearly in my mind that I struggle to get it on the page the way I see it. I either end up going into not enough detail (because I forget that the reader can’t see into my brain) or way too much (because I remember they can’t see into my brain, so I add tons of description so they can see what I see). It’s hard for me to find the right balance, which is why I’m eternally grateful for my editor. 

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?

In a virtual panel I heard the great Beverly Jenkins say, “Stop just talking about your story. Sit down in the chair and write the damn book. You are not a talker, you are a writer.” Boy did that light a fire under my butt, because that is exactly what I was doing. I was talking about my story and daydreaming about it instead of writing it. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t enough to have it all playing out in my head like a movie I was watching. I needed to get it from my head to the paper in order for it to be of value to anyone but me.

Around the same time, Hamilton the musical was making a splash. I remember listening to “Wait For It” and bawling my eyes out, because it resonated so much with me. I was waiting for my time to come, but what was I really doing to make it happen? I needed to “write like I was running out of time”. So I did exactly that. I sat down and wrote the damn book. It was a mess, but it was there. I finally had something to work with besides the visions in my head. 

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

Oh God, this is the worst question to ask me. As the most introverted of introverts I don’t want ANYONE to know ANYTHING  about me EVER. But as a Gemini with both a Leo Moon and Leo Rising, I have the tendency to overshare once I get started. There is no middle. Honestly, I feel like I’m relatively basic AF. I like to be in my house with my dogs watching the same shows over and over. I’m basically your run of the mill anxiety ridden Millennial with tons of student debt and an unhealthy obsession with anything nostalgic (Disney, Nickelodeon, 90s music, and childhood snacks like Lunchables and Dunkaroos). AND YOU WILL HAVE TO YANK MY SKINNY JEANS AND SIDE PART  OUT OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS!

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)?

Okay, I thought about this for a while and I still have NO clue. I’ve been asked some great questions since beginning my author journey. Most of which I’ve given super random and rambling answers to, because that’s just how I am. It’s basically my brand at this point: random, rambling, nonsense with crumbs of intellect sprinkled in. Therefore, I could come up with a really good question for this, but the answer would still be absolute trash, so yeah. Sorry I’m not better at this. *wince

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

Find yourself an author community by joining a writer’s group in person or finding people online. As much as your friends and family want to support you, they don’t get it like other writers will. Having like minded people to talk to, vent to, or bounce ideas off of is immeasurably valuable. Also, work on your craft. There is always something to learn or improve upon. 

But honestly, everyone will give you advice on what to do or not do, how to do it or tell you something is wrong. At the end of the day, you have to learn for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember first and foremost that this is your story and no one else will or can tell it like you. 

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

I’m currently in the process of editing book 3 of the Vega Love Stories series, titled Sleeping With The Frenemy. It was the story I was looking forward to writing the most out of the three and I’m incredibly excited for people to read it. I am obsessed with this hero and heroine. I’d love to write more stories about the Vega family, but if  I don’t get that opportunity I know that this book will be a good place to end. 

As for other projects: I have some other ideas percolating in my mind, but nothing set in stone yet. 

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

There are so many fantastic queer authors out there telling amazing stories just waiting to be found and devoured. I personally look to one of my favorite BookTokers @Orlandoreads, for recommendations whenever I need some TBR inspo. 

However, off the top of my head here’s what I have to share:

If you haven’t read Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series yet, then what are you even doing with your life? Same with her latest release An Island Princess Starts A Scandal. And really anything she writes. 

My good friend, Liz Lincoln has a sapphic soccer book called Loving A Keeper which is AMAZING. 

Speaking of sapphic soccer, Meryl Wilsner’s Cleat Cute is great along with their debut, Mistakes Were Made (not about soccer, but still sapphic). 

J.J. Arias is a surefire winner for those wanting hot sapphic romance. 

Cat Giraldo’s Wild Pitch was fantastic and I’m super pumped for Outfield Assist which comes out in October as well. 

If you are wanting some Queer wedding vibes there’s I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson and D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C Higgins

Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I know that YA is really doing the damn thing when it comes to LGBTQ+ rep in books, so make sure to check them out too!

Interview with Sher Lee

Sher Lee writes rom-coms and fantasy novels for teens. Fake Dates and Mooncakes is her debut. Like the main character, she has made mooncakes with her favorite aunt and has an abiding love for local street food (including an incredible weakness for Xiao Long Bao). She lives in Singapore with her husband and two adorable corgis, Spade and Clover.

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

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

Hi! I’m Sher, and I write rom-coms and fantasy novels for teens. I live in Singapore and have an abiding love for local street food. Fake Dates and Mooncakes is my debut novel, and I also have two YA fantasy novels in the pipeline.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Fake Dates and Mooncakes? What was the inspiration for this book?

Dylan wants to win the Mid-Autumn mooncake-making contest in his mom’s memory—they had wanted to enter the contest together—as well as to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Singaporean Chinese takeout, Wok Warriors. Dylan hasn’t had much luck in love, nor has he had much time for it, as he’s busy with senior year and helping to deliver food—which is how he meets Theo.

Theo’s the boy with the wealthy, absent dad, and he has everything he could ask for. He and Dylan come from completely different backgrounds, but he’s attracted to Dylan’s down-to-earth personality and self-deprecating manner. He asks Dylan to be his fake date to a glitzy family wedding in the Hamptons, where Crazy Rich Asians-style hijinks ensue!

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and it’s a cherished part of my childhood. I have fond memories of walking around with lanterns under the full moon as a kid and, when I was older, making snow-skin mooncakes with my favorite aunt. The festival also celebrates love and families, and the full moon is a symbol of reunion. These are all major themes in the book, along with coping with loss and finding love in unexpected places and against the odds. Opposites attract, and even though the boys’ worlds are sun-and-moon apart, eclipses happen every now and then!

Food seems to be a particularly important element of this book. How would you describe your own connection to food and how that might affect your creativity?

One recurring comment from readers has been: don’t read this when you’re hungry! “Clearly the universal love language is food,” Theo’s aunt remarks in the novel, and food is a big part of this story. All the major events invariably take place around food—from the first time Theo and Dylan meet when Dylan delivers a wrong order to Theo’s friend’s apartment, to Dylan’s determination to re-create his grandma’s lost mooncake recipe that has been passed down for generations.

As my author bio confesses, I have an abiding love for local street food, including an incredible weakness for xiao long bao. Dylan’s aunt’s takeout, Wok Warriors, also sells all the local dishes I love: chye tow kway (fried radish and egg pancake), satay, fried Hokkien prawn mee, stir-fried egg fried rice, and more!

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

I was a mentee in Pitch Wars 2017, which was my first serious step toward traditionally publishing my stories. I love writing YA fiction because it’s about firsts and discoveries, be it first love, first heartbreak, or first attempt to save the world. And I gravitate toward stories with a strong romantic plot, so writing a rom-com was a natural choice! I am also a huge fan of YA fantasies, which is why my next two books are fantasy novels.

How would you describe your writing process?

I nearly always need to have the major beats and the end of the story plotted out before I can start drafting. But the journey—how the characters make their way through the challenges—is a discovery during the drafting process and often includes some unexpected detours. In short, Act 1 and Act 3 usually turn out according to plan but Act 2 is an adventure.

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

As a teenager in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there wasn’t a great deal of diverse children’s fiction. Gladly, the landscape of children’s literature has taken a positive turn in terms of inclusivity—diverse readers of different races can see themselves reflected in popular stories, and New York Times bestsellers include more diverse authors than before.

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

Although I love to read, my primary source of inspiration is TV shows! I just love being immersed in the serialized format of episodic TV, binge-watching season after season of each new show that I fall in love and become obsessed with. I also watch shows in different languages, and recent favorites include: The Umbrella Academy, Shadow and Bone, Heartstopper, Word of Honor (Chinese), Alchemy of Souls (Korean).

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

As masochistic as this may sound, my favorite part of writing is revisions! There is something magical and thoroughly fulfilling about watching the draft take shape, deepen, and grow with each revision. The most challenging part of writing for me is drafting—a blank page is daunting, and I am a rather slow writer. Some authors can write 3,000 to 5,000 words a day, but a more modest goal for me is a thousand words—and sometimes I don’t even manage that!

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

My husband and I have two adorable corgis, Spade and Clover (yes, I always wanted to name my pet corgi Clover, which is why Dylan’s trusted corgi confidant is also named Clover!)

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)?

No one has asked about my dream adaptation of Fake Dates and Mooncakes, and my answer is: a Netflix movie! I think that a streaming platform has more reach than a theater release, especially for rom-coms, and it would be an absolute dream come true if Netflix acquired rights and produced Fake Dates and Mooncakes!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t chase trends, because they rise and fade fast. Write what you love, what you want to read, and can’t find on shelves. The authenticity will naturally shine through.

Social media has become increasingly important for authors, published and unpublished, to get noticed—but don’t push yourself to engage or participate at the expense of your mental health.

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

I have two YA fantasy novels coming up! The first, Legend of the White Snake, is coming out in Summer 2024 from Quill Tree, an imprint of HarperCollins. It’s a gender-flipped reimagining of one of China’s four famous folktales, in which a teen boy must hide his true identity as a white snake spirit when he falls in love with a prince hunting for a white snake for the antidote to cure his dying mother. It has the xianxia vibes of A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin and the queer romance of Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (who’s also published by Quill Tree!)

We’ve also sold UK and Commonwealth rights to Macmillan Children’s as well as Italian, Spanish, and Russian translation rights. I’m so thrilled to have the chance to continue bringing stories with authentic aspects of my heritage to readers.

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

I love THE CHARM OFFENSIVE by Alison Cochrun, an amazing author I admire, who also gave a wonderful blurb for Fake Dates and Mooncakes!

WHAT IF IT’S US by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is one of my favorite YA rom-coms, with an adorable accidental meet-cute. It’s also set in New York City. Don’t forget to check out Becky’s latest book, IMOGEN, OBVIOUSLY!

I also really enjoyed SPELL BOUND by FT Lukens, as well as her earlier novels, IN DEEPER WATERS and SO THIS IS EVER AFTER.

TEACH THE TORCHES TO BURN by Caleb Roehrig is the queer Romeo+Juliet remix I never knew I needed!

There are also some great queer books coming out this year from my fellow 2023 debut authors: THE WICKED UNSEEN by Gigi Griffis (June 2023) and GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES by Linda Cheng (November 2023).

Find Sher on social media:

Instagram: @sherleeauthor

Twitter: @SherLeeAuthor

Preorder links:

Interview with Tomi Oyemakinde

Tomi Oyemakinde grew up in London, before being uprooted at the age of 6 to head across the North Sea to the Netherlands. Going on to live in a further two countries across two continents, he was anchored by a scenic boarding school and fantastical stories – namely Richard Adams’s Watership Down.

Despite a love for stories and a desire to write, Tomi found that finishing was a lot harder than starting. But once he discovered the stories he wanted to tell, he couldn’t put pen to paper fast enough.

Now, Tomi is committed to crafting stories centred on Black protagonists thriving across genres, audiences & worlds.

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

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

Delighted to be here! The name’s Tomi and I’m a YA Author (planning to one day span multiple age ranges) based in the UK. I love manga and anime, Star Wars, and my surname which approximately means ‘Warrior returned successfully from battle’.

What can you tell us about your debut book, The Changing Man?

In the countryside is a boarding school, and in it is a girl—Ife—who feels like a fish out of water. When the only friend she’s made turns up uncannily different, it sets Ife off on a journey to uncover whether there is any truth to the urban legend of ‘The Changing Man’. The Changing Man is a slice of me—inspired by my time at boarding school and how I felt back then.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction thriller/dark academia?

I’ve always been an avid reader. I have my mum to thank for that. Reading stories and falling in love with the worlds and characters was constant fuel for my imagination. I often had my head in the clouds. Though it wasn’t until about five years ago that I took the plunge and started to write.

Once I knew The Changing Man would be a boarding school story, I went with YA because I was writing for version of me who needed this book back then—a relatable story that was full of fun and got the gears of imagination turning.

How would you describe your writing process?

At the best of times, it is organized and structured. At the worst of times, it makes no sense and I rely on instinct. If I were to dress like my writing process it would be an uncoordinated mess that somehow works.

One thing remains true though. I always have a strong sense of the ending to my stories. It helps me not to go too far astray.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? Would you say there are any like that now?

To be honest, no. Growing up I didn’t see myself at all, at least in terms of personal identity. I feel fortunate that it was enough for me to resonate with the feelings of characters. Stories like Watership Down by Richard Adams and the Boy Soldier series by Andy McNab were formative to me.

However, I know for many back then it wasn’t enough. Which is why I’m grateful to see there are many (still not enough) stories that reflect the many shades of identity we see.

In recent years, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds, and Twice as Perfect by Louisa Onomé have struck emotional chords. They are stories younger me needed—whether he knew it or not.

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 cinema. I am one of those who does not have great visual imagination. Films help me a lot in terms of solidifying and identifying the emotions I want to evoke and explore with my writing. Alongside films, I love dipping into the parts of myself that are associated with strong memories. And then I’m a weird guy so I lean into that and ask myself loads of what ifs about the world around me.

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

I love first drafts. I should caveat that. I love the newness of first drafts. I get to pour as much into it as I can. I don’t tend to extensively plan so I enjoy the discovery. I find that I blend genres a good amount too. Unfortunately, when it comes to structural edits I find those quite hard. Between balancing the various genres I’ve dipped into, and the off-the-wall plot, I often complain to my past self.

As a writer, often one of the hardest parts of writing a book is just finishing it. Could you tell us any tips or strategies you used that helped you accomplish this?

I’d love to. I’ve found that finishing, doesn’t mean perfect. A finished draft with a lot of plot holes, underdeveloped characters, a confused magic system, and a low wordcount (for example) is still finished. That part never changes.

Once I understood that, I learnt that being intentional is how you get to that finished draft that isn’t perfect. That doesn’t mean writing every day. But it means committing to telling the story you want to tell.

And finally, I held on to the fact that I started the story for a reason. It’s important to write that story you’re unsure about—to push through, be unconventional, and tinker—because stories don’t care how they come about, as long as they get told!

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

I have a BIG phobia of butterflies. Honestly, it’s the way they flutter. It is beyond unnerving. Oh, and one day I’d love to have a go at directing a movie or being the cinematographer. Film is such an amazing medium and I will often listen to podcasts of directors and cinematographers talk about their craft.

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)?

Great question that is. I’d love to be asked: Which five people would you like to hang out and bowl with and who would win? My answer is: Steph Curry, N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Kaluuya, Barack Obama, and Viola Davis. As for who would win, I’m going with Steph Curry. I think I’m finishing dead last.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Weed out unconstructive feedback and learn to thrive from constructive feedback. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to love your work. And not nearly enough will be constructive about it. In those instances, be gracious to yourself and know feedback should be helpful.

Thankfully there are those that are fair and balanced, and they can be very helpful. Learning how to reflect and move on from that can help you grow even faster as a creative.

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

I have an untitled YA thriller that I’m excited about. Without giving too much away it’s about two brothers and their dad, trying to understand one another in a high stakes situation. It’s also a homage to ‘monster’ movies like Jurassic Park and A Quiet Place.

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

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

Binti by Nnedi OKkorafor

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (a picture book but so delightful)