Interview with Ellen T. Crenshaw, Artist of Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel (the Baby-Sitters Club #14)

Ellen T. Crenshaw is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptation of Stacey’s Mistake by Ann M. Martin. She is the co-creator, with Colleen AF Venable, of Kiss Number 8, which was nominated for an Eisner Award and longlisted for a National Book Award. She is also the creator of What Was the Turning Point of the Civil War?, a Who HQ graphic novel. When she’s not making comics, Ellen loves playing video games, hiking with her dog, and deconstructing movie plots with her husband.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m Ellen T. Crenshaw, a cartoonist and illustrator. I worked for years as an editorial illustrator and a studio freelancer for children’s media development, but now I almost exclusively make comics and graphic novels. Journey is the best video game I’ve ever played. My favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. This past spring I drove 3,000 miles with my husband, cat, and dog from California to Massachusetts, where we now live!

What can you tell us about your latest project, The Baby-sitters Club: Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel and how did you get involved in illustrating for The Baby-sitters Club series?

Stacey’s Mistake is the 14th book in the Baby-sitters Club graphic novel series. Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory all visit Stacey in New York City for a big baby-sitting job, but the girls clash with Stacey’s New York friends and her city life. There’s lots of big emotions, and loving depictions of NYC sights.

I got involved with the BSC graphic novels when my agent came to me with interest from the series editor, Cassandra Pelham Fulton. I was a Baby-sitters Club reader when I was a kid, so I couldn’t have been more excited!

Did you have any previous connections to The Baby-sitters Club series before working on this project?

I read my older sister’s hand-me-down copies of the original series when I was little. The two of us watched the ‘90s tv show on PBS, and to this day we can both sing the theme song. My niece also read the graphic novels when she was in middle school. It means a lot to me that my family and I have such ties to the series and my work on it now is something I can share with them. (I’ve actually consulted my sister a handful of times for advice and input on my adaptations!)

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly comics?

My mom instilled in me a love of grammar, and she was basically my first writing teacher. When my dad got home from work he would read with me, and my favorites were always a book of Hans Christian Anderson tales and the daily newspaper comics. I’ve always loved cartoons, too—so much that baby-me wished Toon Town was a real place—and I was constantly drawing my favorite characters. I was in elementary school when I started making my first comic books with friends, drawn on computer paper and stapled into booklets. Comics are just so accessible as a storytelling medium, it was only natural as someone who loved both writing and drawing to keep doing it.

As a comic creator, you are known for another queer fan-favorite, Kiss Number 8. Could you tell us what it was like working on that project?

Thank you! Kiss Number 8 was what made me decide to try out for my first graphic novel. Before then I was making short comics for myself and small-press anthologies. Reading Colleen’s script was transformative; I felt so strongly for those characters and the story, I wanted with my whole body to be the one to draw it. The balance of humor and drama was right up my alley, and thankfully First Second thought so too! The process was exceptionally hard for me, though, because making short comics is a sprint while a graphic novel is a marathon. The hours were grueling. (They still are!) Colleen was a real champion for me throughout; she gave me so much encouragement. When it was done, she gifted me a crocheted trophy! I’m so lucky to have collaborated with her, and our book is one of my proudest efforts.

How would you describe your creative process in general?

It seems to change with every project, but one thing is consistent: I avoid my desk for as long as possible. I go for walks, I take the dog to the beach, I play games, I read, I come up with ideas in the shower. I’m on the couch with my sketchbook, laptop, or iPad—sometimes all three—while I write a script and begin sketches. The rest of my process is usually some combination of traditional and digital tools, my favorite being ink on paper.

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

As I said, ink on paper is my favorite. By that point, all the meticulous planning is over and it’s just me and my brush, guiding those lines, making textures, delighting in happy accidents. I can lose myself in the story and characters.

Pencils are challenging for me. They can be really tedious. It’s when I’m drawing endless perspective lines, poring over reference. There’s still an element of fun—especially when I’m taking photos of myself for posing—but it’s the most eye-melting, back-breaking part of my process.

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

A single influential moment that changed my entire creative life was when my college professor, the late great Robert Jay Kaufman, told me that I should convey more emotion in my characters’ hands. I took that to heart and I’ve since built a whole reputation of drawing expressive hands!

In general, I’m inspired by projects in which I get to research and learn new things. I’ll always prefer narrative fiction, but I appreciate any chance I get to do a historical piece that requires a trip to the library archives.

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

I mostly read my sister’s hand-me-down books growing up, my favorite among them being Anne of Green Gables. The first book of my own I remember loving was Totally Disgusting! by Bill Wallace, in which an uptight, scared little kitten learns to loosen up and be brave. I was a nervous kid and I wanted to be adventurous like Anne Shirley, but I think I felt more like Mewkiss the kitten.

Nowadays I’m really into historical fiction, adventure, and stories that explore the spectrum/question the boundaries of womanhood. I really enjoyed the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden and Circe by Madeline Miller. I’ll read and reread This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki from now until the end of time.

I’m also dabbling in horror, and Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass tv series especially moved me as a formerly religious person. I talk about it constantly.

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

Deadlines help a ton, haha! Honestly, a looming due date is mostly what keeps me moving forward. Finished is better than perfect.

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

I laugh exceptionally loudly and if you’re one of my neighbors I sincerely apologize.

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)?

Q: What’s your favorite cookie, and would you like one?

A: White chocolate macadamia nut, and yes, please and thank you.

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

Find your people and hold ‘em tight. Community is everything. The support you’ll give and receive, how you’ll influence each other; it’ll make you a better person and artist.

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

I’m in the middle of two more Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations: Kristy and the Walking Disaster and Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter.

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

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is wonderfully romantic and adventurous and turns the whole idea of a “chosen one” on its head.

I grabbed this series for work reference and I instantly fell in love with it: Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi. It’s baseball manga, completely out of my wheelhouse, and I love it.

Header Photo Credit Matt Boehm

Rebelle Re-Views: Go-To Music and Entertainment for Trying Times

The last few years have really hammered home the endless ways in which this life can dumpster fire. Fortunately, coping mechanisms exist. As the new year fast approaches and the idea of making resolutions feels more hilarious by the minute, we can at least take some of our favorite distraction strategies with us into 2024. Here are ten of mine:

1. Podcasts

Who needs self-examination or quiet time for meditation? Do we really need to let our thoughts roam free all willy-nilly? Instead, why not try drowning your thought-nadoes out with other people’s! We’ve got news (Mo News is a current less triggering fave)! We’ve got comedy (Handsome with Tig Notaro, Fortune Feimster, and Mae Martin or Say More with Amy Poehler as unlicensed therapist Dr? Sheila)! And we’ve got conversations between people who feel like friends due to how often their body-less voices fill my studio apartment (WTF with Marc Maron, Onward with Rosie O’Donnell, This Might Get Weird with Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart, and What Now with Trevor Noah)! All these radio wave strangers will make the voices in your head just another part of the droning ambience of being alive.

2. Iliza Schlesinger’s viral rhapsody imploring  Gen Z to give us Millennials a f*cking break already

Nothing has felt more cathartic than watching Schlesinger become the physical embodiment of the phrase “I’ve had it up to here!” Which I did probably a good 20+ times in a row. “We’re here to tell you that you are NOT NICE… and we have HAD IT!” After cheekily ensuring that her show was a safe space and thanking the two Gen Zers who publicly identified themselves for coming to the show, she launches into a beautiful history lesson of the millennial experience to give the “contextless generation” some much-needed perspective. From being raised on a diet of the mixed messages of our Boomer parents, not being able to buy homes, chastised for buying fucking avocados, to a reminder that we did the 90’s first. “You are angry and I get that… we are angry too but we have heartburn and our backs hurt but we are right there with you and you take it out on us,” Schlesinger says in an appeal with another important reminder, “Never forget we forged social media. Never forget we walked on Instagram so you could run on TikTok.” Nothing but respect for the Elder Millennial Queen.

Ruby Amanfu

3. Ruby Amanfu “Beautiful, You Are”

Ever made the mistake of listening to this song five minutes before your next Zoom meeting and finding yourself in tears? I sure have! And you can too. Let Ghana-born, Nashville-raised vocalist and songwriter Ruby Amanfu lull you and your inner child in with a soft drum beat and warm rasp that lands as gently as a whisper. With lyrics like “One look at you and I see stars that shine up over my head” to leave you warm and fuzzy like a hug from your best human friend and a cuddle from your favorite furry one. It’s a song that sees you even when it feels like the outside world doesn’t. 

4. Regina Spektor

According to my Spotify Wrapped, my #1 artist of the year was the Maestro of quirk and kitsch, Regina Spektor. I’ve been fangirling over her ever since I picked up a copy of “Soviet Kitsch” (which turns 20 next year) at Amoeba Records in, what feels like, another lifetime. I still feel as I did then that there is no one who sounds quite like Spektor, whose sweet soprano lifts songs inflected with lush orechestral melodies, jazz bends, and punk snark with lyrics that feel like poems or riddles that unlock deep heart-wrenching truths when you finally figure them out. Seeing her on tour this past July was one of the most moving experiences at a show I have ever had. She is truly a master of her craft and to witness her in action is a gift.

5. Redbone “Come and Get Your Love”

While I don’t remember the first time I heard this song, most likely on the oldies station on the radio in the car or possibly playing through the speakers of my dentist’s office, I do know that since that mysterious moment “Come and Get Your Love” has been one of my go-tos when I want to be in a good mood. Redbone was the first Native American band to reach the top five on the US Billboard Hot 100 in thanks to the song, released in 1974, which also went certified Gold selling over a million copies. If happiness was a song, it would be this one.

Mason Alexander Park as Emcee in Cabaret in London this past summer

6. Cabaret (2021 London Cast Recording)

Sometimes the world is a devastatingly dark place and can cast a frightening mirror on the darkness within ourselves. At times it’s important to bear witness and remember those parts within us. In London, The Kit Kat Club is in full swing and over the summer I got to experience the otherworldly talent that is Mason Alexander Park as our Emcee (Eddie Redmayne plays the role on the cast recording). Descending downward through a labyrinth of winding stairways lined with fringe and metal-stringed curtains, audience members, illuminated in a red glow, slink to a first bar in a basement. Drinks flow and performers materialize posing in the mirror, giving side-eye while playing piano, and interrupting the queue as they move through the liminal space between the present day and pre-war Berlin. By the time one gets to their seat the seduction of something eerie, and maybe a little dangerous, has set in. I won’t go in to the rest of the story except to say that it is terrifying in its prescience. How slow a burn hate can take to build and yet how breathtaking in its swiftness the descent of a society into the intoxication of violence and antisemitism. Life is a cabaret, old chum. What role will you play.

7.  Mike and the Mechanics “All I Need is A Miracle”

After spending time within the depths of despair, something’s gotta give and put some pep back in your step. This song randomly popped into my head one day and has been on repeat ever since. The lyrics belie the story of love gone wrong and the regret that follows, “And I know you were never right/I’ll admit I was never wrong… And though I treated you like a child/I’m gonna miss you for the rest of my life,” a sentiment that seems all too common right now. Whether it’s holiday stress or feelings of helplessness about the state of humanity, we could use a miracle or two that can bring us back together. 

8. Insight Timer App

If you’re like me and have been having trouble getting to sleep before 3am every night, might I suggest the Insight Timer Application. Try some floaty music against the backdrop of a storm. Or maybe a guided sleep meditation is more your speed. There are nearly endless options to create the perfect sleepy-time soundtrack while you snuggle up with a bag of Doritos because it got so late that you’re now too hungry to sleep and Doritos are more energy efficient and less dangerous than making something at that ungodly hour. Namaste. 

Alexis Bledel as Rory Gilmore and Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

9. Gilmore Girls

When Fall rolls around and all the cozy cues kick in it only means one thing: It’s Gilmore Girls season. Amy Sherman Palladino’s writing is music to my ears. Full of quippy comebacks, references to bygone Broadway, and cringey pop culture references that haven’t held up (and some that, surprisingly, did). Trips to Stars Hollow leave me aching for a time and place that never was but felt like it could be and relieved knowing (as long as the Netflix gods allow) I can drop into Friday night dinners and quirky town halls any time.

10. Pure Moods (1994 Original Release)

When distressed I start searching for things of comfort from my childhood: McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese, sleeping at odd hours of the day and night, shutting myself off from everything and everyone, and music compilations from popular infomercials from the 90s. For those who remember, Pure Moods was A VIBE and, more importantly, when I was introduced to the ethereal and Celtic musical stylings of Enya. Now you, like me, can listen to the New Age that took over the airwaves while reminiscing over it being “only $19.99 if you order now” all to just listen to one Enya song and maybe also that one by Enigma.

Happy New Year, everyone! Since we all need a break, may 2024 be boring and just ok. 

Interview with Seven Seas Editor, Pengie

Pengie is a writer and editor who focuses on LGBTQ+ fiction. She edited the Seven Seas release of Mo Dao Zu Shi / Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation and Tian Guan Ci Fu / Heaven Official’s Blessing by bestselling author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, aka MXTX.

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

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

Hello! I’m Pengie, the editor on the TGCF and MDZS English adaptations through Seven Seas. I write and do various other crafty projects on the side.

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

In addition to general editing for spelling/grammar, I work directly with a novel’s translator to adjust the prose for style/flow and discuss adaptation and localization concerns, and research/write extra content like character profiles, glossary entries, and so on.

What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing specifically?

I’m a lifelong reader and writer of fiction and am passionate about bringing the things I love to a wider audience.

As someone known for their work editing the English translation of MXTX’s novels for Seven Seas publishing, what draws you to this author’s work?

MXTX is one of the best character writers I’ve ever encountered in any field – even her NPCs have devoted fanclubs. Interesting characters are what truly engage readers and get a fandom going, especially in a genre as heavily character-focused as romance, and it’s a huge part of why her main ships are so compelling and see such widespread praise.

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

It’s still a very fledgling field in the Western publishing sphere! Same goes for Western fan communities. MDZS/The Untamed’s explosion in the west took a lot of media companies by surprise, and they’re now beginning to understand that danmei isn’t some passing fad they can sit out. I expect to see more publishers/production companies picking up series as time goes on.

What are some of your favorite danmei titles?

MXTX’s books will always hold a special place in my heart, as they were the first danmei I read. I’m also a fan of 2HA for how buckwild it gets, and love Thousand Autumns because I like hot, evil old men with big tits.

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

Not to get all shounen anime protagonist on you and your poor readers, but my creative work improves exponentially when I’m in the workshopping and brainstorming with my equally talented and creative friends—or even just hanging out with them and admiring their work.

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

Question: would I rather find irrefutable proof of aliens, or irrefutable proof of ghosts?

Answer: Ghosts. I think pretty much everyone these days already understands conceptually that there is likely extraterrestrial life out there. Finding proof of it would probably net me a Nobel Prize, but it’s probably just going to be something boring like bacteria. Now, ghosts on the other hand—finding proof of ghosts 1) would shake the foundation of our concept of death, 2) would really screw with a lot of people’s heads, 3) might not get me a Nobel Prize, but would drastically increase my chances of getting a big titty ghost gf. I think I can rest my case.

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

My collection of TGCF merch is horrifyingly large. One of the proudest parts of that collection is my ever-growing set of TGCF releases from other regions—the original Chinese release, the Thai release, the Vietnamese release, the Russian release, and many more. So many different covers and different internal illustrations for me to admire! I’m sure it’ll monopolize a full bookcase when all is said and done.

As an editor, what advice would you give to aspiring creatives/writers? 

From a story-crafting standpoint: interesting, engaging characters will carry your work; it is extremely hard to achieve a lasting impact on readers if your characters are dull, even if the story’s plot on its own is good. From a line-editing standpoint: Google Docs’ spelling/grammar checker is hot garbage, please don’t take its stupid suggestions seriously.

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

I’m hoping to release some videos on danmei/xianxia topics soon on my pengiesama YouTube channel! Hold me to it, won’t you?

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

I haven’t had much chance to read anything released recently, but I can recommend The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon as a semi-recent rec, and Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu as a perennial classic. I’ll throw in Nagata Kabi’s biographical manga series as a rec here too; My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is the first of the series. Readers interested in a modern perspective on LGBTQ+ issues from an Asian perspective may want to check out the work of Qiu Miaojin, a Taiwanese lesbian novelist. Her most famous works in the Western sphere are Notes of a Crocodile and Last Words from Montmartre.

Interview with Amber McBride, Author of Gone Wolf

Amber McBride is an English professor at the University of Virginia. She also low-key practices Hoodoo and high-key devours books (150 or so a year keep her well fed). In her spare time, she enjoys pretending it is Halloween every day, organizing her crystals, watching K-dramas, and accidentally scrolling through TikTok for 3 hours at a time. She believes in ghosts and she believes in you.

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

CW: Discussion of Unite the Right Rally and depression.

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

Hi, so happy to be here! Thank you for having me!  My name is Amber McBride, and I am the author of Gone Wolf, Me (Moth) and We Are All So Good At Smiling! I am a poet and professor who lives in the countryside in Virginia. I am also a Mother of Bees, two hives of bees to be exact—one is feisty one is relatively calm. Outside of professoring and writing I practice Hoodoo, which is an African American folk magic system.

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

The idea for Gone Wolf first flickered to life after the Unite the Right Rally that happened in my mother’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017. Being Black and living in the United States is such a compilated, nuanced and sometimes frightening experience. I wanted to challenge myself to dive deeper into that nuance and fear. The only way I could do that was by leading with feeling which is what the main character, Imogen, does throughout Gone Wolf. I sat with the idea for a long time and ended up writing several versions before the story of Imogen and Ira surfaced.

While writing this book I also read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson for the second time in my life and the feeling that history often repeats when it is not told truthfully really came to light.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly novels in verse?

I come from a lineage of storytellers; people who told stories but did not write them down. So, I think storytelling, mythmaking, folklore crafting is in my blood. I was always a child who felt a lot—like my skin could not hold all the emotions inside of me. Then, out of nowhere, when I was 11 I wrote a story about a unicorn who flew down from the sky and saved a little girl from all her feelings. Soon after that I wrote my first poem. For me poetry became a gift that helped me process complex emotions.

In my books I usually write in verse when the heart of what I want the reader to grasp is a feeling that I can’t explain. A feeling that poetry gives life to. Gone Wolf is mostly written in prose because it has a clear message—what happens when we don’t tell history correctly?

As someone who has written both young adult and middle grade fiction, what attracts you in writing for these demographics?

I trust young adults as readers. I trust that they can glide on vibes and feelings. I trust that they will follow a character to the edge of the known universe even if the plot is wonky. It’s a privilege to write for young people.

When I write poetry for adults, I know logic will enter the chat very quickly. I love the whimsy, joy, and hope that YA and MG has space for, but most of all, writing for this demographic makes gives me hope. Young people make me hope-filled.

Regarding your previous work, We Are All So Good at Smiling, I found it profoundly beautiful how you explored the subject of mental health with magic. What inspired you to write about depression this way? Also, if you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about this subject means to you?

Thank you for this question. I’ve been an advocate for mental health awareness for all my adult life. I was first “officially” diagnosed with clinical depression in college and more recently diagnosed with treatment resistant depression—so my mental health is something that stiches through much of my life. I wanted to write about it differently in We Are All So Good at Smiling because the haunting feeling of being depressed is so real, heavy and often it feels like only magic can help it.

I also wanted to highlight that anyone can experience depression—Baba Yaga, Mama Wata, it’s not a thing to ashamed of and there are many tools and resources out there to help. In We Are All So Good at Smiling, Whimsy and Faerry realize that there are flickers of magic everywhere; in friendship, in community, in fairytales and with the right tools they can make it out of any haunted garden.

In previous interviews, you’ve discussed how you and your characters are informed by unique belief sytems such as root work and Hoodoo. Would you mind speaking a little of what it means to you to feature this in your books?

Seeing a belief system that had to be hidden for hundreds of years on the page means everything to me. My ancestors crafted Hoodoo while in bondage and used its tenants to keep healthy and to create balance. My ancestors are fierce and brave—I hope they are proud of me.

These practices sustained my ancestors and have fortified me. When I have young people, from all backgrounds, ask me about it I love being able to start a conversation about ancestral respect, herbalism and magic—finding power in oneself and the living world around them.

How would you describe your writing process?

I don’t plot. I don’t have daily word goals, but I do sit down six days a week hoping diligence gets creativity to spark.

Dance is a huge part of my process. I was a competitive contemporary dancer when I was younger. So, I often will want words to feel like a certain sequence of choreography on the page, which means I am often standing up moving, then sitting back down and writing.

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

As a kid the stories that most touched me were the ones that my dad told me and my sister as bedtime stories. They were tall tales of him growing up in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington DC. Outside of that the stories that my grandparents and great uncles told me—I would listen to them for hours.

That’s not to say there was not literature I loved, Chronicles of Narnia series, Amber Brown is not a Crayon books—but there were not many books with characters that looked like me in the 1980’s-90’s. When I was in high school, I devoured Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. That’s when I really started seeing myself in books. When I met Toni Morrison right out of grad school, I sobbed.

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

Dance. Music. Nature. People. Dance (again). Documentaries. The phases of the moon. My bees. The fact that crows can talk but just don’t! Forests are connected by a network underground! Love is a medicine that amplifies all others!

Everything. Life. Curiosity.

Also (always) ancestors inspires me.

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

I love editing. I think that’s the poet in me. At risk of sounding too cliché, I really don’t find any part of writing frustrating. I find joy in the working and unworking of it. Like when you are learning new choreography and you practice till the movement fits your skin seamlessly. Like when you have to dig a 24-inch-deep hole to plant a tree and when you are filling the dirt back in all you are thinking about is how at this very moment—the living soil and living roots are conversing; literal magic is happening. I like the process in most things, especially writing.

Wait, I just remembered, I do very much dislike the first round of copyedits on novels in verse. lol. 

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

Don’t feel like you must write in sequence. Write what you are excited about.

Let yourself write badly. No first draft is stunning.

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

Mystery is fine.

Jokes aside, I think everything you need to know about me is in my books.

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)?

Q: If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

A: If you believe every living thing (even trees and leaves and streams) have awareness and a soul, yes. If you don’t, no. So, clearly the answer is, yes.

This question spurs hour long debates with my friends.

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

Only you can write the story living in your heart and I promise you, someone needs it. Someone is waiting for it.

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

Very excited to hype up all the extraordinary Black poets featured in Poemhood: Our Black Revival, which is a young adult poetry anthology on folklore and the Black experience that comes out January 30, 2024. My debut (adult) poetry collection, Thick with Trouble, comes out in February 13, 2024. My next MG, Onyx and Beyond, is inspired by my dad and is about a boy named Onyx whose mother has early onset dementia, come out in October 2024. Also, a picture book in 2025.

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

This is my favourite question! In the Shadow Garden by Liz Parker is a perfect fall witch book. This Appearing House by Ally Malinenko is brilliant, and her next book Broken Dolls is also wonderful. Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne is an excellent novel in verse and To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames who also has a pirate book and a demon book coming so look out for her name. I am most looking forward to The Other March Sisters which is a queer Little Women reimagining coming out in 2025 and Blood at the Root by LaDarrion Williams.

Interview with Chloe Liese, Author of Better Hate Than Never

Chloe Liese writes romances reflecting her belief that everyone deserves a love story. Her stories pack a punch of heat, heart, and humor, and often feature characters who are neurodivergent like herself. When not dreaming up her next book, Chloe spends her time wandering in nature, playing soccer, and most happily at home with her family and mischievous cats.

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

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

I’m Chloe Liese, author of the Bergman Brothers and Wilmot Sisters series, and I write romances reflecting my belief that everyone deserves a love story. My books are humorous, hope-filled, and slow-burn hot, and they feature characters with human realities who I think deserve more prominence in romance novels, such as neurodivergence, chronic illnesses, disabilities, complex mental health journeys, and nuanced sexual identities. I write stories that allow my readers the joyful escape of a romance novel while also affirming my conviction that the most beautiful love stories are the ones in which real people with real lives and bodies and minds experience emotional safety, rich intimacy, and vibrant, loving happily ever afters.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Better Hate Than Never? What was the inspiration for this story?

Better Hate than Never, the second in my Wilmot Sisters series, reimagines Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as a feminist, sexy romance in which two childhood enemies overcome their past animosity and fall in love through the hard, healing work of vulnerability, honesty, and trust. The book challenges the idea of the “shrew”—a derogatory term wielded against vocal, bold, impassioned women—and explores characters living with neurodivergence (ADHD) and a chronic illness (migraines). I think this story balances the angst of longing for someone you don’t believe you should—or deserve—to love, and the fiery, delicious tension of the enemies to lovers trope. Finally, the book has some really fun nods to the iconic rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You, which is another reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew, and one of my all-time favorite films.

From the description of your newest book, readers will find out the heroine Kate is diagnosed with ADHD and identifies as demisexual. If you wouldn’t mind, could you tell us about the queer representation featured in this book?

As a neurodivergent queer woman myself, it’s important to me to write characters who embody those identities and to explore the vulnerability that many who identify this way feel, asking themselves, Who do I trust with my truth? Who do I trust to validate and see and love me for who I show them I am? Kate’s neurodivergence is something she’s learned to love in a vacuum, on her own, but not in relationships; she hasn’t felt seen and loved well for the person she is and all the ways that having ADHD bears out in her life, so I wanted to explore how she opens up to the people she loves about the ways she needs to feel seen and affirmed better, how vulnerable that risk is but how rewarding it is when the people who love her hear her and strive to love her in a way that shows her just how much. Her sexuality, like mine—demisexual—is another area in which she’s historically felt frustration and isolation in how poorly it’s been understood and received, after hurtful, ignorant responses and her deepening (and understandable) reluctance to open up to people about it. As her relationship to Christopher deepens, it was very important to me to show her wrestling with her fear of rejection but ultimately her bravery in trusting Christopher, to ensure his response to her was loving, curious to know more, eager to make her feel safe and seen, to show how their intimacy grows because of the trust and care that ensues from that conversation.

Looking from the body of your work, mental health and neurodivergent/ disability representation is a big part of your writing. If you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about these concepts means to you?

Romance is such a joyful, safe genre—it focuses on the beauty of relationships, the hope of happy endings, and celebrates all the many nuanced, beautiful ways we can experience intimacy, connection, and love. It’s important to me to write stories with characters navigating mental health struggles, who are neurodivergent and disabled and chronically ill, because, as a neurodivergent person with chronic conditions, I know personally how lonely it is to pick up romance novel after romance novel and see none of those realities being lovingly, affirmingly portrayed. I aim to write stories that challenge a very culturally engrained ableist stigma that asserts we have to look or live or function a certain way, have a certain number in our bank account, be in the pinnacle of health, to experience love and sex and be desired and live fulfilling, happy existences. My hope and belief is that anyone can find something to relate to in my books, even if they aren’t chronically ill or neurodivergent or disabled or experiencing mental health difficulties, because the truth is it’s human to hide our soft spots and our fears, and all of us carry with us some part of ourselves we believe is unlovable. My goal is for my readers—no matter how little or much they relate to the identities or diagnoses or experiences of my characters—to close my books feeling healed and encouraged and reminded that true love loves all of us, not just our easy, smooth parts, but the rough and rocky corners, too.

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

During an especially anxious season of my life, I was very drawn toward the guaranteed happy ending of romantic fiction, and—as is generally the case for me, when I find something I like—I immersed myself in the genre, devouring hundreds of romance novels. After quite a lot of reading, I started feeling this loneliness I’ve mentioned, this ache to see people like me and the people in my life and my community, portrayed authentically and positively in characters who were wise and witty and sexy and kind and capable of rich, beautiful love stories. At some point, I came upon Toni Morrison’s wisdom, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” and it felt like a sign to take the leap and start writing the kinds of stories I wanted to read, so I did. It bears emphasizing that I by no means think I am the only one who writes romances with realistic characters like this; I just struggled to find them back when I was first reading romance and started writing. I am beyond grateful to have since found authors who do that beautifully and intentionally, who inspire me as a storyteller and who are doing incredible things in the genre—Helen Hoang, Talia Hibbert, Kennedy Ryan, and Alison Cochrun, to name a few—who I admire immensely for their talent and dedication to compassionate, inclusive romantic storytelling.

How would you describe your writing process?

It always starts with a kernel—a character whose growth arc comes to me vividly, a first chapter unfolds in my imagination like a movie’s opening scene, a bit of dialogue between two people whose dynamic and tropes and connection demands to be written down the moment it materializes in my mind. After that, I examine what representational aspects I want to portray. If they’re outside my lived experience, I connect with authenticity sources—friends and readers who identify with those experiences—interview them comprehensively on what matters to them to see in a romance novel with a character living with an identity/diagnosis like theirs and on the nuances of their routines and relationships and their identity/diagnosis’ impact on those aspects of their lives. Then I write the story, revise, and get it to a place where I feel the narrative is solidified, then I put it in front of my authenticity sources for critique to ensure representational accuracy. Once I’ve addressed any inaccuracies and my authenticity sources feel good about the story from a representational standpoint, I put it in front of other sensitivity and critique readers for more feedback to ensure I’ve written a story we all feel is fun, joyful, thoughtful, affirming, and compassionate. When I write from my own experience, I do essentially the same thing with myself as an authenticity source—ask myself what matters to affirm and authentically portray in my story—and then I put it in front of others with my identity as well as sensitivity and critique readers.

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

I find finishing a book often the easiest part! Often, it’s the starting for me that I get hung up on. If I don’t have a clear vision yet for how the story kicks off or who exactly my characters are or what journey they need to take, I have to stay patient and try out ideas and wait until I get that creative greenlight inside myself that lets me know I’m ready to go. Sometimes, though, even after a solid start, with the book plotted out into beats, guided by my characters’ intended growth arcs and overall journeys, I get hung up in the first act of the book (in my plotting, I tend to break my books structurally into three acts), knowing if I take a wrong turn early in the novel, I’ll have lots of rewriting ahead of me when I realize I’ve ended up somewhere I didn’t want to. Having written ten novels now, I am very familiar with how exhausting and frustrating it can be to realize I’ve taken a wrong turn and have to go back and revise extensively. When that first act potential wrong turn fear hits, I’ve started to work on being patient and pausing, going back and reading a few chapters preceding the point at which I’m unsure which way to turn. I’m still learning how to trust and listen to myself as a storyteller, and I’d say that’s honestly the biggest challenge, but I think I’m getting better with each book.

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

I didn’t know I was neurodivergent until I was 30. I always felt a bit odd and different, like I was outside plexiglass looking into the rest of the world, especially complex social situations. So as a child, I was drawn to stories about kids who were loners and dreamers, who were roughing it on their own, lost in their own imaginations—Anne of Green Gables, pretty much any middle grade Karen Cushman novel but especially Catherine Called Birdy and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, The Boxcar Children, Miss Rumphius, the Dear America diary series, to name a few. Stories that now make me feel most seen are Helen Hoang’s, Talia Hibbert’s, and Alison Cochrun’s. I am so thankful for their stories and the safe havens they’ve given me.

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

My favorite part of writing is how real these characters and their worlds become, how touching and healing it can be to experience the love and kindness and goodness they show each other. I’d also say another favorite element of writing is the sheer rush of writing something (that at least, to me feels) beautiful—a turn of phrase that sparkles like magic, a single sentence that written straight from my heart. The most frustrating or challenging part is that “wrong turn” fear of mine—when I get pulled out of the joy of being immersed in my story world and have to wrestle with my doubts about my craft and the direction I’m taking.

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

Write what you believe in. Write what brings you joy. Write what you want to read. Ask yourself why, what, and how all the time—Why am I telling this story? Why am I writing this character? Why does this couple make sense in a way other potential pairings in their story world don’t? What do my characters need to learn? How do they grow as individuals and together? How do their past and present and the future I have planned for them reflect in their voice, their worldview, their fears, their hopes, their journey? These questions make a story so much stronger; a book can have an engaging hook, a snappy premise, but fall flat when its plot, dialogue, and characters’ behaviors don’t unfold in a way that feels realistically, compellingly motivated by the nuances of the lead characters and their growth journey.

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

I’m working on the third and final Wilmot Sister book, whose first chapter I’m very excited is in finished copies of Better Hate than Never—readers get a really fun sneak peek at Juliet’s story! I can’t say much about it, only that I think it’s really swoony and tender and it’s bringing me a lot of joy. I’m also wrapping up work on the last Bergman Brothers novel, Viggo’s story, Only and Forever, which is a roommance about a starry-eyed optimistic romance reader living with a cynical thriller writer who pair up to get each other through a tough professional season and end up falling hopelessly in love.

Finally, what books, particularly books with queer and/or disabled/neurodivergent representation, would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

So many, but here are some, to name just a few:

Interview with R. Eric Thomas, Author of Kings of B’more

R. Eric Thomas is the bestselling author of Here for It, a Read with Jenna book club pick featured on Today and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He is the co-author of Reclaiming Her Time, a biography of Rep. Maxine Waters. He is also a television writer (AppleTV+’s Dickinson, FX’s Better Things), a playwright, and the long-running host of The Moth in Philadelphia and D.C. For four years, he was a senior staff writer at where he wrote “Eric Reads the News.” Kings of B’more is his YA debut. 

I had the opportunity to interview R. Eric Thomas, which you can read below.

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

I’m a bestselling author, television writer, and playwright based in Philadelphia, where I live with my husband, who is a Presbyterian pastor.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Congratulations, The Best Is Over!? What inspired this project?

I turned 40 a year into the pandemic while living in a house I never imagined I’d want in a suburb that gave me the creeps sometimes and I looked around and thought “Okay, what now?” I had planned to have an elaborate costume party with very annoying rules for my 40th and invite everyone I’d ever met, but instead I was unexpectedly living in my hometown again, struggling to make adult friendships, bleaching my mail, and tweeting out jokes about the apocalypse. I thought the juxtaposition of a common phase of life change with this shocking, seismic global upheaval was worth exploring. And as someone who primarily writes comedically, I thought it was a worthy challenge to see if I could make enough jokes about my mid-life/existential crisis to find hope again.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically non-fiction (essays)?

Stories are empathy engines and there’s something extraordinary that happens when you tell a true story to another person. It opens up a bridge between you, it inspires both of you–or all of you—to think more expansively about commonality and connection. It’s generous and vulnerable. Storytelling changes us, it teaches us and excites us and challenges us. I started out telling true stories, live, with no notes at shows like The Moth, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I’ve done standup, I tried my hand at spoken word, I’ve hosted cabarets and drag shows; I loved all of those experiences but I found that there was nothing like storytelling.

Recently, you’ve entered into the world of young adult fiction, with your book, Kings of B’more? May I ask what inspired this story, as well as your interest in writing YA?

I wanted to write about platonic love between two Black, queer boys; I wanted to write a story where their trauma wasn’t the focal point; I was interested in a space of possibility for their exuberance and their softness. I wanted to craft the world as I knew it could be. And I knew that if I didn’t write it, that some young person out there wouldn’t get to know that it was possible. I wrote what I’d never read, a world that I get to live now as an adult. My trips to the library as a middle and high schooler expanded my view of the world in so many ways; I’m still learning from books I discovered in 9th or 10th grade. I wanted to add to that tradition for those coming after me.

How would you describe your general writing process?

Chaotic. I always have multiple projects going on. I follow inspiration. I get lost. I have to trick myself into finishing things. I recently remodeled my office for a week because a chapter was making me nervous. It’s a mess. I should be exiled from writing.

Are there any ways in which it is similar or different when writing fiction vs non-fiction?

With both forms structure is very important, particularly in the way that I approach non-fiction. I write non-fiction as if I am the main character, the protagonist, and the essay usually follows the natural arc of me getting closer to or farther from what I want. I think trope and genre can be as useful in non-fiction as they are in fiction and can expand the possibilities of what I’m creating.

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

I both love and hate revision. I really try to embrace the freedom of being able to write a very imperfect first draft and the process of slowly, painstakingly finding the right piece inside of the imperfection. But I also get really frustrated sometimes in the writing process because there is never a single “right” piece. It’s easy to get lost in the searching, which is why I value having such smart editors.

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

I am obsessed with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Colson Whitehead, and Ann Patchett.

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

Having a regular practice can be key. As can having deadlines, even if it’s just a friend who you’ve promised to get a draft to. Knowing that someone is waiting, whether that someone is the hopeful version of yourself who made your schedule or an eager reader, can push you over the finish line.

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

I’m in the middle of writing another novel, this one for adults. It’s a queer love story about second chances and a vacation town trying to reinvent itself.

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

Philip Ellis’s Love and Other Scams is such a delight and I can’t wait for his next book, We Could Be Heroes. Everyone should read Audre Lorde, particularly Sister Outsider, and Alexander Chee, particularly How to Write an Autobiographical Essay. Meccah Jamilah Sullivan’s Big Girl is phenomenal. I cannot stop screaming about how great Idlewild by James Frankie Thomas is. Holy cow! What a masterpiece!

Interview with Maria Ingrande Mora, Author of The Immeasurable Depth of You

Maria Ingrande Mora (they/she) is a content designer and a brunch enthusiast. Her love languages are snacks, queer joy, and live music. A graduate of the University of Florida, Maria lives near a wetlands preserve with two cats, two children, and two billion mosquitoes. She can often be found writing at her stand-up desk, surrounded by house plants. Unless the cats have destroyed them.

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

CW: Discussion of mental illness (specifically depression and anxiety)

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

Hi! I’m a genderqueer Floridian trying to survive their state’s authoritarian regime and stay in love with the beautiful place they call home. I’m the parent of two teens and the author of two queer books for young people.

What can you tell us about  your latest novel, The Immeasurable Depth of You? What was the inspiration for this project?

The Immeasurable Depth of You follows extremely online Brynn as she’s banished to Florida to spend the summer with her estranged dad on a houseboat with no internet access.

It’s a story for and about teens who are living with mental illness. It’s a story of self-acceptance in the face of the negative self-talk that so often becomes an indelible part of the lives of young people with anxiety, depression, and other diagnoses. It’s also a little bit spooky and a little bit funny!

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

I was a precocious reader as a young person. I found a lot of comfort and companionship in books. While it was a long journey to get there, it was also a natural journey to contribute my own stories to young people needing a moment of escape.

I am very drawn to speculative fiction in all forms. Stepping slightly outside of our world allows for so many creative ways to hone in on the ways we connect with others and with ourselves.

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? 

Weetzie Bat had a huge influence on me as a teen. I remember reading it cover to cover in the bathtub, refilling the water every time it got cold. It was one of the first unabashedly queer and magical stories I read as a young person, and it let me recalibrate what fiction could be.

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

I feel like I’m one giant mishmash of creative influences because I’m so drawn to stories in any form. I’ve fallen in love with fictional characters my whole life, and their worlds and narratives have consistently inspired me to tell stories that make people feel things. Big, huge emotions can be so satisfying when they’re contained by the safe constraints of a story.

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

I love whatever part of writing I’m not currently doing. When I’m drafting, I’m longing to revise. When I’m revising, I’m longing to start a new draft. That friction is part of what keeps the creative process exciting to someone like me (a person with ADHD).

Every once in a while, I get in such a deep flow that I feel like I’m experiencing the story first-hand. This often involves sort of weeping over my keyboard. Those are my favorite moments. I hope those transformative moments exist for the reader, too.

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

I’m in my 40s and I’m still on an ongoing, evolving journey of self-discovery. Life doesn’t stop being exciting when you hit a certain milestone age. And you’re never locked into one label or identity.

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 Florida animal are you most scared of?

Definitely water snakes. While I’m also VERY scared of alligators, the whole thing where snakes can swim at the surface or under the surface makes them profoundly terrifying to me. I become nearly catatonic with fear. If the snakes ever figure this out I’m done for.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you’re an artist.

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

On Free Comic Book Day, you can check out my comics debut, Ranger Academy! It’s an all-ages story that you don’t need to be a Power Rangers fan to get into. I hope you’ll check it out.

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

I just finished She Who Became the Sun and I’m just haunted by how beautiful and perfect it was. I cannot wait for the sequel. Time to suffer!

Interview with Lesléa Newman, Author of Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard

Lesléa Newman is the author of 80 books for readers of all ages, including the novel-in-verse October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard; the short story collection A Letter to Harvey Milk; the dual memoir-in-verse I Carry My Mother and I Wish My Father; the picture books Sparkle Boy and The Boy Who Cried Fabulous; and the children’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies. Her honors and literary awards include the Matthew Shepard Foundation Making a Difference Award, a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, two American Library Association Stonewall Honors, two National Jewish Book Awards, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award, and the Massachusetts Book Award. From 2008–10, she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts. Seven of her poems from October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard are included in the libretto of Considering Matthew Shepard, a fusion oratorio composed by Craig Hella Johnson. Newman lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

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

CW: Discussion of homophobic hate crimes.

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

I am so happy to be here! I am a proud Jewish lesbian author of more than 80 books for readers of all ages including the famous and infamous Heather Has Two Mommies. I live with my beloved spouse of 35 years who is very kind, and our 11 year old cat who is very bossy.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard? What inspired this project?

Always Matt is a fully illustrated book-length poem that celebrates Matthew Shepard’s life and legacy. I was actually asked by a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation to write a book geared toward young readers about Matt’s life. My hope is that the book will be read and discussed by families and in classrooms and that it will inspire readers of all ages to take action to make the world a better place.

I’ve noticed from your body of work that this isn’t the first time you’ve written about  Matthew Shepard (i.e. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard.) May I ask what keeps drawing you back to writing about Shepard?

Because fate brought me to the University of Wyoming campus the day that Matt died and because he was on the committee of LGBT students who chose me to be the keynote speaker for their Gay Awareness Week, and because I missed meeting him by one day, I feel that my life is intricately bound up with his story. His untimely death grieves me deeply and I feel compelled to do all that I can to keep his name and legacy alive.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, especially for younger readers?

I have been writing stories and poems since I was a young child in order to understand the world outside me, the world inside me, and the relationship between the two. I started my writing career as a poet, studying with Allen Ginsberg and others, and poetry is still my first love. I have also always loved children’s books. And children love poetry! So it was a natural progression from writing poems for adults to writing poems for children to writing picture books.

As an author, you are known for the book, Heather Has Two Mommies, one of the first highly acclaimed (and highly banned) picture books concerning queer themes? How does it feel having that type of legacy as a queer author yourself?

So many people advised me to publish Heather under a pen name. But I never was one for hiding who I am. I am proud to have been called the grandmother of LGBTQ+ kidlit! Many writers have thanked me for paving the way. And I love reading recently published queer children’s books. How wonderful that  today’s children have a more diverse reading experience than my generation did.

What are your thoughts on the presence of LGBTQ+ representation in all-ages media and literature today?

Things have improved but of course we can do better. And we have to do better. All children deserve to see themselves and their families represented in the media. At this point in time, it shouldn’t be a big deal to have LGBTQ+ characters in a movie or TV show or book. It should be matter-of-fact.

In a previous article you stated, “I write out of a Jew­ish les­bian expe­ri­ence about the human expe­ri­ence.” As a queer and Jewish person myself, I would love it if you could possible expand on that quote here and what it means to you writing from that intersectional experience?

 I see the world through the dual lens of being a Jew and being a lesbian. Even if my work doesn’t have overt Jewish content or overt queer content, it is always my perspective. And the closer I get to expressing my own authentic experience, the closer I get to expressing the human experience that we all share. We all have the same emotions: joy, sorrow, anger, hope, despair, grief, happiness, love. The more specific I can be, the more my reader can relate to my words, even when they do not come from a background similar to my own.

How would you describe your creative process?

The author Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until 3 drops of blood  appear on your forehead.” That about sums it up. I write most mornings with a pen and spiral notebook and wait for something to happen. The important thing to do is to keep the pen moving until something sparks on the page. I can go for a long time –days! weeks!—before an idea takes form. And that can be frustrating. But it’s all part of the process.

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

My teachers, Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley continue to influence me. I can still hear their voices in my head. Allen always said, “First thought, best thought” meaning try to stay connected to that first creative spark as you keep revising and revising. Grace gave me permission to “not write in the Queen’s English.” She encouraged me to write in Yinglish, (English with Yiddish phrases and syntax) which is the language of my grandmothers, the language of my heart.

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

I did not find myself in any of the books I read growing up. There were no books that featured a little Jewish girl with curly hair eating matzo ball soup with her bubbe on Friday night (later on in life, I wrote one!). I felt my family was different, which really meant inferior. Why couldn’t we have a Christmas tree? Why couldn’t I hunt for Easter eggs? At the time, I was upset with my parents for not letting me do these things, but looking back, I am glad that they instilled in me a sense of who I was and a sense of pride. When I came out (in the early 1980’s) there were no books that featured Jewish lesbians so I wrote a novel, Good Enough to Eat (Firebrand Books, 1986) and a collection of short stories, A Letter to Harvey Milk (Firebrand Books, 1988) in order to see myself.

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

I am a big animal lover and have learned a lot about nonverbal communication from every animal I have ever known. I love doing crossword puzzles (I have been a clue in the New York Times puzzle!) and I am addicted to watching Jeopardy (Heather Has Two Mommies was once a Jeopardy question!).

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

Question: Is it true that someone once stopped you on the street to tell you that you looked just like Hedy Lamarr?

Answer: Yes!

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

I have several picture books coming out in the next few years.

Like Father, Like Son, illustrated by AG Ford and coming out from Abrams next year, celebrates what makes dads amazing and the special relationship between fathers and son.

Joyful Song illustrated by Susan Gal and coming out next year from Levine/Querido is about Zachary and his two moms welcoming their new baby girl with a naming ceremony that takes place in their synagogue.

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

Read as much as possible. Develop a regular writing habit. Find your people, those who care about you, admire you, support you, and also have the courage to give you honest feedback about your work. And most importantly, believe in yourself. Don’t try to write like anyone else. Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Your voice is unique and it is your gift to the world.

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

Oh, there are so many!

For graphic memoirs: Alison Bechdel and Mike Curato

For poetry: Minnie Bruce Pratt and Saeed Jones

For children’s books: Rob Sanders, Maya Gonzalez, and Jacqueline Woodson

For teen novels: Abdi Nazemian and Malinda Lo