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.
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!