Nimona’s Triumph: Celebrating the Journey & Universality of Queer Themes 

A last-minute invite from Geeks OUT’s Vice President, Kevin Gilligan, led me to a special screening of Netflix’s Nimona. As a former board member myself, to leaving Geeks OUT entirely, and then transitioning to a social media coordinator a few years later, the night became a reflection of growth and celebration, not just for me, but for ND Stevenson and the dedicated individuals who worked so hard to bring Nimona on the big screen. 

When I first watched Nimona earlier this year at home, I was bawling my eyes out. It stayed so true to the original graphic novel! Nimona was that character I resonated so deeply with (yes, surprise, I’m trans).  Seeing Nimona animated and brought to life – made me so emotional. It was very much “We did it! We made it!” – a sentiment that echoed throughout the night. 

Following the screening, at a panel discussion with ND, the Directors, Producers, and Nimona’s Voice Actress offered insights into the journey of making Nimona one of the most-viewed animated movies of the year. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane shared the struggles of maintaining Nimona’s authentic narrative, facing off against the Big Mouse and navigating a global pandemic. 

It was a powerful reminder that the queer fight isn’t a solitary one – it’s a collective effort. The fight to be seen, to exist is always happening, its with our community, our peers. 

Producers Karen Ryan and Julie Zackary, discussed the transition from Blue Sky Studios to Netflix and the hurdles they overcame to make Nimona a reality. They all kept emphasizing the joy they experienced in keeping Nimona true to it queer trans narrative and the victory of breaking into the mainstream. 

The reception afterwards provided a chance to connect with everyone involved. I’m terrible at networking, so I spent most of my time listening to Kevin speak. And hearing how ND remembered Geeks OUT from NYCC and being a Special Guest at Flame Con 2018 during the Lumberjanes and She-Ra buzz, reminded me of when I first connected with Nimona, which was at MOCCA Fest, in like 2015? Seeing ND’s own journey and evolution fills my queer little heart with hope. 

In conversations with Tony Morrision, GLAAD’s Director of Communications and the night’s panel moderator, the veil of networking lifted. We chatted, shared tea, and embraced our queer joy without hesitation. There was safety, comfort – a future I never envisioned for myself as a child.

Seeing Nimona again that night reminded me of my own personal growth from self-destruction to self-acceptance. Geeks OUT introduced me a community that had such a profound impact, showcasing a future that is queer, geeky and beautiful. Nimona’s triumph goes beyond mainstream recognition; it shows us that the queer and trans narratives are universal. You are not alone, we’re here, we’re queer and, you know, get used to it. 

Interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Author of Touching the Art

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the author of three novels and a memoir, and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies. Her memoir, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her anthology, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. Her latest title, the novel Sketchtasy, was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018. Her next book, The Freezer Door, debuted in November 2020. Maggie Nelson says it’s “a book about not belonging that made me feel deeply less alone.”

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

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

I’m the kind of writer who thinks that writing means living, and living means writing, the two are intertwined so that every experience becomes part of the creative process, or that’s the goal, anyway.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Touching the Art? What inspired this project?

Touching the Art centers around my relationship with my late grandmother, an abstract artist from Baltimore. As a child, she nurtured everything that made me different—my femininity, creativity, empathy, introspection, softness, thoughtfulness—but when my work became unapologetically queer, suddenly she called it vulgar. “Why are you wasting your talent,” she would say to me, over and over again. The book circles around this abandonment.

Based on the description for this book, it appears Touching the Art explores the concept of Jewish assimilation and identity. As a queer Jewish person, I would like to hear your thoughts on exploring that in the book as well as any thoughts you might have on the intersection between your own Jewish and queer identities?

My grandmother grew up in Baltimore at a time when the city was rigidly segregated. Jews in Baltimore both enforced this segregation, and were victims of it. So I’m trying to explore this duality, how the Jews of Baltimore, for example, overwhelmingly sided with the Confederate South in the Civil War. There were even Jewish merchants that were smuggling goods to the South when Baltimore was under Union occupation. Most of the businesses in the one neighborhood where Black people were allowed to own property were owned by Jews, and they enforced the same racist Jim Crow policies as other businesses. My grandmother grew up two blocks from the line that separated white from Black, and I try to think about what that would have been like in the 1920s and 1930s. Billie Holiday, who also grew up in Baltimore at that time, says in her memoir, “A whorehouse was about the only place where black and white folks could meet in any natural way,” and I think that tells you everything.

Understanding this history, which I did not know about when I was growing up in DC, really helped me to understand the family I grew up in, which was a very assimilated Jewish family where upward mobility and class striving were intertwined with Jewishness. And so was racism, misogyny, homophobia. As a child I was very proud of my Jewish heritage, but after my bar mitzvah I decided I didn’t believe in God, and I wanted no part of this type of Jewishness. Of course, there’s a long history of radical atheist Jews, queers and misfits and weirdos and iconoclasts, but this was hidden from me due to the violence of assimilation.

What drew you to writing, particularly memoir? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Writing is what keeps me alive, it’s how I process the world and express myself and figure things out and connect with people too, I think more and more in this alienating world it’s about connection. I don’t write with genre in mind, I just write what I need to write, and then once it reaches a certain point I take a look at the whole thing and figure it all out.

How would you describe your general writing process?

I think I am always writing, but this could just be one sentence in a day. I write without any intention of plot or structure or form until eventually, usually once I have several hundred pages, sometimes after years, I realize what the writing is becoming and then eventually it becomes a book.

With Touching the Art, though, I started by touching my grandmother’s art and seeing what would come through. Then I moved to Baltimore to see what would come through there. And after that I went into research mode. So all of this is in the book.

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

I’m an obsessive editor, so I love the editing process, that you can keep working and working and working with the same text until it becomes something else, and until you get to the kind of precision that you’re looking for, but at the same time you can keep a raw sense of searching. But then of course sometimes the editing process can be the most frustrating part, especially when you’re trying to get it right.

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

I love going on walks, which sounds ridiculously cheesy, but it is what clears my head, especially leaning against trees, and I love dancing, but this has been very hard during the pandemic because I definitely don’t want to dance inside, and of course I get inspiration from reading, and from other writers, but you already know that. And sometimes there isn’t any inspiration, but I write anyway.

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

No one has yet asked how all the different threads in the book came together, and so I would say it was through the writing itself. Like with some of these parts, I had no idea what I was doing while I was doing it, but then suddenly, at the end, something would come back into the book, and I would realize oh.

Aside from your work, what are other things you would want readers to know about you?

What else do you need to know? I mean it’s all there, really, in my work. That’s the type of writing I do.

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

Yes, I have a new novel called Terry Dactyl, which is out in the world on submission now… Wish me luck! And then after that I have a new hybrid nonfiction book called Social Distancing. I’m on my fifth draft of that one.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Just keep writing. Don’t worry about how much or how little. Don’t worry about whether you hate it, just get it down on the page. Even a sentence a day, that’s plenty. Once you have it there, you can make it into what you need.

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

Honestly there are so many that I don’t even know where to start. I would say that reading David Wojnarowicz’s work was the first time I felt my entire sense of the world reflected in print, especially Close to the Knives and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, but that second one is probably out of print. Another book I will always treasure is Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown. A recent book that I loved is Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan. Oh and Miss Major Speaks by Toshio Meronek and Miss Major offers him a great informal history lesson.

Interview with Emma Steinkellner, Creator of Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life

Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, writer, and cartoonist living in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated comic Quince. She is the author and illustrator of The Okay Witch graphic novel series.

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

Thank you! I’m a writer, illustrator, and cartoonist in Los Angeles, CA and I love making comics for young readers. I remember how much it meant to me to get completely absorbed in a fun book at that age and it’s really great to be able to make the books I would’ve wanted to read then now.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life? What was the inspiration for this book?

This book is the illustrated journal of Nell Starkeeper, an (as she would put it) extremely normal 12-year-old kid living in the magical land of Gumbling, where her friends are fairies, unicorns, and Thumbkins and the history of the town is full of real-life fairy tales. When I sat down to come up with an idea for a new series, I thought about the kind of stuff I liked to read as a kid and I remembered how fascinated I was by fairy tales and I thought it would be fun to write a book of original fairy tales in comic form. Then, as I came up with those tales, I realized it would be cool if they all took place in the same land. And then, a couple of ideas later, I centered the story on the point of view of one kid in that land! 

Can you give us any trivia (that hasn’t already been given) about the characters from , Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-Tale Life?

There are a lot of fairy tale archetypes I play around with in this book: fairies, unicorns, witches, thumb-sized people. And I wanted to really set my imagination free as I designed these types of characters that have existed in plenty of other tales before. In the case of Nell’s unicorn frenemy Voila Lala, I smushed together a couple of design inspirations. First off, the unicorns are really more like unicorn-centaurs with human heads and torsos (no noses though, they smell through their horns!). And Voila in particular is really inspired by koi fish and candy corn, which you might be able to see in her overall color palette. And I keep the fairies’ wings in this world colorful but semi-transparent. That’s inspired by some colorful tissue shapes my older sister had on her window in our house growing up. I used to love the way the light came through those.

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly to the realm of comics/graphic novels and fantasy?

 I love writing and I love drawing but I REALLY love putting them together. Even when I’m drawing context-less doodles in my sketchbook, I’m always kind of imagining a story for them. And even when I’m writing a text-only story, I’m tempted to draw some of the characters and settings. So comics and graphic novels really are the perfect form for me. And as for fantasy, I’ve always been drawn to whimsical genre stuff like that, as a reader/viewer and as a creator. And I think magic pairs perfectly with middle grade/coming of age stories, which can be full of such unique and strong emotions.

How would you describe your artistic background?

I come from a family of writers! My parents worked as writing partners, my older brother and sister both write. It would have been pretty impossible for me to stay away from writing. Good thing I didn’t want to! But I knew I didn’t want to only write. I loved performing, improv, singing and dancing, and drawing. And when I was around 14, I started to really focus on drawing and put my whole self into it. And the more I drew, the more confident I got, and the more I found that my passions for writing and illustration really support each other.

How would you describe your creative process?

Since I’m both writer and illustrator, I’m in conversation with myself a lot. A lot of people ask me what comes first when I’m making a graphic novel: the writing or the drawing? And the answer is…sort of both. While I’m outlining the script, sometimes I’ll come up with some moments, places, costumes, characters, or objects that I need to sketch out. By designing some of those visual elements, I get a better idea of how to write about them when I write the script (which is the next step). Once I’ve written the script, and revised it with my editor, it’s time to pencil the whole thing. That means I sketch out every page (in Photoshop), then we edit those sketches, I refine them to turn them into the final linework, and I add color! The whole thing takes about a year-ish.

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

I try to find inspiration all over the place. But for Nell of Gumbling, I kept coming back to a couple books that I couldn’t put down as a kid. The Amelia books by Marissa Moss and the epistolary books by Kate and M. Sarah Klise. It’s not hard to see how the humor and inventiveness of those books have stuck with me since 2002 when you read Nell. 

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

Growing up a cis, white girl, I didn’t really have any shortage of characters I could point to and go “oh look, it’s me” (Amelia from those Amelia books was one of them, she even had my exact haircut). Not every kid gets to feel that that often, although thankfully there has been a lot of progress in children’s literature and we now get a lot more diverse, inclusive stories created by writers and illustrators who write from their own personal experiences.

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

With this particular book, I’ve loved writing from the point of view of my main character. It’s pretty natural to sink into her voice because that was totally how I wrote in my journals as a kid. So I just love being in that state of flow where I might as well be writing in my own diary. There are special pages of the book where I’ll really sink into the illustration too, really finely-detailed pages like the map of Gumbling or the 2-page spread of the Feszht festival (Feszht is the winter holiday in Gumbling). But those are also a lot of hard work. So it can take a long time to get everything right. And I’m not the most patient person, so that can be tough. But ultimately, it’s always rewarding to slow down and focus so I can make something a little more special. 

Aside from your work, what are some things you would like readers to know about you?

Truthfully, I put so much of the stuff that I’m made of into my work, you can find a lot of  it there. Like the reason soup is such an important part of the regional cuisine of Gumbling? I love soup! 

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

I haven’t been asked much about the Gumbling Tales yet and I had so much fun with them. Since my initial goal for this book was to create an illustrated book of original fairy tales, the core spirit of it is kind of in Nell’s illustrated Gumbling tales in the back of the book. It was a challenge to come up with stories that had the vibe of fairy tales, but weren’t actual retellings of any tales. I do think of each Gumbling tale as having a few similar existing tales that are “cousins” to it, however. Like, The Soupman’s Wish, the Gumbling tale of a soup vendor who gives a lonely ghost some hot soup and is granted a wish in return— that is a cousin to any story of a kind character showing generosity to a supernatural being and getting something in return (Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Diamonds and Toads, The Wishing Pearl, etc.)

What advice might you have to give for other creatives?

Journal! It feels so good to get what’s in your head down on paper, whether that’s your daily feelings, long term goals, reflections, or ideas for new stuff. Having a repository to put all that stuff in my brain helps me focus and gives me perspective. I guess this wouldn’t be beneficial to creatives only, but I find it very helpful creatively.

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

I just finished the second book in the Gumbling series! So you should look out for that later next year. And I’m starting on a third one. I’m very excited about both of them.

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

Twins by Varian Johnson and illustrated by Shannon Wright is so sweet and fun. Anything by Vera Brosgol. I love Jen Wang’s graphic novels too. 

Interview with Helene Wecker, Author of The Hidden Palace and The Golem and the Jinni

Helene Wecker is the author of The Golem and the Jinni and The Hidden Palace. Her books have appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle’s bestseller lists, and have won a National Jewish Book Award, the VCU Cabel Award, the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and a Mythopoeic Award. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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

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

Hello, Geeks OUT readers! I’m Helene Wecker, a writer of historical fantasy novels (primarily). Currently, I live in the Bay Area, but I grew up outside Chicago and will always be a Midwesterner at heart. I went to college in Minnesota and then spent a decade bouncing around between the coasts: first Seattle, then New York, and now finally California, where I’ve settled with my husband, two kids, and a dog. Back in my 20s, I worked in marketing and public relations for about seven years before I finally admitted that I hated it and switched my energies to fiction writing. I’m now in my late 40s, which is a fabulous decade from the perspective of life experience, but also deeply annoying when it comes to aches, pains, and overall exhaustion.

What can you tell us about the fantasy series you are currently most recognized for, The Golem and the Jinni? What was the inspiration for this story?

I started writing The Golem & the Jinni while I was at graduate school in New York. I’d decided that for my MFA thesis I would write a series of short stories that combined tales from my own family history and from my husband’s family history. I’m Jewish and he’s Arab American, and I’ve always been struck by the similarities in our backgrounds, specifically around issues of immigration to America, language, and culture. But the stories I was writing were very realist and sort of uninspired. When I complained to a friend about it, she pointed out that I adore stories that combine realism and fantasy, and she challenged me to do that with my own work. So I decided that instead of a Jewish girl and an Arab-American boy for my main characters, I’d turn them into the most emblematic folkloric figures I could think of from each culture: a (female) golem and a (male) jinni. That opened up the whole story, and the characters developed their own personalities and struggles, instead of merely being stand-ins for myself and my husband.

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

I love the paradox of historical fantasy, of writing a story set inside known history that doesn’t contradict it at all but that, at the same time, is absolutely impossible. It makes the story feel like a secret that you’ve been let in on, and gives the narrative an intimacy that might otherwise get lost in the scope of the historical backdrop. It’s a challenge to write, which for me is part of the draw — but at the same time it’s really easy to bite off more than you can chew without realizing it.

For those curious about the process writing a historical fantasy book, how would you describe the process? What goes into the research and translating that into a book?

The research process has been gargantuan, and was especially so for the first book. I’d picked 1899 because I wanted this to feel like an “old world” immigration story, a folktale set in our real history — but I’d originally thought I was writing a short story, not a novel. Once it became clear that this was going to be an actual book, I had to stop and take stock of what I really knew about 1899 New York, which wasn’t much. So I went to the Columbia University library and just started reading everything I could find about the neighborhoods and the tenements, to establish a baseline of knowledge. From there I branched off into specifics like the history of Syrian and Jewish immigration to the U.S., and the stories and folklore they brought with them, and the different religious sects and backgrounds they came from.

For The Hidden Palace, I spent a lot of time researching Sophia’s travels in the Middle East. I read up on Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, and the history of Palmyra (which is worth a few novels in itself), and how World War I eventually drove Lebanon into starvation. New subjects kept popping up for me to research, like the Western Union telegraph system and its messenger boys, and turn-of-the-century Jewish orphanages (I based mine on a real New York orphanage, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum). I tried to use primary sources whenever I could — which was easier than it would’ve been a decade ago, considering how much has been digitized and made available on the Internet — and I tried to fact-check everything that wasn’t a primary source. I took the research process pretty seriously even though I’m writing fiction, because the details contribute to the overall lived-in feel of the books, and it’s important to me to get them right.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer?

This is a great question, and I’m honestly not sure of the answer. I don’t think I looked for myself in stories when I was young, because my own real-life childhood was deeply awkward and lonely at times. I read books, mainly scifi and fantasy, in order to escape that existence, not to find it again. That said, Paula Danziger’s teenage protagonists resonated with me strongly, as did Judy Blume’s. They captured the particular angst of being an adolescent girl and feeling like an alien, especially at school, and wrestling with the choice between fitting in and sticking out. Which, honestly, describes my own characters’ dilemmas too.

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

Neil Gaiman was a huge influence during a formative time in my life. I took my entire SANDMAN collection to college with me, and made my boyfriend (now husband) read it. (He, in turn, made me read all of LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION.) The various X-Men books of the ‘80s and ‘90s were also a big creative influence, and I think that there’s a way to see my characters in the X-Men tradition: powerful, flawed, unsure of their place in the world. Post-college, Michael Chabon was my biggest influence; looking back on it, if there was one book that turned me into a writer, it was THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. These days, I read a lot of Ursula K. LeGuin, who was brilliant at engineering stories that hinge on moral and philosophical dilemmas.

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

My favorite elements are the research/planning before the first draft and the good, hard edit at the end. Everything in between is a long slog of frustration and woe. I’ve never written a complete, beginning-to-end first draft of a novel — short stories, yes, but not novels. I write a few chapters, decide I hate it, start over. It takes me a few stabs before I figure out how best to tell the story that I want to tell. It’s a very inefficient way to write, but for me it’s the only way that works.

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

1) If I couldn’t be a writer, I’d want be either a librarian or a film editor. My absolute perfect job would be to live as a student for the rest of my life, just going around and learning things all day long. I have no idea what practical purpose that would serve, but if anyone’s hiring, I’m your gal.

2) My kids keep me incredibly busy, mentally as well as time-wise. We’re finally past the just-keep-them-alive years, and now we’re at the early adolescent stage where we have to pick our battles and maintain consistency about what we allow and what we don’t. My older kid just turned eleven, and she would be perfectly happy to spend her entire life reading books and watching videos in bed in her bathrobe. It’s a lifestyle I can only aspire to, really.

3) If you asked me, “Helene, in your opinion, which movie has the best script in cinema history, line for line?” I’d be forced to choose between either Charade or Kung Fu Panda. Honestly, Kung Fu Panda might win.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

This might seem like an unorthodox answer, but: If you’re looking for a life partner, it’s imperative that they 1) respect your wish to write and 2) give you the time and space you need. They don’t have to be your biggest fan; they don’t even have to read your writing. But they have to understand that sometimes you’ll be in the office with the door shut, and they’re not allowed to come in and bug you with something completely trivial, or suggest that you skip writing that day and go out for a movie instead. There will be times when the writing comes first. They have to be okay with that, period.

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

I’m currently hard at work on Book #3 in the Golem and Jinni series. It’s set in 1930, which is 15 years after the end of The Hidden Palace, at the beginning of the Great Depression and the end of Prohibition. I’ve brought back a few characters who we last saw in the first book, and created a few new ones. I’m in the early drafting stage, though I’ve done my requisite failed chapters and seem to have settled into the story a little more. The jump forward into 1930 brings the setting closer to what feels like a recognizably modern era, which opens up a lot of directions for the characters to take — but from the reader’s vantage point, WWII and the Holocaust are just around the corner, and that adds a dread that the narrative can’t address directly without being too heavy handed. So it’s going to take a light and careful touch to get it right.

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

I don’t read for fun nearly as much as I’d like to these days, but I just finished R.F. Kuang’s Babel, which deserves all the praise it’s gotten. And if you like your historical fantasy with a dose of Old Hollywood, Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen is a phenomenal read. So is Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, which is one of those books that crawls into your brain and just lives there for a while.

Interview with Jyoti Rajan Gopal, author of My Paati’s Saris

Jyoti Rajan Gopal is a writer, mom, and Kindergarten teacher. Growing up, she lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, India and China. She now lives in New York, in a quirky old Victorian in Yonkers, with her husband, where they raised their two daughters. Her favorite place in the house is the wrap-around porch where she loves to gather with family or friends, read, write, and drink coffee.

Jyoti writes stories that speak to her heart,  that reflect her multiple identities, that she wishes her daughters had growing up, that she wishes her students had now.
When not writing or teaching, she loves to read – a lot! – work in her garden, dance and explore the many New York State Park trails. 

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

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

Thank you for having us! I’m a Kindergarten teacher, mom to two daughters, and most recently, a writer.  I grew up in Bangkok, Jakarta, Myanmar, China and India and moved to the United States 29 years ago. As a third culture kid, I’ve spent my life straddling multiple cultures and sometimes that’s a challenge, but mostly it’s been a gift.

What can you tell us about your latest book, My Paati’s Saris? What inspired this story?

I wanted to write a book about saris because it’s such an important part of my desi identity and I love saris so much. But I had no idea what that book was going to be until the day I brought saris into my classroom to share with my Kindergarten students. I noticed one little boy draping the sari over himself and smiling and twirling and that was the spark for the book. That moment took me back to days of playing dress up with my brother, of the love I had for my paati, who was such a giving, kind person, and that feeling of joy that wearing saris still gives me!

What is something you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope they take whatever they need from it! This is a story about family, about acceptance, about Tamil culture, about saris, about the freedom to explore and play, about transformation and belonging. The illustrations are a visual feast with thoughtful details and layers– so I think readers will find lots of ways that this book can be a window and a mirror!

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to children’s books specifically? 

Having lived and breathed picture books as a Kindergarten teacher and mom, and loving them as I do, it was the medium to which I gravitated to tell the stories I wished I had had, that I wished my daughters had had. The interplay of text and illustrations – how the words sit on the page, where the blank spaces are, how the pictures fill the page, what they reveal and what they do not, when the page is turned – the fusion, the tension, the balance of the two feels like a metaphor for who I am, someone who’s always balancing all the different parts of me.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? Are there any stories you can connect to now?

Growing up, I devoured books, whatever I could get my hands, on in the countries that we lived in. Many of my favorite authors were either English or American – Enid Blyton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, James Herriot, Alexander Lloyd, CS Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder to name just a few.  None of the books I read had Indian characters (except as peripheral notes like in Tarzan or The Secret Garden) but I loved them anyway and identified with the characters. I loved the stories and imagined myself in those worlds.  My parents would make sure on trips to India to introduce us to Indian stories, like Amar Chitra Comics, and picture books in Hindi, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I became familiar with Indian authors like R.K. Narayan, Vikram Seth and Rabindranath Tagore. I didn’t realize what I had been missing!

I started writing to fill that gap – to write the stories that I didn’t have as a little girl, that I couldn’t find for my daughters as they were growing up here, or for my students.

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist/writer to translate that into a book?

I am blown away by Art Twink’s illustrations for My Paati’s Saris and am so grateful for their partnership.  A picture book is truly the result of collaborative work but it’s not just between the writer and the illustrator. The editor, the art director, the copy writer, the design team, the sales and marketing team, our agents, there’s a whole team behind every picture book. And team Kokila has been amazing!

As a picture book writer, you don’t have a lot of words to tell your story, typically 500-700. So, every word you write has to count. Some of my stories write themselves very quickly. Others go through many, many revisions before I discover the structure the story needs or the heart of what I’m trying to say. If it’s a non-fiction picture book, there’s research involved, after which I have to sift through all the information, decide what stays and what goes, and how I’m going to synthesize all that information to tell the story in just the right amount of words.

As a writer, you also have to make sure as you write, to leave room for the illustrator, so that they can bring their own perspective and viewpoint to the story. Typically, how the collaboration works is that after a publishing house buys your text, they start thinking of illustrators who would be a good match. The illustrator is sent the text to read and if they like it, if it resonates with them, and if they have time in their schedule, they’ll take the project on. The art director communicates separately with the writer and illustrator, while sketches go back and forth. From acquisition to book release, it usually takes about two years, sometimes even longer!

How would you describe your general writing/drawing process? What are some of your favorite/most challenging parts for you?

I don’t have a single process. Some books flow out of me (these are few and far between!). Somehow, I find the words for the story easily, the structure is clear to me, and the revision process is more of a tweaking. These are my favorite times. With some books, I struggle and struggle with figuring out how to write it. I usually have to put it away for a while before coming back to it much later, when I hope time and distance create some clarity.  I will say that when I finally do find a structure that helps me figure out how to tell a story, that’s a great moment too. I love that feeling!

Sometimes, I’m quite taken with a story I’ve written and think it’s the best thing ever (lol!). Thank goodness for my writing partners and my agent Wendi Gu who keep it real for me, because I rely on them to give me honest and constructive feedback! 

The most challenging part for me as a writer is when I have an idea for a story, but I have no idea how to write it. That can lead to a long phase of zero writing. That’s a scary time when I think I’m never going to write another thing again.

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

Ooh such a great question!  Many of my stories are inspired by my daughters, my students, my desi heritage and my curiosity about the natural world.

Aside from your work as a writer, what would you want readers to know about you?

I love the outdoors. Gardening, kayaking, hiking, visiting national parks are all things I love to do. I’ve recently discovered snorkeling which I absolutely adore.

I love music but cannot write or read with it because it’s too distracting. I end up dancing and singing with the music, and getting no work done.

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

Do you know how to make sambar?  (It’s a dish that Paati is making in the story)

I do know how to make it, but have I ever gotten it right? No!

I cook a variety of South Indian cuisine, but so far sambar, which I love, has been my nemesis.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those who may want to write/draw a picture book themselves one day?

Just do it!

Read lots of picture books. Study them. Type them out to get a sense of how words fill a page, how the page turns feel, where the pauses are, what word choices the author made.

Take picture book writing classes.

Join a community of writers like The Writing Barn or 12×12 Challenge.  Or SCBWI.

Join a critique group. 

And write, write, write!

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

I’m working on a number of different projects, both fiction and non-fiction.  I sold two picture books this past year that I am very excited about. One is non-fiction, and the other is fiction – and that’s all I can tell you. But I can’t wait to share them with the world so keep an eye out for announcements!

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

There are so many wonderful books out there I couldn’t possibly name them all, but these picture books are favorites in my Kindergarten classroom!

Neither by Airlie Anderson

Calvin by JR and Vanessa Ford illus. Kayla Harren

Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton illus. Dougal Mcpherson

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal illus. Art Twink

Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman illus. Maria Mola

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer

Lovely by Jess Hong

Call Me Max – a series by Kyle Lukoff illus. Luciano Lozano

Strong by Eric Rosswood and Rob Kearney illus.  Nidhi Chanani

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvenkar

Big Wig by Jonathan Hillman illus.  Levi Hastings

Interview with Author Kara Jorgensen

Kara Jorgenson

Kara Jorgensen (they/them) is a queer, nonbinary oddball with a penchant for all things antiquated, morbid, or just plain strange. While in college, they realized they no longer wanted to be Victor Frankenstein but instead wanted to write like Mary Shelley and thus abandoned their future career in science for writing. Kara melds their passions through their books and graduated with an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing in 2016. When not writing, they can be found hanging out with their dogs watching period dramas or trying to convince their students to cite their sources. 


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

Thank you for having me. First and foremost, I am a queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent writer of queer historical paranormal books, most with a healthy dose of romance. I like to describe myself as Vincent Price meets Julia Child because I love things others find spooky or macabre, but I also love to teach and encourage others to experiment with their art. My day job is teaching college students creative and academic writing at my alma mater, so I spend much of my time talking about writing. My interests are numerous, but I really love my dogs, art history, crafts (and the history of), crustaceans, dinosaurs, medical history, and of course, queer books and history.

Congratulations on your recently released book, The Reanimator’s Soul! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

So The Reanimator’s Soul is book 2 in the Reanimator Mysteries series. Without giving too much away, book 1, The Reanimator’s Heart, is about Oliver, an autistic necromancer, who accidentally reanimates the guy he has had a crush on for years after finding him murdered. Together, Oliver and Felipe team up to solve his murder and the murder of a nun. In book 2, they are called to investigate a body that was dumped in the middle of a cemetery with its organs missing. The investigation leads them to a mysterious clinic that claims it can remove people’s magical abilities. Unfortunately, Oliver’s obnoxious ex is also working the case, so they all must work together, all while Felipe is dealing with his recent un-death and family obligations.

With this book, I really wanted to explore what it’s like for Oliver and Felipe to navigate the complexities of being magically tied together while Felipe’s family has no idea he’s undead. Felipe and Oliver are both adult men with lives of their own trying to figure out a relationship, their own insecurities, and solve a mystery at the same time. It’s a lot. Most queer romances are one-and-done, but I enjoy exploring what comes next and how they grow as a couple in order to overcome whatever is thrown at them. The Reanimator’s Soul also explores some heavier topics that are as prevalent today as they were in the 1890s, such as conversion therapy, how medicine upholds the patriarchy, and ableism.

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

Basically, every character in this series is queer. Oliver and Felipe are both cis gay men, but Oliver’s best friend Gwen is also queer (this will be discussed more in future stories). Felipe’s lavender marriage wife, Louisa, is a cis lesbian who is partnered with a bisexual trans woman named Agatha. Most people who work at the Paranormal Society are some manner of queer as that tends to go hand-in-hand with having magic. While the outside world in the 1890s might not have been accepting of queer and trans people, the Paranormal Society is a community where they can thrive.

I didn’t see many characters like me growing up, so something that’s very important to me is portraying disabled and/or neurodivergent queer characters. There are quite a few of them sprinkled throughout my various books with Eilian being asexual, ADHD, and an amputee, Oliver being gay and autistic, and Theo being bisexual and dealing with epilepsy.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fiction/fantasy, especially that intended for adult audiences?

I’m not exactly sure, but that’s always what I’ve written. Even back when I was a teen, I wrote about adults. I think I prefer the autonomy and complexities of adult characters, but this might be because I didn’t realize I was many layers of queer until I was an adult. The whole young adult coming out narrative often feels alien to me as that wasn’t my experience growing up in the early ‘00s with very little queer rep. It’s also important to me that queer, neurodiverse, and disabled adults are portrayed as people living full lives with people who love them, even if they’re still figuring some things out. There’s a lot of infantilization of neurodivergent and disabled adults, so it’s important to show them doing adult things, and while that does often include sex and romance for me, it’s also things like managing their own lives (sometimes with help) and going on adventures.

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

I feel like these will sound very weird yet make total sense if you’ve read my work, but the two series that had a major impact on me as a kid are the Bunnicula series by Deborah and James Howe and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The Bunnicula books were my first brush with the Gothic or spooky narratives beyond those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, and I devoured them in elementary school.

Anne Rice’s vampire books were probably my biggest inspiration and what made me want to become a writer. I probably read them too young (I was eleven), but the lush historical settings, sensuality, and queerness drew me in and resonated with me, even before I realized I was queer. I don’t often reread books, but Anne Rice’s The Mummy is one I have gone back to several times as it made me want to write my own archaeology adventure story when I was in college and realize I might be queer.

You do not shy away from making your characters unique, seeming to focus on people with different ways of dealing with the world and those with non-typical behavior living patterns. Can you go into more detail on how that evolved?

I write about this a lot because that’s how I, as a neurodivergent, chronically ill person, move through the world. Often, what is taken for granted as “normal” by neurotypical, non-ill people is wildly difficult and inaccessible for people like me. In writing from the perspective of characters who live in ways that go outside the norm, I hope that people can see themselves or see how they can make things easier for others by pushing back on norms that don’t work for a lot of people. When I wrote my first book, The Earl of Brass, Eilian’s AuDHD comes across as somewhat muted because I wasn’t sure if readers would get him, and I was afraid to be too pointed with the representation. With Oliver in The Reanimator’s Heart, I went full tilt into him being autistic and based a lot of his experiences off my own. If readers don’t like it or think it’s too much, then my books probably aren’t for them, and at this point in my career, I’m okay with losing readers in favor of authenticity.

What inspired you to pick the location and time period you’ve set the Reanimator’s Mysteries and Paranormal Society series in?

All of my books so far are set in the 1890s, and when I was writing my first book, I was struggling to decide on the time period until I realized the 1890s were referred to as “The Gay Nineties.” My twenty year old self took this as a sign. After doing research, the 1890s appealed to me because so much of what society was exploring and grappling with, we are as well, such as quack medicine warring with science, anti-queerness laws, and purity culture that was enforced through Comstock Laws that can be seen in modern book bans.

In terms of location, my first six books are set in England, but I wanted to explore my own local history on the East Coast of the US. I’ve grown up traveling to New York City regularly, so setting the Reanimator Mysteries and the Paranormal Society Romances in New York felt right since in the 1890s not only was it a hub of queerness but it was exceedingly diverse.

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

One day I would love to write a Scandinavian-inspired fantasy trilogy. It’s still marinating in my brain and has been for a while. I’ve never written an epic, expansive fantasy before and still don’t know exactly how to do that, so I probably won’t get to it for a while. It’s one of those projects where every once in a while you sit down to think about it, add a few ideas to a running document, then confirm you are not ready and/or skilled enough yet to pull off this idea, and vow to come back later.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? 

That half of writing is maintaining your mental health. I write to help purge my brain and stay mentally balanced, but if things go off the rails, I struggle to write and things go from bad to worse. Early on in my writing and publishing career, I tanked my success several times because I was running myself into the ground instead of listening to my brain and body when I needed a break. My biggest career regrets stem from not allowing myself more time to breathe, recover, and avoid burn-out. When you’re mentally fried, you don’t make good decisions or produce your best work, so if you can avoid that hustle culture mentality, you’re more likely to succeed long-term, no matter what others lead you to believe.

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

There are a few in various stages of completion/development. Currently, I am writing a Reanimator Mysteries short story set after The Reanimator’s Soul, which will be a freebie for my newsletter subscribers. Felipe convinces Oliver to take a vacation at the beach, and the plan goes completely awry. I think my readers will really like this one; it’s quite sweet and silly.

Once that’s finished, I will be working on the third Reanimator Mysteries book, which involves Oliver, Felipe, and Gwen going to a “murder town” to investigate only to discover the secrets hit far closer to home. I also want to write a story featuring Joe and Ansley from The Reanimator’s Soul, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to that book. 

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

My two favorite things to do besides writing are crafting and learning. I love to do deep-dives on things I need to research for my books or random topics my partner or I stumble upon (we love to share a good info dump), like uranium glass or how the undead manifest in different cultures. On the crafting side, I started crocheting a few years ago and really enjoy it. I also like to do plastic canvas village kits, painting, and whatever new craft I can get my hands on. I like to joke that every mental breakdown or burnout leads to learning a new hobby.

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

Kara, what is your writing process like?

I’m not going to lie, I enjoy talking about my writing process because I find the way people’s creative brains work to be fascinating. I know a lot of people sort of go off what tropes they want to put in a book, but my brain immediately goes for who are the two main characters and how do they fit together? For example, with Oliver and Felipe, I knew I wanted an autistic main character and that he should be gothy because that’s the tone I wanted for the story. What works well with that? A necromancer, which then leads into how can a necromancer get in trouble in a story? By accidentally reanimating someone. Even though my stories have magic, my brain is always fixated on logic, so I was like, how could I keep MC2 from decomposing? If he is a self-healer, his body can stave off decomposition. What jobs might be good for a self-healer? Anything dangerous, and that’s how I decided that my two main characters were a monster hunter and a necromancer. Once I have the characters, I struggle for a bit to figure out the conflict and how that fits with the overall theme and growth these characters need to go through.

From there, all my ideas get tossed into a doc and slowly hammered out, but I tend to only loosely outline one act of the book at a time. I’m a plantser/gardener, so I don’t outline too heavily or I lose interest. Each day, I edit the chunk I wrote previously before starting my writing for the day in order to tidy up what I have and reacquaint myself with where I left off. I tend to be a slower writer, but this process works well for me. 

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

This is a very non-exhaustive list, and I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself later for forgetting someone, but here are some of my favorite queer authors and/or authors of queer characters: Anna-Marie McLemore, Nghi Vo, Jordan L. Hawk, Cat Sebastian, KJ Charles, Joanna Chambers, Talia Hibbert, Freya Marske, Azalea Crowley, Arden Powell, Vanora Lawless, Olivia Waite, A. E. Bross, Darcy Little Badger, Sakaomi Yuzaki, Rebecca Roanhorse, and P. Djèlí Clark.

Interview with Adam Rex, Author of A Little Like Waking

Adam Rex is the award-winning author and illustrator of more than forty books including the New York Times bestsellers Frankenstein Makes a SandwichSchool’s First Day of School, and Chu’s Day, as well as The True Meaning of Smekdaywhich was adapted for film by DreamWorks. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his cat, dog, son, and wife.

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

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

Hello! I’m Adam Rex, an author and illustrator who used to mostly illustrate games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, but who now mostly makes books for kids of all ages. I live with my son and physicist wife in Tucson, Arizona.

What can you tell us about your latest project, A Little Like Waking? What was the inspiration for this story?

It’s a funny adventure romance about a young woman, Zelda, who discovers her reality isn’t real—that her life is but a dream—and just as the dream starts getting good. She meets a boy who has her feeling things she’s never felt before, and it makes her question everything. So she and the boy and a talking cat set out to find out who’s dreaming the dream, and what to do about it.

As creatives, what drew you to the art of storytelling, both as a writer and illustrator?

I was always an illustrator—I didn’t know that was the case, but most kids are. They draw pictures, and if you ask them the right questions, you’ll get the story their picture is telling. I didn’t write stories much myself until later, but both a keen interest in comics and a rediscovery of picture books as a teenager started to narrow my path a bit. Then I think it was a confluence of things. I fell in love with kid’s books while working after school at a Waldenbooks. And I often think about this birthday present my mom got me when I was seventeen or eighteen.

She knew I liked comics, even if she didn’t get the appeal herself, and she somehow found a shop that was selling original art in 1989 or 90. She bought me two pages—I’m ashamed to say I no longer have these pages, but one was definitely a Marc Silvestri X-Men page from near the end of Inferno—and just looking at them made the whole notion of a career in professional art feel attainable and real. Here I could see that the art was pencil and ink on Bristol board. That it was created much larger than the printed size. That it had white-out on it. It was like an artifact from a land of mystery, there to tell me that the legends were real.

How would you each describe your creative process?

Like trying to bake a cake in an unfamiliar kitchen in the dark. Or something.

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

Douglas Adams was a big deal to me in my formative years, and I think I discovered a lot about authorial voice and just what language can do from reading him. More recently, while trying to figure out how to write a romance, I read a lot of Rainbow Rowell.

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

Looking back, I think Peter Parker hit so close to home that I was an X-Men fan instead. I don’t think I could deal with just how much the early Spider-Man stories tapped into my feelings of standing apart, and believing kind of desperately that I had a power and appeal that no one understood.

Now? I don’t know. I think I’ve grown steadily wiser over the years, and with that comes more of a capacity to find myself in nearly every character and every story. Now I think I feel most reflected in the stories that feel like something I could have written myself, had the stars aligned.

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

I love to write something I think is genuinely funny, and it’s a great gift when you can invent something and actually make yourself laugh. And my kind of humor can’t be for everyone, but it’s fantastic when someone tells me my book made them laugh, too. It’s a connection that’s hard to fake.

Thing is, I’m usually also trying to break your heart, and that’s harder. At least it is for me. Of all the reviews I’ve received of A Little Like Waking, it’s the ones that acknowledge both that really make me think I might have written what I set out to write.

Whats a question you havent been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Probably a question like, How are you so naturally handsome? Something like that. There’s an obvious reason why no one’s ever asked it.

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

I also have a brand new chapter book series starting up for younger readers! The first is just now coming out, and it’s called The Story of Gumluck the Wizard. It’s narrated by a raven named Helvetica, and features a tiny ghost with amnesia, and it’s about a silly little wizard who really wants to be a hero, but everyone thinks he’s a noodlehead.

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

I haven’t read many books lately that have grabbed me as much as How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K Jemisin or Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri.

Interview with Gabi Burton, Author of Sing Me to Sleep

Gabi Burton grew up reading and writing in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 2021. Now, she works as a paralegal and author on the East Coast. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably watching Netflix, scrolling through Twitter, or finding beautiful places to walk—preferably near a body of water.

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

Thanks for having me! I’m Gabi and I’m a YA fantasy author. In my every day life, I’m a paralegal who never wants to be a lawyer. When I’m not writing, reading, or working, I’m probably watching something trashy on Netflix or out for a walk somewhere.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Sing Me to Sleep? What was the inspiration for the project?

Sing Me to Sleep is about a siren named Saoirse who lives in a kingdom where her existence is illegal. She lives in disguise in her kingdom’s army by day, and at night, she satisfies her craving to kill as an assassin. When she becomes a bodyguard to the crown prince, she’s enlisted to help him track down a deadly assassin— but he doesn’t know the killer they’re looking for is actually Saoirse.

I got the inspiration for Sing Me to Sleep while on a zoom call with author friends. It was Spooky Season so we were talking about monsters and someone mentioned sirens. I’d always loved mermaids and sirens and I thought the idea of sirens as monsters was really compelling. The first element of Sing Me to Sleep was Saoirse as a character. I knew I wanted to play around with the idea of her monstrosity. I wanted her to be a flawed character who is beautiful, deadly, out of place, and more powerful than she knows how to handle. The world of Keirdre and the rest of the story developed around how I wanted her to feel and how I wanted her to show up in the world.

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

I can’t remember what first drew me into wanting to tell stories because I’ve wanted to be an author since before I can remember. As a kid, I used to bounce a ball against the wall for hours on end and tell myself stories in my mind. I kept track of character names and plot points in notebooks I hid around my room. When I started middle school, I got a laptop and started typing those stories out. They were all awful of course and they’ll never see the light of day but at the time, I loved them.

Because I started writing as a kid, I first wrote books for kids about kids. I was writing from the only perspective I knew at the time. As I grew up, my characters tended to grow up with me. When I aged past my characters, I started writing stories for childhood me, a Black girl who read voraciously but never about people who looked like her. I wanted to write books she would have loved, with characters she could see herself in.

If I’m being honest, I never actually wanted to write fantasy. All the books I wrote before Sing Me to Sleep were completely different genres. I loved reading fantasy, but writing it felt too daunting since I wasn’t the biggest fan of worldbuilding or descriptions. When I became fascinated by the idea of writing about a siren, I decided to bite the bullet and write fantasy. I fell in love with writing the genre as well as reading it. And now, all my ideas for future books are fantasy and I want to add magic to every non-fantasy idea I’ve ever had. So, I wasn’t drawn to writing fantasy as a genre so much as I was drawn to writing about a mythical creature that forced me to step outside my comfort zone in order to tell her story.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process tends to be very character driven. I’m a plotter, first and foremost, which means I need an outline before I can start writing. But before I even get to the outline stage, I have to know my characters. Most of my ideas start with a main character, before I even have a plot. I match character concepts with ideas I have for a premise. The characters shape the premise and vice versa until they fit together. After that, I outline. I usually outline until just before the climax and then write the book up until that point, edit it a few times, and after a few rounds of revisions without an ending, I finally figure out how I want the story to end. After that, I can finish writing the book and I’m free to edit over and over again some more.

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

Characters are easily my favorite part of writing! I love digging into their brains, exploring why they are the way they are, and what experiences they’ve had that shaped them into who they are. In that same vein, writing character dynamics and dialogue are some of my favorite parts of writing.

There are a lot of elements of writing that are battling it out for most difficult. I think the hardest part of the writing process changes depending on my mood and what aspect of writing is giving me grief in the moment. That said, endings are definitely on the list of the most challenging aspects of writing. And so is drafting. And I’ll add descriptions in there as well. It takes me several drafts before I figure out how I want a story to end, and even after that, I tend to rewrite my endings more than any other part of the book. Drafting is one of the most frustrating parts of writing because first drafts are inevitably terrible and powering through a rough first draft is hard. Descriptions make the list because I’m not naturally a very visual person so I have to use parts of my brain that normally lie dormant when I write descriptions, especially descriptions of people.

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

I definitely didn’t see myself reflected in any books I read as a kid. I don’t think I read a single book by a Black author about a Black person doing something other than being a slave or living through segregation before I was twenty. That said, I read lots of books that, though not reflective of me, I loved and I think are really influential to my writing now. I could rave about Kristin Cashore forever. She’s the author who made me fall in love with fantasy as a genre and a prime example of how to write strong female characters. Graceling and Fire will forever be some of my favorite YA fantasy books of all time.

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

I love streaming but I have horrifying TV watching habits. I rarely finish TV shows. I have a habit of switching shows whenever a character annoys me too much. Which means I tend to switch shows about once a week. I love rewatching shows but I usually start from the beginning so I’ve only actually finished, from start to end, a handful of shows. If you asked me my favorite TV show, I’d probably say something like The Good Wife or Grey’s Anatomy but technically, I haven’t finished either and probably never will. It drives my friends crazy.

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

What is your favorite mermaid or siren related media? H2O: Just Add Water! I absolutely adored that show as a kid. My whole family knew when it was on, I had dibs on the good TV in the living room because I was obsessed. It’s currently on Netflix and sometimes I rewatch a few episodes to see if it’s as great as I remember. It always is.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Finish the book! An estimated 97% of people who start writing a book never finish it. If you finish the book, you’re already in the 97th percentile of all aspiring authors. Of course, that’s easier said than done. When writing, all authors run into the inevitable moment (many, many, many times) where you doubt yourself and think the book you’re writing is awful.

I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: it is awful. But that’s ok. Your first draft, especially for your first book, is allowed to be awful. That doesn’t mean it can’t become great with time and edits. You have to let it be bad in order for it to have a chance to be good. It’s easiest if you have encouragement. Writer friends to write with you, cheer you on, and boost your ego can be invaluable to cranking out that first book.

Any specific advice for those wishing to write fantasy or picture books?

Detailed worldbuilding can be fun but know when to let go. A lot of authors spend a ton of time developing every element of their fantastical worlds. They know the name of every kind of made-up flower and when they bloom. The know the pH of the water in their fictional rivers. They know the history of their kingdom’s monarchy going back 1,000 years. There’s nothing wrong with that! Knowing your world to that level of detail can help immerse you in the story. But remember that just because it’s knowledge you have, doesn’t mean it’s information that should go into the book! Know your world inside and out, build the world so readers can envision it, but not every detail you crafted about your story should make it into the book. Those details might be useful for informing your writing process but that doesn’t mean it’s relevant information your reader is interested in, especially if the only way to convey it is through info dumps.

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

I’m working on the sequel to Sing Me to Sleep now. It’s called Drown Me With Dreams and it’s set to come out in June 2024!

Finally, what book/authors would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Anything by Kristin Cashore! For more recent fantasy books (by Black authors!) I’d recommend Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron, Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye, The Blood Trials by N.E. Davenport (it’s a blend of sci-fi and fantasy), and Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury. There are a few upcoming Black fantasy books I’m super excited about as well, including So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole and The Poisons We Drink by Bethany Baptiste.

Interview with Archie Bongiovanni, Author of Mimosa

Archie Bongiovanni is a comics artist and illustrator who focuses on making work that’s gay and good. They’re the cocreator of the award-winning A Quick and Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns and the creator of Grease Bats, a serialized comic about two queer BFFs navigating dating and late-stage capitalism. Bongiovanni’s the author of History Comics: Stonewall, and their work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Nib, Vice, and Autostraddle. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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

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

Hi! My name is Archie Bongiovanni, I’m a cartoonist living in Minneapolis. I make comics that are gay and good. My books include (but are not limited to) A Quick And Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns, Grease Bats, History Comics: The Stonewall Riots. I’ve been published in The New Yorker, The NIB (r.i.p.), and Autostraddle. I also make queer merch, zines and more which can be found in my shop.

What can you tell us about your latest graphic novel, Mimosa? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Mimosa is about four queer BFFs in their mid and late thirties as they navigate growing older without a heteronormative script! I was inspired by getting older myself and realizing that my thirties don’t look at all like I expected. I was taught growing up that you’d reach adulthood by landing a steady job, having a retirement account, buying a house, raising a family, etc etc. Instead, I found me and my fellow pals in their thirties with roommates, multiple jobs, and families that look very different from the iconic straight family two-parent household. I wanted to draw a bunch of friends balancing all these aspects while also trying to keep their friendships intact.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics/graphic novels? What drew you to the medium?

I’ve ALWAYS loved comics. I have a high school diary entry where I write about wanting to be a comic artist. I love the way the brain works when filling in the blanks between images and words. The text can say one thing but the character’s expression can read differently and I think that’s where the magic is. I adore facial expressions and find comic characters able to showcase complex multilayered emotions with just a few lines and when it lands, it feels magical! I was never fully satisfied with writing, I love the pacing that panels allow in a story. So far my comics are all slice-of-life because I find the daily aspects of our lives incredibly interesting and complicated.

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

There’s not a single way to create a graphic novel, but for me, I started with just a concept. I wanted to draw about a group of friends in their thirties because I wanted to draw characters that grew and aged with me. I then focused on the individual characters and developed them deeply. I think a lot about what the characters would want to say out loud but can’t, what they can’t quite admit to themselves. That’s where the juicy parts of the story lie! From there I wrote an outline and pitched it to my editor who I met briefly at a comic convention. I got some feedback and changed the outline and once it was accepted, I wrote the script. Scripting is the hardest part for me. The script can read as bland but once it’s in an image, it can shine with life, but it needs to be written to be critiqued and edited. Thumbnailing, penciling and inking flows a lot smoother! After it’s done, there’s a lot of waiting and behind-the-scene details to hammer out (cover designs, book designs, book copy, etc) that are both exciting  and tedious at the same time!

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

Honestly, it’s zine-makes and independent comic creators! I don’t feel influenced by a single creator or author. I get compared a lot to Alison Bechdel (a high compliment I don’t take lightly!) but I didn’t read any of Bechdel’s work until I was already drawing comics. I love seeing what people put out on their own, with their own money. A zine is made from nothing but desire and an energy to create and I love seeing what people come up with.

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

I grew up reading Archie comics but I didn’t really feel reflected in them. I liked that they were funny and had regular kids featured in them. I couldn’t get into superhero comics at all despite trying. I discovered manga as a high school student and fell in love with the way the comics focused on emotions, feelings and growing up.

I really connected with the book My Body Is Yours. It’s a memoir featuring zines, intense vulnerability and self-exposure, cruising and exploring the different ways to exist in a body.

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

While some of my work is for young adults and kids, I as an individual, am not–yet that doesn’t negate my ability to create work or promote work for a YA audience. I have a YA graphic novel I wrote coming out in 2024 that I am very excited by! I have a lot of fun on my instagram and recommend folks follow me there–just note it’s NSFW! I contain multitudes.

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

I wish someone would ask me about my love of creepy dolls! I have a small but growing collection of dolls that I believe to be haunted. My newest doll, who I’ve named Veronica, is a three-foot curly-haired self-standing doll that I put right behind my TV. She’s always watching.

What advice would you give to any aspiring creatives out there?

I’m currently working on my next graphic novel, aimed at adults, that I’m really excited about. It takes place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in rural Alaska. I’m also currently looking for comic writing freelance jobs as I recently wrote a graphic novel (mentioned above!) that’ll be out in 2024 and found it to be such a cool experience!

Advice is hard because everyone is trying to do and create different things so I don’t think there is any blanket advice that would work for everyone. For me, it was helpful to re-define what success looks like and really naming what exactly was important to me while working in the industry. Is it a livable wage? Was it accolades? Was it the ability to tell my stories without being censored? Or maybe the most important thing are the relationships I have outside of my creative output so ensuring my work allows me to have the brainspace to engage with my community?  Doing this helped me decide where to focus my energy and ensure I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to others. I’m also, because I created my own standards of success, very successful! 

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

I really loved the mix of simplicity and complexity in Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. I also loved Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and literally every comic Silver Sprocket publishes.

Interview with Eunnie, author of If You’ll Have Me

Eunnie is a Korean-American illustrator based in Washington. She loves exploring relationships through her art and writing, and finds much joy in the portrayal of queer intimacy. When she’s not cooking up new stories, Eunnie spends her time napping, watching video essays, and collecting hoodies in every color. Follow her @eunnieboo

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

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

Hi, I’m Eunnie, and I’m a lesbian illustrator and cartoonist. I love drawing and writing character interactions, watching animated films, and singing, especially while I work. Happy to be here!

What can you tell us about your debut graphic novel, If You’ll Have Me? What inspired you to create this project?

If You’ll Have Me is a YA sapphic romcom about two girls named Momo and PG. It’s a quiet love story about communication and intimacy, inspired by the sweet, fluffy feelings of shoujo manga and my own desire to see a queer college romance.

Can you give us any trivia (that hasn’t already been given) about the characters from If You’ll Have Me?

Oh I love this! Yes.


  • the type to carry everything in her bag or purse—she’s always extra prepared when she goes out
  • loves RPGs, but will usually avoid first-person games because they tend to give her motion-sickness
  • played the flute in high school band


  • fell out of a treehouse and dislocated her right wrist when she was young—she became left-handed because of this
  • secretly hates spiders but will never admit it because she likes being Momo’s knight in shining armor
  • would probably be interested in audio engineering

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, especially comics/graphic novels? What drew you to the medium?

I’ve always liked telling stories, whether it be in conversation, writing, or art, but whenever I drew an illustration, I’d often feel like one picture wasn’t enough! Comics seemed like the next logical step, especially since I was already a fan of manga and webcomics. The fact that you can just pick up a pencil and create a world all your own, with endless opportunity to fill it with everything you love… It’s so exciting and so good.

How would you describe your art background?

I’ve been drawing ever since I was little. Around seventh grade, my brother gave me my very first tablet, and I became obsessed with digital art. When I was in high school I started seriously considering it as a career. I went to art college, got a degree in design, and now I work full time as a production artist for a small game company.

How would you describe your creative process?

On a typical illustration, I tend to jump around a lot. I’ll start coloring before I’m done inking, or I’ll have multiple WIPs up so I can constantly be doing whatever I’m most interested in. For my graphic novel, I had to focus on one part of the process at a time, so that was a bit of a challenge, mentally!

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

I’m constantly inspired by the artists I follow and the stories I read. I have a special place in my heart for indie comics—ShortBox Comics Fair is coming up soon, and that’s always such a treat. Music is a big source of inspiration for me, too. I often find myself wishing that I could make others feel the way a song makes me feel. I want my art to evoke emotions like that.

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

I can’t recall any stories that spoke to me in terms of my identity, so I think the closest answer might be A Series of Unfortunate Events. At the time, I felt it really grasped the unfairness of being a child, and having adults dismiss or belittle you because you’re young. Nowadays, I think My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness captured a lot of feelings I had as well, about sexuality, anxiety, and self-doubt.

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

It might not be apparent in my art, but I do enjoy horror! I’m too much of a weenie to watch most horror movies (unless I know literally everything that’s about to happen), but I like watching in-depth reviews and reading scary stories. I think it’s a genre that deserves more recognition.

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

So this isn’t really a specific question but I just wanted to talk about games because I keep hearing about Baldur’s Gate 3 and I’m like, do I need to get this? I don’t know if I’d be any good at D&D, but I’ve always been curious about it. The character creation is so intriguing to me. Disco Elysium has also been on my radar, and I’m dying to pick up Ghost Trick and River City Girls 2, but there’s still favorites I want to revisit, like Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing and Splatoon… Ahh! I miss playing games.

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

I’m currently writing the script for my second YA graphic novel! It’s another sapphic romance, and it’s going to be a bit more serious in tone—something more fantastical and dramatic. I still have a long way to go, but I’m really excited. I can’t wait to share more, in due time.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, especially those interested in working on their own graphic novels one day?

Wow there’s so much I could say, but for brevity’s sake: If you want to get into traditional publishing, you’ll need multiple sources of income or some kind of support system in place. The reality is, if I tried to live off the first quarter of my book advance alone, I wouldn’t have been able to afford rent. I got by because I had another job with a steady paycheck and health insurance, and friends who looked out for me. I think artists tend to deal with this sort of thing because we love what we do so much… but it’s still labor. And until the conditions in these industries improve, you’ve got to take care of yourself.

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

I’m personally fond of the Kase-san series by Hiromi Takashima. It’s just so sweet and gives me the most fluttery feelings. More recently, I started reading She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki, and I’ve been enjoying that too!