Interview with ShinYeon Moon, Illustrator of LaoLao’s Dumplings

ShinYeon Moon (she/her/they/them) is an illustrator based in New York. Moon holds an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Illustration as Visual Essay. She currently teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology. She has received accolades from different illustration publications including 3×3 Magazine, Society of Illustrators, and Communication Arts.

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

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

Hello! My name is ShinYeon Moon (Shin) and I am a Korean-American freelance illustrator and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. I graduated with my MFA from the School of Visual Arts for Illustration as Visual Storytelling and am currently teaching in the BFA department there.

What can you tell us about your latest project, LaoLao’s Dumplings? What was it like to work on this book?

It was such a great honor being able to work on the illustrations for Laolao’s Dumplings. This was my first illustrated picture book and being able to work alongside such fantastic and supportive people was truly such a gift. The team (writer Dane Liu, art director Aram Kim, assistant editor Kortney Nash, and editor Laura Godwin) made the entire process feel very warm and welcoming and I felt constantly reassured that I was in good hands. Because food, community, and inter-generational traditions are some of the beautiful topics that this book aims to cover, I took a lot of inspiration from memories of my own family around the kitchen table and nights eating out with friends. I began the project by exploring Manhattan’s Chinatown and taking in all the sights, sounds, smells, and (of course) tastes that I could, so that I could better manifest them into this book. There is a dumpling recipe from Dane’s family included in the book, so I also attempted to make my own dumplings from scratch. From there, I worked on trying to figure out the character designs for Millie and her Laolao (grandmother). After the team gave the go-ahead for the character designs and rough sketches of the book’s spreads, the rest of the process felt relatively intuitive and magically flowed.

As an illustrator, what drew you to your medium? How would you describe your artistic background?

My undergraduate background was in oil painting, so it took a long time for me to trust the digital process and feel comfortable working in this medium. I will always prefer the traditional medium’s aesthetic and the tactile quality of paint/pencil on canvas/paper, but I have very much come to appreciate the immediacy of digital tools (thankful for Command+Z) and its ability to allow me to work from anywhere, as well as the beauty there is in being able to make infinite decisions and changes to better transform your piece. For this book in particular, I ended up creating the majority of my illustrations on my iPad Pro using the Procreate app and did some final touch-ups in Photoshop.

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

I grew up reading (and watching) and being tremendously moved by the series titled “Anpanman.” This series was created by Japanese artist Takashi Yanase and is about a red-bean-bun-superhero and his team of bread-superheroes and bakers that help feed the hungry and fight cavity gremlins. The main superheroes save those in need by gifting them actual parts of their faces. Food has always been a language of love, a source of comfort, and a great tool for learning about other cultures for me, and this show really emphasized these elements and continues to inspire me today.

How would you describe your general creative process?

I like to make sure that my workstation is relatively clean before I begin working on a new project. It helps to clear my mind when there is less clutter visibly in front of me. I also like to put on random background noises (whether it be a tv show or a podcast or music) so that I can tune out the world and focus on the paper or iPad right in front of me. If I am having an off day or an art-block moment, I try to go for a walk or specifically head to bookstores or art museums to refresh my brain and eyes and try to get the creative juices flowing again.

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

The creation of something out of seemingly nothing, inspires me. I think people’s creative abilities and their obsessions/cravings for making art is exciting to me – when I see my students or peers or mentors/heroes get moved by something they are working on, I too feel very much motivated to keep going. In terms of specific influences, I have always been inspired by 2D-animation. Off the top of my head, Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri are a few animation directors whose works I respect and am very much influenced by – from the worlds they have conjured up to their character development, their films constantly surprise and energize me no matter how many times I re-watch them.

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

I think the potential of a blank piece of paper is something that still excites me. Coming up with characters and finding out who they are as you sketch away is one of my favorite elements of illustrating. Rough lines and random shapes can turn into a jolly witch or a disgruntled kitten or whatever else you feel like creating that day. When it comes to challenging moments, because I am a highly sensitive and anxious person, my imposter syndrome constantly comes into play while I illustrate. There can be a lot of moments where I feel like I am not good enough or that I am lightyears behind my peers, and because this profession is so isolating, you are constantly with your own (sometimes negative) thoughts, so some days end up becoming “bad art days.” I’ve found having a solid group of friends/community within the industry has been essential in feeling like you have the support and validation to continue forward with your own forever-growing art journey.

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

I get heavily invested in different kinds of crafts as I always have to be doing something with my hands. This past year I got into needle-felting and the basics of jewelry making. I feel like it has been very important for me to have a creative outlet that is solely for the purposes of experimentation and fun, rather than for work/business.

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 dream project? I have many, but I would love to be able to work on an animated short film. I would also love to be able to work on more longer-term projects like a graphic novel or a permanent mural installation.

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

Aside from “never give up”, I would say it is essential to continue to make work for yourself and work that you absolutely love to make. I think it is always best to channel the reason as to why you began drawing in the first place. When artists create something that is so uniquely and genuinely theirs, it can be nothing but inspirational and I think people will naturally gravitate towards that.

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

At the end of 2023, I handed in final images for a book that is coming out this year, “Once Upon A Friend,” written by Dan Gemeinhart and published by Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan. Its book birthday will be June 18th of this year.

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

This is such a difficult question because there are so many to recommend! From what I see currently on my shelf…“Grass” by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, “How To Be Happy” by Eleanor Davis, “Skip” by Molly Mendoza, “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen, “Big” by Vashti Harrison, “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan, “Stages of Rot” by Linnea Sterte, “The Queen in the Cave” by Julia Sarda… there are so many and I can keep going, so I will stop here for now.

Interview with Miriam Katin, Author of We Are On Our Own

Miriam Katin is a Hungarian-born American graphic novelist and artist. She worked in animation from 1981 to 2000 in Israel and the United States. She has written two autobiographical graphic novels, We Are on Our Own (2006) and Letting It Go (2013). She has won an Inkpot Award and the Prix de la Critique.

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

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

I was born in 1942 in Budapest and survived the war with my mother “hiding in plain sight” with faked Christian ID papers. In 1957 after the Hungarian Uprising we went to live in Israel where I apprenticed in a graphic art’s studio, then I served in the IDF as a graphic artist. In 1963 I arrived in New York, where I worked in MTV and Nickelodeon and Disney’s New York studio. I did background designs for the animated pictures “Doug”, “Daria’ “PB&J Otters” and Nickelodeon’s Bible stories.  From 1981 to 2000, we lived in Kibbutz Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, where I also worked in animation for Ein Gedi FIlms. We also did work for the Israeli Sesame Street.

What can you tell us about your work, We Are On Our Own? Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?  

We Are On Our Own comes from the stories my mother told me about our year of hiding from the Germans in the Hungarian countryside. 

Much of your work is autobiographical. What made you decide to explore the personal in your work, especially in such a visual space?  

The stories my mother told me about the war, they were like running narratives inside my mind, a daily, painful, uninvited, unwanted presence. They begged to be told. But I am not a writer and also, I thought who needs another Holocaust story.   

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

So when I discovered comics for myself, I knew I could draw the stories.  This was while working in MTV I saw the young artist around me doing comics. So I decided I had something to say.   As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?   For story telling, it was Ben Ketchor, also I love his style and he is so New York. My influence for color is the Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti.   

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

I always bring out the fact that my formal education was nine years and after that I never went to school. I don’t recommend it, but it tells you how much you can learn in life from the people around you. Lucky to have met many generous people willing to teach and help.  

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?  
My father was in a bicycling army unit during WW2. I could never learn bicycling until after he died. I think I like to work on the subject of Military Bicycling. It started in France.  

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

Oh. Just go to a good library and sit on the floor with the other fans sprawling around and read as many books as you can. And start drawing. And be completely honest. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how embarrassing it may be. And I also tell students that comics is very forgiving, you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to start. There are great stories told just with stick figures. But the story, it has to be good.   

Interview with Linda Cheng, Author of Gorgeous Gruesome Faces

Linda Cheng was born in Taiwan and spent her childhood moving between cultures and continents. She received her BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and worked as an art director across South Carolina and Georgia where she developed a deep love for sweet tea, grits, and Southern Gothic stories. She currently resides in Vancouver, Canada with her family. Gorgeous Gruesome Faces is her debut novel.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! I’m Linda, I was born and raised in Taiwan, spent a good chunk of my adult years in the Southern United States, before settling back in Vancouver Canada. I write spooky love stories that are often served with a side of body horror.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Gorgeous Gruesome Faces? What was the inspiration for this story?

GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES is about a disgraced teen pop star who comes face to face with her estranged former groupmate and the demons of their shared past at a deadly K-pop competition. It’s also a deeply personal story about grief, and how to forgive and love yourself again after making big, terrible mistakes.  

This book was written in 2020 when I was going through a lot of personal hardship. I wanted a way to explore that pain, but also to throw myself into the things that have always brought me joy. GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES is my love letter to Asian horror, pop idol survival shows, fan culture, complicated female relationships, and queer girls.

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

Like many writers of my generation, I started my ‘career’ writing fan fiction, and then progressed to original works. Having moved across multiple countries in my formative years, I naturally gravitated towards coming of age stories, usually ones containing themes of self-discovery.

The supernatural world and the spiritual beliefs surrounding it are intimately tied to daily life in Taiwanese culture. Growing up as a child I was both scared and fascinated by the plethora of ghost stories, which eventually evolved into a full on love affair with the horror/thriller genre.

As Gorgeous Gruesome Faces is centered on K-pop, I was wondering if you have any favorite artists of your own that you like to listen to, as well as any that influenced your book?

My favorite K-pop girl group is ITZY, and I listened to a lot of IU, Red Velvet, and BLACKPINK as well when I was writing the book. The music videos of Pink Fantasy also inspired some of the imagery.

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

I like to refer to my book as a horror-romance, as the sapphic love story is equally as important to the plot as the horror and mystery elements. Like me, my protagonist Sunny is bisexual, and her relationships with her love interests run the gamut from friendship to lust to obsession to rivalry. I wanted Sunny to have plenty of opportunities to be messy and make tons of mistakes, because growing up and falling in love and trying to find your identity is a messy process!

How would you describe your writing process?

My stories are character driven, and so I typically start by creating the main characters first, and then build the plot and setting around them. I tend to be more of a plotter, and I like to do a detailed outline before drafting so that I have a road map to follow, even if I do usually end up changing things along the way.

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

I really can’t recall seeing any Taiwanese-American protagonists in young adult literature back when I first immigrated, and there certainly were no queer ones. Malinda Lo’s Ash was the first young adult sapphic romance I’d read, and I remember being blown away. Seeing authors like Emily X.R. Pan, Cindy Pon, and Gloria Chao not only write about Taiwanese characters in their young adult books but also set their stories in Taiwan has been so inspiring, and was a huge motivating force for me to write my own.

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

Horror/thriller movies and television shows are some of my biggest inspirations when it comes to writing. GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES was greatly inspired by Korean vengeance thrillers and classic Japanese horror movies like The Grudge.

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

I love exploring flawed characters and the bad choices that they make, writing romances, and of course, coming up with good scares! I also enjoy creating unexpected plot twists that will take the reader by surprise. Developing the right pacing and figuring out when to deliver the scares and reveal the plot twists takes a lot of trial and error on the page.

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 critique group of other writers encouraging me and holding me accountable was what got me through to the end. Community support is invaluable.

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

Despite loving horror movies, I can’t actually watch them alone!

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

I love reciving and giving horror movie recommendations. My current recommendation is the Taiwanese folk horror movie Incantation.

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

Write what brings you the most joy, what makes you smile. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to constantly produce. If writing becomes draining and you’re finding a lack of enjoyment, give yourself permission to step away for as long as you need. Your story will be there for you when you’re ready again.

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

I am currently working on the second book in the GGF duology!

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

The short stories of Alyssa Wong, Eugenia Triantafyllou, and Nathan Ballingrud

She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea, The Witchery by S. Isabelle, Chlorine by Jade Song, Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

Interview with K. X. Song, Author of An Echo in the City

K. X. Song is a diaspora writer with roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai. An Echo in the City is her debut novel. Visit her on Instagram @ksongwrites.

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

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

Thanks for having me! My name is K. X. Song and I’m a diaspora writer with roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai, currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, An Echo in the City?

AN ECHO IN THE CITY is a dual point of view novel set in Hong Kong, following Phoenix, an aspiring photographer and student protester, and Kai, a police officer in training and artist from Shanghai. The two meet when Kai is assigned to spy on Phoenix due to her involvement in the protest movement, but of course, nothing goes as planned. 

What was the inspiration for the project?

AN ECHO IN THE CITY was very much inspired by its setting, Hong Kong. Hong Kong in the summer of 2019 was simply an electric place. Through story, I wanted to somehow capture that dynamic energy, and the vibrant, beating pulse of the city. People often say change is hard, or even impossible, but that summer, it felt like change was not only possible, but already in motion all around us. It felt like we could do anything, everything. Of course, much has changed since then, but for those who were there, I wanted us to remember, and for those who were not there, I wanted to write a bridge, a way for readers to experience a bit of what it was like.

Based on the book’s description, this story seems to center diaspora identity and culture. I was wondering if you could expand on that theme here, and what it might mean to you as a diaspora author yourself writing it?

As a first-generation immigrant myself and someone who grew up moving between cultures and countries, I often felt a sense of guilt and isolation in struggling where to place myself. For example, in the east, I felt weird calling myself Chinese. In the west, I felt awkward calling myself American. Even calling myself Chinese American felt dishonest at times, given I didn’t relate to Chinese Americans who had never grown up outside America. The thing that was hardest for me was choosing where to call “home”. Home meant many places for me, which, in other words, meant no place. And that led to a pervasive feeling of otherness.

Since then, I’ve met many diaspora kids who experience a similar feeling of being stuck in liminal spaces. I hope readers, both diaspora and otherwise, who relate to these experiences of alienation, can read AN ECHO IN THE CITY and resonate with Phoenix and Kai’s struggles, whether it be through the question of where one belongs, or of who one belongs with, or even of belonging itself–and how one can endeavor to make sense of their place and purpose in an ever-changing world.

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

I don’t remember the exact moment I became interested in telling stories, but what I remember as a child is writing stories on the backs of paper towels and napkins, in restaurants or trains or even at school. As a kid I spent many aimless hours in Shanghai, with my grandparents, where the only English language books available to me were long classics like War and Peace—not exactly appealing to a child! So I started writing my own stories to amuse myself. Young adult romance was particularly interesting to me because often, you’re telling stories about first love in YA romance. All your emotions are heightened; everything is big, intense, powerful. Growing up as a kid, I loved coming of age stories, and as an adult today, I love them still, and find them equally relevant.

How would you describe your creative process?

During the novel ideation process, I’m a pantser. The first spark for AN ECHO IN THE CITY came to me as a setting, but from there, I continued to ask myself freeform questions. Which perspectives do I want to showcase here? What different kinds of stories can I tell? These questions spark images, scents, slivers of scenes. A girl in the rain, waiting for a boy who shouldn’t come. A boy looking at a painting on a billboard, feeling seen and yet invisible. These emotions and images guided me as I then took a more structured approach to outlining. Of course, my outline doesn’t remain the same as I write. The original outline for the story would’ve made the book over 150,000 words. I had to shorten and rearrange the order of several scenes. Certain beats I had planned didn’t make sense in lieu of a character’s changing personality. So I would say my creative process is a combination of pantsing and plotting, with pantsing at the beginning and end, and plotting in the middle.

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

I love coming up with the idea for a story, I love writing dialogue, and I love tension. Building tension is so important to keeping your readers engaged. You can do this by asking questions, then leaving them unanswered (until later in the plot). In books that are dual point of view, like AN ECHO IN THE CITY, you can have one character keep a secret that you know the other character would react negatively to, if they found out about that secret. In this way, the reader knows something that one of the narrators does not, and that anticipation adds to the overall tension of the plot.

What I found most challenging was writing a fictional story based on a historical event. In my first draft of ECHO, nearly all the events took place according to a historically accurate timeline. However, this made for a slow-paced and often tedious draft. My editors at Little, Brown were instrumental in helping me tighten the timeline and become more liberal about reconfiguring the order of events to refine the plot and pacing. Writing historical fiction, I learned you often must make a choice between story and fact-telling. As a novelist, I intentionally chose the former, while trying not to sacrifice the core of the historical time and place.

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

As a child, I loved the Studio Ghibli movie SPIRITED AWAY, and the novel CORALINE by Neil Gaiman. Both pieces examine the idea of being able to traverse between worlds, and the consequences of such an ability.

As an adult, I love PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee, for its examination of intergenerational trauma, as well as the film IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which deeply touched me and reminded me why I create stories. 

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

I’m a huge fan of Rainie Yang, BTS, and Younha. I’m also a huge foodie–I could go on and on about all the foods I love. One of my favorite foods of all time is zongzi–sticky glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. I eat it with sugar sprinkled on top, which is the perfect blend of sweet and savory. Chinese people eat zongzi year-round, but particularly during the Dragon Boat Festival, in honor of a famous poet named Qu Yuan with an “interesting” back story. According to legend, Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river after the king ignored his wise counsel. The Chinese people, grateful for Qu Yuan’s loyalty to the country, threw zongzi into the river to feed the fish, so that the fish would not eat his body.   

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 wish more people asked who the illustrator of the gorgeous cover is! The cover of An Echo in the City is illustrated by Hsiao Ron Cheng, an incredibly talented Taiwanese artist who coincidentally also illustrated the album cover for Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighborhood (an album I adore and listened to while writing this book!)

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

I always start with questions. Ask yourself why things are the way they are. Look at your city or hometown through the eyes of a tourist. What is novel, unusual, strange? Contrast your hometown to other places. How are the people here different? What sets them apart? How do you know when you’re home again? What does coming home feel like? These questions can help you start to see your hometown–which can often feel mundane or ordinary–in a new and engaging light. Follow those questions like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading you to a seed of a story. That seed can come in the form of a character, for example, someone new to town. Or it can come in the form of an event, like the Hong Kong protests. What’s important to remember about documentation is that it’s impossible to be fully comprehensive. You can try, if that’s the aim of your novel, but don’t let the need for comprehensive documentation overwhelm the plot or heart of the story.

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

Yes! My next project is a big departure from AN ECHO IN THE CITY. Coming out next summer, THE NIGHT ENDS WITH FIRE is a Chinese fantasy inspired by the ballad of Mulan and the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, set in a thrilling world of magic and danger, strange beasts and otherworldly realms. I’m currently in the middle of revisions and can’t wait to share this book with the world. (You can add the book on Goodreads here!)     

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

So many good books to recommend, but I’ll settle for three. THE IMPOSSIBLE CITY by Karen Cheung, which is an adult memoir about life in Hong Kong, amongst other things. A painfully honest read, beautifully written and truly thought-provoking. WHEN WE WERE INFINITE by Kelly Loy Gilbert, for its flawed yet loving mother-daughter relationship, which made me bawl my eyes out. And THIS PLACE IS STILL BEAUTIFUL by XiXi Tian, which is about hate crimes and racism, but also about sisterhood and identity, and how one’s identity changes over time, all rendered in gorgeous prose.  

Interview with Clar Angkasa, Author of Stories of the Islands

Clar Angkasa was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. An illustrator, animator, and comic artist with a passion for narrative art, she draws inspiration from stories, nature, and wholesome people. Her work has received such honors as the MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence, an Adobe Awards Top Talent, and more. Stories of the Islands is Clar’s debut graphic novel. She is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

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

I’m a Brooklyn-based Indonesian illustrator-animator-comic artist with a passion for visual storytelling. I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia before moving to the U.S. to pursue a career in the arts. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 2019 with a BFA in Illustration, I moved to New York in search of ways to stay in the country as an artist.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Stories of the Islands? What was the inspiration behind this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by folktales and this fascination inspired Stories of the Islands. To be precise, I was inspired by what I felt was missing in folktales. Reading or listening to these stories, while enjoyable, always left me feeling unsatisfied with how the women are portrayed. Traditionally, they are damsels in distress to be rescued, wicked witches to be outsmarted, or just the hero’s love interest. I wanted to go beyond the superficial tropes, to create characters that have agency and depict girls and women as flawed and nuanced people with their own personalities and motivations.

Another big inspiration was my mom, a single mother who in my opinion is the strongest, most independent woman I know. I grew up watching her have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in her career, and even then, all people cared about was if she had a man by her side. Yet, she never let anyone dictate how she should live her life. I was lucky enough to have had a role model that taught me that my value as a woman goes beyond what society expects of me. My mom taught me to carve my own path in spite of what others may think, and I can only hope that Stories of the Islands can teach young readers to do the same and expose them to narratives that are empowering for women, rather than limiting.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the comics medium?

I’ve always loved stories and for as long as I can remember I’ve used stories as an escape. Eventually I started making my own stories through my art and it became a form of self-expression and coping mechanism, a way to process the chaos of everyday life. I didn’t become interested in making comics until I was in college and started reading a bunch of comics when I was procrastinating at the campus library. At that point I was torn between wanting to pursue a career in illustration or one in animation. I saw comics as the perfect in-between medium. Through comics, I can make beautiful drawings and also tell stories through sequential art. Moreover, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating things with just words or just images, so I loved the idea of being able to combine both in comics. When words fail, I can draw it, and when the illustration isn’t enough, I can enhance it with my writing.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is somehow both chaotic and orderly. Creative ideas pop up in my head at a much faster pace than my hands can work so I always start with an overwhelmingly messy collection of notes and sketches. At the same time, I need structure and organization and plans, so I would make detailed spreadsheets to schedule out all the individual tasks involved in the projects I want to work on, which are usually a lot more than I could realistically take on. I always end up wanting to do way too many things at once so to avoid spreading myself too thin, I do my best to limit myself to only two big projects at a time (I don’t always succeed). I think of myself as a chronic multitasker, unable to fully devote my day to just one thing. This means at any point I would usually be chipping away at multiple tasks such as taking breaks from work by doing chores or replying to emails while waiting for my Photoshop files to load. 

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

One of my favorite stories growing up was Winnie-the-Pooh. I made my mom read the books to me before bed, watched so many episodes of the TV series and got the stuffed animals and bedspreads to match. I think what drew me to the series was the unique personality and quirk each individual character had, some of which I really related to. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a lot of the characters represented different mental health issues. When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as an adult, I remember thinking, “That explains why Piglet and Eeyore were my favorite characters.” As I grew older, I kept getting drawn to stories where I related to the characters in some way. There are many like that now but the most recent one I’ve read is Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Reading about the main character struggling to fit in and being envious of others’ seemingly perfect life immediately brought me back to my high school days.

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

I get most of my inspiration from stories I consume, be it from books, movies, TV shows or just stories people tell me over coffee. Most of my art is driven by my love of storytelling so when I experience a good story, it makes me want to write/illustrate my own. This is why one of my favorite places to be is in a bookstore, browsing through books and being inspired by all the covers and blurbs. Every new book I read, especially graphic novels, would generate new ideas and goals. If I’m ever in a rut, all I need to do is grab a book from a bookshelf. Even when I don’t buy anything new at a bookstore, just being around all these books is a great motivation for me to keep making stories and sharing it with others.

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

My favorite part of what I do is being able to use my work as a medium to express myself and even process difficult thoughts and emotions. Sharing things is sometimes difficult for me but being able to write it down and/or sketch it out makes it so much easier. The act of sharing my work with people who resonate with or relate to the story is also one of the most satisfying parts about writing/illustrating. I also love how easy it is to work anywhere – I just need some pen and paper and I can pretty much write/illustrate wherever. 

The challenging part of it all is starting. I’m a very indecisive and anxious person who overthinks everything so sometimes it takes forever for me to start a project. Starting something new is always exciting but I would get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The more choices I have, the more stressed I get. Ending things is even more challenging than starting it. Being a perfectionist makes it very difficult to finish a project because no matter how many times I make revisions and edits, I always see a new flaw or something I want to change. It’s especially frustrating when I’m working with a deadline and I just don’t have a choice but to learn to let go.

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

I have a pretty obsessive personality and tend to get very into whatever it is I’m doing. I rarely do anything “casually” so when I’m not obsessing over the littles details of my work, I could easily be found with a different side obsession. I would start new TV shows and immediately binge the entire season or start reading a book and finish it overnight. I would take on new hobbies like needle felting or oven-bake clay and then devote hours to perfecting the craft. I bought a few plants during the pandemic and now I’m an overbearing plant mom with 30+ houseplants and a 3-page instruction PDF on how to take care of each one that I made for my roommate when I’m out of town. 

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)?

If I could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? The answer is my grandpa who sadly died a few years ago. It’s a question I’ve been asked in a random conversation before but it’s one that I always want to bring up when talking about my work. My grandpa was an artist and he was the reason I wanted to make art for a living in the first place. I feel like I’ve only recently found my voice as an artist and I would’ve loved to be able to share my work with him over dinner and see what he would think about it. Stories of the Islands was actually published on the anniversary of his passing. I would’ve loved to be able to show him this project, my debut graphic novel, a labor of love I’ve been passionate about for the past 5 years.

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

The main advice I would give is to remember to take care of your mental health. While my art provides a great escape and a very satisfying coping mechanism, throwing myself into work 24/7 isn’t the most sustainable way to live. It’s important to devote time outside of work to lead a healthy and balanced life. To this day I have a really difficult time following my own advice. As a workaholic, my work is pretty much my entire personality but that is something I am actively trying to unlearn. Creators often face the constant pressure to keep crunching out work and that pressure sometimes makes you think that you don’t have time to take a break. I would feel the need to be productive all the time but I know that isn’t the best for both my physical and mental health. What I’ve found to be helpful is including breaks into my work to-do list. Instead of seeing breaks as “not working” I’ve started treating it as an act of kindness to my future self and an investment so that I may work more efficiently in the future. 

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

Stories of the Islands is part of a two-book deal with Holiday House so right now I’ve started working on the next graphic novel. It’s still in its early stages so there’s not much I can share yet. At the same time I’m also working on developing other story ideas I have that could potentially become another book. I’ve recently started freelancing full time as well so I’m currently looking for smaller projects to work on in between book projects.

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

There are a lot of great comics and artists that inspired me to start making comics of my own but two in particular stand out in my memory: Nimona by ND Stevenson and The End of Summer by Tillie Walden. All their works are amazing but these books were the first I read by these creators and they left such a huge impact on me. Tillie Walden even wrote a blurb for Stories of the Islands so that was a really nice full circle moment for me.

Queer Comics: Emily Corn- A Graphic Novel of Cosmic Proportions and Personal Discoveries

Ever since Page Wooller announced they would be releasing the next book in the Emily Corn series at Providence QTZ Fest I have been excited to discuss with them how this journey started.

In a world oversaturated with superhero sagas and dystopian dramas, Page Wooller and Ali Vermeeren’s graphic novel, “Emily Corn“, emerges as a refreshing comet in the vast universe of graphic literature.

The Uncharted Journey of Emily Corn

At the heart of this tale is Emily, a character shrouded in mystery and isolation. Raised in seclusion, Emily’s journey is not just about discovering the world but also about self-discovery and breaking free from the confines of a shielded life. The revelation of a secret propels the story into a high-stakes adventure where Emily’s acceptance of her identity becomes crucial for the survival of Earth itself.

A Rich Tapestry of Art and Storytelling

Vermeeren’s artwork is a visual feast, a blend of shadow and light that perfectly encapsulates the dual themes of darkness and enlightenment prevalent in the story. The black and white palette underscores the eternal struggle between good and evil, making each panel a piece of art worth pondering over.

Accessibility: A Small Hurdle in the Digital Age

For those opting for the e-book format, be prepared for a bit of zooming in and out. The small text can be a strain on the eyes when read on a smartphone. However, this minor inconvenience does not detract from the overall experience, especially given the engaging narrative and striking visuals.

Conclusion: A Must-Read for Graphic Novel Enthusiasts and Beyond

“Emily Corn” is not just a graphic novel; it’s a journey of magic, identity, and the complexities of growing up. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling and how it shapes our understanding of ourselves and others. While there are areas where the narrative could have been more nuanced in its representation, the novel remains a significant contribution to the genre.

To those who have yet to delve into the world of graphic novels, let “Emily Corn” be your gateway. To the seasoned aficionados, add this to your collection and revel in the magic that Wooller and Vermeeren have so vividly brought to life.

For those who haven’t met Page, they are somewhat of a modern Renaissance person. A writer, dancer, painter, farmer and activist, musician, and previously wrote text books. Page is … an experience.

And Now on to the interview!!!!!

Damon: Have you had a big presence at Conventions (ie. Flame Con.)? Either way, how has it been interacting with your fans, whether in person or online?

Page: Due to our release date being in early 2020 during COVID, being a big presence at conventions was not a possibility for us. We instead contacted stores, a radio station in Australia and a few reviewers who wrote about the comic. Most contact with fans happened through Facebook, one person messaged about the excitement they had in getting a non binary comic book for their child who identified as being non binary, they said it would be a welcome distraction from all that was going on with COVID. Just reaching even one child and giving them hope that there are non binary characters in comics made me feel like I had a purpose.

Damon: How does your personal identity and experiences as an LGBT individual influence your creative process and the stories you choose to tell?

Page: My stories I draw heavily from my own experiences and identity as a non binary/ gender fluid human. There are times when I have felt totally alone with my feelings. This is another reason I felt like a story like this needed to be written, in order to reach those who have felt as alone as I have during my process of finding my identity. On one hand I don’t feel welcomed into the gay world and on the other hand I don’t feel welcomed into the straight world, so I’ve learnt to start creating my world, through stories.

Damon: Can you walk us through your typical creative process? How do you develop ideas, create characters, and bring your stories to life on the page?

Page: Mmm, my process is pretty complex, I start with a general frame work and then begin to gather scattered pieces of ideas from my head, small detailed experiences and creative ideas that I feel would fit into the plot of the story. At this time I’m never quite sure as to when these glimpses into my mind will occur, so I carry a note book and pen everywhere I go, scribbling down the ideas as fully as I can. Next I randomly transfer these scribblings onto the computer, in no particular order. The process then continues into ordering the sequences of the story into a streamline tail that runs smoothly from beginning to the end. This is then read and re read, edited and re edited until its clean and then I transfer it chunk by chunk into a graphic novel script for the illustrator to then work from, which gives a detail description of what occurs on each page, how many panels per page, characters in each panel and what’s being said by whom and so on.

Damon: Are there any specific comic book artists or writers who have influenced your style or storytelling approach? How have they inspired you?

Page: So many influences, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Marion Zimmer Bradly, Ann Rice, and Edgar Allen Poe to name a few. The main way these artists have inspired me is by the way they touch my visual thinking. I have dyslexia and one gift it gives me is the ability to see in images rather than words. Dimensions and form grow from words. All these artists have fueled this skill.

Damon: How do you envision your work impacting readers, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+? What messages or emotions do you hope to convey through your stories?

Page: I hope to paint a clear depiction of how aspects of my own psyche have formed over the years as a child with an extreme imagination and a flare for the extravagant. I have never stopped learning and growing as we live in a world of adult absolutes. I love changing and finding out new things and this child like enthusiasm to uncover new things, like the ability to write while also having dyslexia which I only discovered in my fourties’ should never leave us. I hope the readers gain a reconnection to that inner child before the worlds rules of rational thinking took over and sensible choices were made over fun and adventurous ones.

Damon: Who is your favorite Federation Captain, and why?

Page: Ooo, I love this question, what a great one to finish on. I would have to say Janeway. I like powerful intelligent women who are in charge as role models that challenge male dominated characters. When I grew up there were very few gay role models in fictional stories and on the tv, so, I turned to women as my main arena of selected models. Women that stood against the overpowering male dominant stigma. Women who weren’t afraid to feel emotions and express them in the face of being opposed by with anger, violence and manipulation. It gives me goose pimples just thinking about it.

Good choice page …. good choice.

Interview with Claire Lordon, author of One in a Million

CLAIRE LORDON is an American-Canadian illustrator, designer, and author who creates children’s books, comics, surface designs, murals, maps, and greeting cards for a number of companies. She earned her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.  

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

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

Sure! I am an illustrator and author and upcoming graphic memoirist. My book One in a Million came out October 10th. I am an American-Canadian illustrator, designer, and author living in Vancouver, Canada. I create children’s books, comics, surface designs, murals, maps, and greeting cards for a number of companies.

My work is inspired by my lifelong spirit for adventure, a love of the outdoors, and an enthusiasm for travel. I enjoy long distance running, hiking, kayaking, lacrosse, curling, and snowboarding.

My pronouns are she/they.

What can you tell us about your debut book, One in a Million? What was your inspiration for the book?

My book One in a Million is a graphic memoir about when I was a teen dealing with mysterious health symptoms. I wanted to create the book I needed as a teen.

I’m going to use third person to talk about my book because this happened to me in the past.

In the book Claire tries to balance being a normal teenager with all sorts of new symptoms she had at the time such as weight gain, depression, insomnia, and more. Eventually she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, specifically Cushing’s Disease.

What are you hoping readers will take away from One in a Million?

I hope readers take away empathy and an understanding that the person next to you may be going through a health battle and you can’t tell by looking at them. I also want readers to learn what it’s like to live with an illness that’s a medical mystery. I also hope that readers that are going through tough a medical diagnosis or health issues to know that they are not alone, especially teens.

As creatives, how did you become drawn to the graphic novel/comics medium, especially graphic memoir?

I’ve been reading comics ever since I was a kid. I remember being so happy read Calvin and Hobbs and Tintin books when I was young. I really became drawn to graphic novels when I took a comics class in college. I was introduced to graphic memoir through Smile and El Deafo. Non-fiction, autobiography, and memoirs have always been some of my favorite books. When I discovered books like Fun Home, Maus, and Hey, Kiddo are memoirs but in graphic novel format I was very eager to read them.

How would you describe your artistic/creative background?

It all started when I was three and announced to my parents that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. Flash forward and I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration. I didn’t realize until my last semester that where my art really shines is when it is geared towards children. Because of this I didn’t actually take the children’s book class at RISD. A couple years after graduation I took a children’s book class with the School of Visual Arts continuing education program. Since then I have written and/or illustrated six picture books and one board book. I also work on a variety of illustration projects with numerous clients.

How would you describe your illustration/writing/creative process?

For books I’m definitely a text before sketching person. For One in a Million I approached it by creating a rough outline. After that I sketched a couple pages and wrote out a very detailed rough outline that was pitched to editors. From there I worked on finishing the text and thumbnails. Then I broke the text into pages and did rough thumbnails (small sketches smaller than a business card) to figure out the layout of the book. After a couple edits I moved onto sketching the whole book. When that was approved I moved onto final art and then adding color. Phew!

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

I definitely felt reflected in books because I am white. I am thankful that my parents surrounded me a rich diverse set of books to learn about others’ experiences. I do wish there had been more books when I was young about people being non-binary or asexual, especially how non-binary is such a wide range. Thankfully there are books like that now!

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

My inspiration comes from everything. I try to read a variety of books from board books all the way to adult with a mix of non-fiction and fiction. I’d say the outdoors, nature, and traveling are big influences too. My past is also a big influence as I try to create things my past self would love. I also try to make work that makes people smile as I know art or books can really make a positive difference when I have been through tough times.

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

How long did the whole book making process for One in a Million take?

From rough outline to being published it took six years. I’m thankful I had so much time to make this book the absolute best it could be. It was so hard trying to narrow down all the events in this eight-month period of my life because so much happened. The book could have easily been twice as long. In the end editing out events that didn’t move the story helped make the book stronger.

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

I’m in the early stages of plotting a picture book/easy reader (I haven’t quite decided which one best fits the story yet). I also have a picture book that I need to a text edit before starting working on a book dummy.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those hoping to work on their own graphic novels one day?

Read, read, and read some more. Read a wide variety of books including books that aren’t graphic novels. Find a critique group or buddy who can give you honest feedback on your work. Keep making work and find ways to share it, including social media. Also, take a look at Scott McCloud’s books Understanding Comics and Making Comics.

Finally, what books (comics included)/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT, particularly those focusing on similar themes as yours, such as chronic illness?

Before I began working on my book and while I was working on it I read many memoirs, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs. Below are some of the best that I read:

Epileptic by David Beauchard

Parenthesis by Élodie Durand

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

Stitches by David Small

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Interview with Katrina Kwan, Author of Knives, Seasoning, and a Dash of Love

Katrina Kwan is a Vancouver-based actress and author. After graduating from Acadia University with a BA in Political Science in 2017, she decided to pursue her love of writing and stumbled her way into the world of freelance ghostwriting. Over the course of six years, Kwan has produced roughly 150+ romance novels for her clients, published under various pseudonyms. She is very excited to be publishing stories under her own name. When she isn’t busy writing, you can sometimes spot her on TV! Her debut adult fantasy, The Last Dragon of the East, is expected Fall 2024 from Saga Press.

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

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

Hi there! My name’s Katrina Kwan and I’m a Vancouver-based author and actress. When I’m not busy writing, you can sometimes spot me in small parts on TV! (IMDb)

What can you tell us about your debut book, Knives, Seasoning, and a Dash of Love? What inspired this story?

Knives, Seasoning, and A Dash of Love is my debut adult contemporary romcom set to release December 19th, 2023 from the indie publisher Lake Country Press. I’ve always been a fan of culinary-centric movies and TV shows (Ratatouille reigns supreme, and HBO’s The Bear is a close second). I wanted to try my hand at writing a romance with an haute cuisine backdrop.

Like the main characters of your book, Knives, Seasoning, and a Dash of Love, have you ever had any personal experience with cooking, or was this something you had researched for the story? Are there any personal stories about food you would want to share?

I used to work as a server in college and a hostess in high school, so I worked in and around a kitchen setting for several years. I put a ton of effort into researching how a kitchen of this caliber functions by watching food documentaries and interviews with famous chefs. I really love this one particular series on YouTube, Paolo from Japan, who sometimes goes behind the scenes to film what goes on behind-the-scenes at local restaurants in and around Tokyo.

Can you give us any trivia (that hasn’t already been given) about the characters from Knives, Seasoning, and a Dash of Love?

Let’s just say that if you’re a fan of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you might pick up on a couple of references here and there. It’s kind of an open secret—an if you know, you know sort of deal.

Since this is a book about food, I’m wondering what are some of your favorite things to eat?

I like to think that I’m very adventurous when it comes to food. A dream of mine is to one day travel the world and try dishes from every corner of the globe. Nothing’s off limits, and I’m not very squeamish when it comes to trying things that are a little out there. I once tried BBQ-flavored crickets once on a dare. (Very nice and crunchy!)

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

I fell into writing romance as a result of my day job. I worked as a freelance ghostwriter for roughly six years, and all my clients happened to want romance novels written (there’s a very high demand for it, and equally high project turnover). I guess you could say I got a lot of practice in. When it came time to finally write my own stories, choosing romance was a comfortable genre for me.

I’m personally a huge fan of angsty romances. Stories that will take my heart and tear it in two. Tragic love stories that leave me crying at three in the morning are a special treat. I don’t like to think too hard about what that says about my psyche. Examples that come to mind are We’d Know by Then by Kirsten Bohling and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. They’re both authors who’ve broken my heart and I’m thankful for it.

In addition to Knives, Seasoning, and a Dash of Love, you have another book coming out, The Last Dragon of the East. Could you tell about the inspiration for this book? And what draws you to writing fantasy?

Yes! The Last Dragon of the East is an adult romantic fantasy that’s set to be published by Fall 2024 by Saga Press, an imprint of Gallery Books and Simon & Schuster! The story builds upon the Chinese myth of red threads of fate, invisible strings of magic that is said to connect soulmates across time and space. I’ve seen the myth depicted in movies, television (namely Asian dramas), and many of my favorite manga, but I couldn’t ever recall reading about it in a novel, and therefore was inspired to incorporate it into my next story.

I was drawn to writing fantasy because it’s so much fun. The possibilities are only limited by my own imagination, and I’ve been told I’ve got plenty of it to spare. Writing fantasy allows me to indulge in some good ol’ escapism. There’s no need to worry about the mundanity of our day-to-day when I’m too busy slaying monsters and saving Prince Charming.

How would you describe your general writing process?

I have a very strict writing schedule that I hold myself to. When I was still working as a ghostwriter, I needed to churn out roughly 20,000 to 30,000 words per week in order to keep to my client’s publishing schedule, which was typically one book per month (like I said, high turnover). I treated it like any other nine to five, writing from morning until afternoon.

The trick was to get used to writing my stream of consciousness without caving into the urge of going back to edit. That always comes later. On a good day, I could typically write 1,500 in thirty minutes. I’d sometimes time myself to keep myself on track. I know that probably sounds really stressful to a lot of writers, but ghostwriting was what paid the bills, and I was determined to get my work done in a timely manner. If I didn’t, that meant no food on the table.

Obviously now that I write stories for myself, I’m a little bit more relaxed, but a lot of these old habits have stuck with me. For example, I’m a part of a Discord group full of writers, and we often have “writing sprints” together to stay motivated and focused. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve gotten pretty good about drafting as clean as possible.

I always start with a chapter-by-chapter outline and go from there. Sometimes when I feel like a section is dragging (or I get a sudden shower thought), I’ll take the story in a new direction, but I always make sure to at least have a roadmap I can fall back on to hit the main beats of the story. I guess I’d categorize myself as a hybrid pantser-plotter.

I typically hold myself to the Stephen King method of drafting at least six pages per day. It doesn’t always happen, of course, but I try my best. It’s important to me not to let a story sit too long, or else I’ll forget my train of thought or drop story threads I wanted to explore. I once scrapped an entire manuscript (it was roughly 90% complete) because I took a month break, came back, and decided I didn’t like it anymore and couldn’t remember where I was trying to go with the story. It’s important for me to write at least a little bit every day, and since I love what I do, it never actually feels like work!

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

I love full-circle endings. I’ve always found them incredibly poetic and satisfying to read, especially when all the pieces come together perfectly in the end.

A challenging element of writing for me is finding moments where I can slow down and let readers breathe. I write with the philosophy that if I, the writer, am ever bored with a section, then there’s a very good chance that the reader will be bored, too. My husband (the original beta reader for all my stories) says that I have a bit of an all gas, no brakes style of storytelling, and I recognize that can be very overwhelming to read.

I’m learning to take a bit more time and appreciate slower moments in storytelling. That’s why I take special care in the editing phase and look for areas where I can be expand and develop. If everything is action-packed, then the climax won’t feel very exciting, now will it? You must have moments of calm to appreciate the chaos.

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

I take a lot of inspiration from screenwriters. As I mentioned before, I’m a part-time actress based out of Vancouver, so I get to see a lot of behind-the-scenes of some awesome TV shows and movies that film here.

I find scriptwriting very interesting, and as an author, I can draw many lessons from the scripts I get to read. I’m rather envious of screenwriters because of how concise they are. Each page of a script is said to be roughly one minute of screen time. If your average movie is an hour and a half, you’ve got ninety pages to work with. That’s daunting for a writer like me because there’s zero page space to waste.

Every line of dialogue, every action note must count, and I try to apply that in my own writing. Everything in a story should be purposeful. No fluff. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, scrap it. As such, I’ve never been hesitant to kill my darlings. Maybe that’s where my all gas, no breaks style comes from (haha)!

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

I don’t know, actually. I’m a pretty open book!

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

I can get pretty quiet sometimes. There are moments when I need to step away and recharge, so if you’re trying to reach me over socials and I don’t respond, I swear I’m not ignoring you or anything! I’m super appreciative of everyone who sends me messages about my stories, and I try my best to reply to everyone, I just need a bit of time every now and then.

In this day and age, I think there’s an expectation that authors not only write, but do their best to market themselves, but juggling both can be exhausting for me. Sometimes I feel like an old lady shaking my fist at the clouds because I’m really not good with social media at all, but it feels like an inevitability. My biggest fear is that if I don’t use it, I’m going to fall behind or fall into obscurity—which would suck, because I want people to read my books!

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

I’m currently working on the sequel to The Last Dragon of the East. I don’t have a title for it yet (I’ve been calling it Project SWSTS), but in the same way that The Last Dragon of the East is based on a Chinese myth, Book #2 is heavily inspired by the myth of Houyi and the Ten Suns. I intend for this sequel to be a stand-alone, but it exists within the same fictional universe several thousand years before the events of The Last Dragon of the East, so readers are able to pick up either book without necessarily having to read the other (though it’s definitely recommended)!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Block out the noise. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t worry about trends, don’t worry about everyone else’s book deals. Focus on your story and you’re bound to finish it. Your story deserves to be shared with the world, and the only way you’re going to do that is if you sit down and write. You’ve got this!

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

Every single author at my indie press deserves a shout out! They’re all incredible people and amazing writers. We’ve got Kirsten Bohling, Camri Kohler, Juliet Bridges, Ann H. Fox, Erin Mainord, Kayla Morton, Kit Karlsson, Jeremy Harrison, Rae Valtera, Allie Doherty, Jayme Phelps, S. Reed, Ashley Merdalo, Hazel Marie, Kait DeMoney, True Sloan, Hannah Loraine, Haley Warrington and Brittany Weisrock! You can find a list of all published and upcoming titles here.

Interview with Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Co-Editors of Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For

Zoraida Córdova is the acclaimed author of more than two dozen novels and short stories, including the Brooklyn Brujas series, Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence, and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. In addition to writing novels, she serves on the board of We Need Diverse Books, and is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old, as well as the cohost of the writing podcast, Deadline City. She writes romance novels as Zoey Castile. Zoraida was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and calls New York City home. When she’s not working, she’s roaming the world in search of magical stories.

Natalie C. Parker is an author, editor, and community organizer. She has written several award winning books for teens and young readers and has edited multiple anthologies including the Indie Bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. In addition to writing, Natalie also runs Madcap Retreats, which has partnered with We Need Diverse Books and Reese’s Book Club to host the writers workshops for their new internship Lit Up. She grew up in a navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan and currently lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie.

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

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

N: Hi Geeks OUT team! Thank you so much for having us! Zoraida and I are both authors of young adult, middle grade, and, in her case, adult SFF and we’ve been friends since the day we met. Which was at the very beginning of our careers.

What can you tell us about your latest anthology, Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For? What was the inspiration for the project?

N: To tell you about the inspiration for Mermaids Never Drown we actually have to back up a bit and tell you about the first installment in the Untold Legends series, Vampires Never Get Old, which came out of a writing retreat. We were both floating in a pool that was far too cold for rational people to endure, and Zoraida breezily mentioned missing vampires. Suddenly we were deep in a discussion about how many vampires were missing from the stories we were most familiar with. Our solution was an anthology featuring an array of voices who were excited to revamp, if you will, the mythology we know and love. That book came out in 2020.

Z: Back in the pandemic days! It became an Indie bestseller and since then, we’ve seen one of the stories from Vampires, “First Kill” by V.E. Schwab, be adapted as a Netflix show, which was very exciting. And we sold two more installments featuring two more of our favorite cryptids/magical beings. Which is how Mermaids Never Drown came to be.

As authors, you’ve both written about merfolk before. This is also the second mythological creature you’ve tackled in this anthology series. May I ask what do you think draws you and the other writers from the Mermaids Never Drown anthology to this mythological creature?

Z: Mermaids have always been my favorite mythological creature. There are so many metaphors that can be applied to magical beings, but for me, the mermaid story is about straddling two worlds. As an immigrant living in the diaspora, what better metaphor could I choose? I’m not trying to belong to one world or the other. I belong to both, and that’s pretty powerful for me.

N: I’ve been captivated by mermaids for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a swimmer, a sailor, and a SCUBA diver and all of the mercreatures I write tend to be monstrous in some way, always hungry with sharp teeth and rough skin. That really fits my experience of queerness–I have felt monstrous and strange and also hungry and vicious at various points in my life, like I both did and didn’t fit in my own body or among regular humans. So for me, mermaids and queerness have a lot to do with finding home inside yourself, and making a new one in the world.

Zoraida Córdova Photo Credit Melanie Barbosa

For many people, mermaids and merfolk in general have often been a queer symbol, a marginalized creature traveling between different worlds, longing for love and freedom. Could you maybe tell us about some of the queer contributions to Mermaids Never Drown?

N: So many of our stories play on that theme of feeling trapped or pulled between two worlds, or on being denied access to spaces that feel crucial to identity or a sense of history. The stories in this collection use mermaid mythology and tropes to explore everything from intergenerational trauma to diaspora to queerness. In particular, I’m very excited for Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Storm Song, which grapples with sexuality and expectations. Queer romance is front and center in Julian Winters’s We’ll Always Have June, and Julie Murphy’s The First and Last Kiss. Katherine Locke’s Nor’easter features a nonbinary protagonist, andand several of the other stories have queerness braided throughout, including Kalynn Bayon’s Return to the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s Shark Week, and the story I’ve co-authored with Zoraida, The Merrow.

What draws you to the art of anthology creation?

N: There is something really powerful about being invited into a story. As a queer person, stories about magical and mythical creatures have felt strangely off-limits. Anthologies give us an opportunity to change that, and while there’s no single collection that can invite every single reader in, I love working on projects that are opening doors rather than closing them.

Z: Short stories were my first love. From the classics we had to read in school, to the strange and experimental zines and flash fiction I found in college, to putting together these collections with Natalie. I love giving other writers a prompt and seeing what unfurls from planting that idea.

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

Z: The real world is a mess, to quote our favorite soft shell crab. From the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer in high school, I’ve been dreaming up worlds. Fantasy is a reflection of our world, but at a distance. I don’t think you can truly leave the problems of our worlds behind. In fact, it should power your fantasy and shine a light on what, as an author, you are trying to say.

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

N: When it comes to anthologies, my favorite part is always getting the stories and reading them for the first time. It’s exciting every single time and I love the tantalizing feeling of not knowing how our authors will have tackled the prompt. It reminds me that stories are limitless and a single prompt can inspire wildly different and robust creations–it’s a kind of magic. The most challenging part is deciding the order of the stories! Seriously, we agonize over placement. Every. Single. Time.

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

Z: There are so many. I loved all the teen urban fantasy that came out in the late 90’s and early aughts. Those books really shaped me as a writer. I grew up watching Latin American TV, so I did see aspects of myself reflected in Spanish-language television and media, but until recently, that wasn’t the case in US American books and media. I think the first time I felt represented in a show was the first episode of ‘Jane the Virgin,’ which came out in my 20s. I’m still waiting for a book to do that to me, as an Ecuadorian person, but I’ve still found connections with books that feature strong main characters like Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera.

N: The first books I remember feeling a deep connection to as a queer kid were the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey. It was the first time I’d ever seen queer characters on the page who weren’t villainized. In fact, they got to be the main characters, have magic of their own and go on epic quests! Now, there are many queer books that reflect parts of me and many that don’t, and I love that we are getting to have that kind of expansion in literature. In particular, I’m currently obsessed with the works of Zen Cho, Andrew Joseph White, Tessa Gratton (I know Z already mentioned her, but I can’t help it), Adib Khorram, and Mark Oshiro.

Natalie C. Parker

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

Z: Natalie and I have a podcast called Untold Legends, where we deep dive (no pun intended) pop culture with our authors. Season one is all about vampires, and of course, season two is about mermaids. You can listen here.

N: I know this is giving the impression that Zoraida and I do everything together, but we also work with a new company called Electric Postcard Entertainment. Our mission is to act as a launchpad for creators whose backgrounds and experiences have long been marginalized by entertainment industries. Aspiring writers can learn more here!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Z: Read everything. It was the first piece of advice I received, and it holds true. Consuming stories–in whatever format–is part of the job. For me, it sharpens my sentences, and helps me figure out how I want my own voice to be different.

Any specific advice for those looking to create/organize an anthology themselves?

N: My best advice is to take your time and be really intentional about the project. The more focus you can bring to the idea at the pitch stage, the better the collection will be in the end. So, what I’m saying is that it’s good to be very clear about your mission from the beginning. 

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

Z: I’m working on my next adult book. It’s tentatively titled The Fall of Rebel Angels and is a love story between a woman suspected of murdering her former lover and a fallen angel who is cursed to search for his wings on Earth every one hundred years.

N: I am just about to announce two new projects that will be released in 2024 and 2025. The first is my first young adult horror novel, which has been a dream of mine for ten million years, and the second is a project I pitched as John Wick meets Adventures in Babysitting. Full details, titles, and covers will be released VERY soon.

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

Z: All of the authors in our anthologies have tremendous novels of their own. Make sure you check out their work!

N: What Z said! I will also offer a quick set of spooky season queer YA reads for consideration: My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham, You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayronn, The Honeys by Ryan La Sala, and These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall, and Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado.

Interview with Sage Cotugno, Author of The Glass Scientists

S. H. Cotugno is a queer and mixed-race Victorian horror nerd born and raised in
Los Angeles, California. They are a director, writer, and storyboard artist in the
animation industry and have previously worked on projects such as Gravity Falls,
The Owl House, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. The Glass Scientists will be their first
published graphic novel. You can see more of their work by following them on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok (@arythusa).

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

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

Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m an animation director and comics creator who has worked on shows such as The Owl House, Gravity Falls, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. My debut graphic novel series The Glass Scientists will be published by Penguin Random House in a three-volume series starting October 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest project, The Glass Scientists: Volume One? What was the inspiration for this story?

The Glass Scientists is a reimagining of classic gothic science fiction set in a world of bubbling potions and misunderstood monsters. It follows the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll as he works to create a safe haven for mad scientists in the heart of London, where they can defy the laws of nature in peace. But everything changes when a mysterious stranger arrives, shattering all of Jekyll’s carefully laid plans and threatening to expose his darkest secret. 

I have been obsessed with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde since I was in high school. As a mixed-race, bisexual, and nonbinary person, I’ve always been drawn to stories about characters caught between two worlds. I can’t think of a character who embodies that experience more than Dr. Jekyll, a man so desperate to fit himself into the boxes society laid out for him that he literally splits his soul in two. Like, same, dude. 

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically within the comics/ graphic novel medium?

I came to comics through anime! In middle school, I needed to know what was going to happen next to my favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character, Yami Bakura, so I started reading the imported manga from my local Japanese bookstore. (I couldn’t read the words, but I could glean the general gist of the story from staring longingly at his beautiful, evil face.) 

But I didn’t start making my own comics until I embarked on my first full-time job as a storyboard artist on Gravity Falls. Gravity was a wonderful experience, but I missed getting to tell my own stories, like I had done while making student films. It seemed impossible to make my own animated show (having now developed four shows, can confirm: yeah, it’s super hard!). But it seemed slightly-less-impossible to create my own comic, so I decided to take the plunge. 

In addition to being a graphic novelist, you are also known for your work in animation, most recently working on The Owl House. As a fan of the show myself, I would love to hear more about your experience working for the show if youre interesting in sharing them?

The Owl House was such an extraordinary show to work on! I learned a ton from the incredibly talented and hardworking crew Dana assembled, especially my fellow directors Stu Livingston and Aminder Dhaliwal. Now that the show has finished airing, it’s been amazing to see how much they’ve accomplished, especially in the realm of LGBTQ+ representation. It takes an incredible amount of courage, perseverance, and downright stubbornness to get an honest-to-God gay kiss into an American animated TV show, but hopefully their hard work will open the gates for the queer creators who follow after them. 

How would you describe your creative process?

For me, storytelling is a testing ground for reality, a place where I can play around with different identities and viewpoints before I’m ready to claim them for myself.

It took me a long time to come out as bisexual–and even longer to come out as nonbinary–in part because I was always questioning my own thoughts and feelings. I’d think: “You’re not gay, stop obsessing over yourself and focus on something that really matters,” or: “You’re not really trans, you’re just overthinking things, as usual.” 

But in fiction, I didn’t have to interrogate every moment of my life leading up to that point. I could explore the queer relationship between Jekyll and Lanyon (a big focus of volumes two and three) and the backstory to my transmasc werewolf character, Jasper, just because I felt like it. And I felt like it because, for all my second-guessing, some quiet, authentic part of me knew what I wanted all along.

I guess that means my creative process is “listen to your heart??” That’s so embarrassing to say out loud! Oh well, I guess I’d just better own it . . .

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

My process might be a bit unusual because The Glass Scientists was originally posted as a weekly webcomic over the course of eight years. The challenge of writing a story over such a long period of time is that you’re committing to the way you saw the world at the moment you first wrote it. I see the world pretty differently as a 33 year old than I did when I was 25, so I had to find ways to make the story feel true to me at both stages of my life. 

Not that I’ve been doing massive overhauls this whole time, but I’ve made some significant changes when something just didn’t feel right:

For instance, since The Glass Scientists incorporates a lot of famous characters of late Victorian literature, I originally thought I should include Sherlock Holmes. I had this vision of depicting Sherlock as this severe, gorgeous lesbian effortlessly dissecting my characters’ defenses, but when it came time to actually write her, I had to admit that I just wasn’t that big of a Sherlock Holmes fan, and trying to fake it would be a disserve to the real fans out there. Plus, from a story economy POV, it made more sense to replace Holmes with a character I already knew I wanted to introduce later in the story. 

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

I’ve always been drawn to stories that take a playful approach to classic literature. In the hyper-specific realm of “reimaginings of classic sci-fi,” I love the stageplay adaptation of Frankenstein by Nick Dear. The way it streamlines the cast down to Frankenstein and his monster throws their fraught relationship into stark relief, and Danny Boyle’s directing in the 2011 production makes the story feel so fresh and modern. 

I also love queer stories in historical settings. I went absolutely feral the first time I read A Gentlemans Guide to Vice and Virtue. You couldn’t get me to shut up about it. It even made me reconsider–and eventually rewrite–the ending I had in mind for the main couple in The Glass Scientists

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

There wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ+ representation when I was growing up in the ‘90s, but I have a soft spot for shows that weren’t explicitly queer but had a certain vibe, like Ouran Host Club. It might not seem like Good Representation™ in today’s landscape, but for a closeted teen who still had a lot to unpack, real queer characters would have been way too scary for me to engage with directly. I think this kind of media can be an important stepping stone for folks who are still questioning. 

At the same time, I’m glad there are more opportunities nowadays to tell stories unambiguously for and about LGBTQ+ people. Recently, Abigail Thorne’s The Prince hit me square in the chest with its playful yet deeply empathetic depiction of a closeted trans woman told through the lens of Henry IV.

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

My favorite part about comics is that I get to write a story that’s just for me! When I started in animation, it was incredibly difficult to get a series greenlit unless it was a show for young kids or an adult sitcom like Family Guy. (Streaming has expanded those categories a bit, but not by much.) I knew that trying to fit my story into one of these narrow categories would render it unrecognizable, so I never seriously considered pitching it. Because of this, I was free to write exactly the way I wanted to, without having to cater to the whims of focus groups or studio mandates. That experience has been vital for building my confidence as a storyteller. 

The most frustrating part about comics is how long they take to draw! I’m not saying that writing isn’t hard work, but in terms of pure man-hours, drawing outweighs writing ten to one. Granted, my setting isn’t doing me any favors. The Victorians couldn’t design a single chair leg without adding twenty little swirlies and clawfoots to it. Last night I turned to my partner and said, “I’m setting my next story in IKEA.” Nothing but straight lines and sleek Scandinavian design, baybeeee! 

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

I’m a huge nerd about medical history, and my favorite part of medical history is (surprise, surprise) the Victorian era, that special period of time after the invention of modern technology but before the invention of modern safety regulations. There were so many ways to die, from wearing the color green, to working in a bakery, to having any kind of surgery beyond basic limb amputation. (Especially if you had the misfortune of being alive during the decade or so between the introduction of ether as an anesthetic and the discovery of germ theory.)

People say it’s hard to time-travel if you’re anything besides a straight white cis man–which is true–but I take solace in the knowledge that there are plenty of eras straight white cis men wouldn’t want to time-travel to, either.

What advice might you have to give for other creatives, particularly aspiring comic book writers/artists?

Embrace your cringe! I was so afraid of looking cringe-worthy as a teenager that it makes me, well, cringe. I regret that I never had a phase where I bought all my clothes from Hot Topic and made rainbow wolf-sonas with spiky sidebangs who cried blood tears while listening to Linkin Park. I love that episode of Mortified where the guest reads her wildly anatomically-incorrect Harry Potter slash fanfiction. I would have learned so much from writing something ridiculous like that! Instead I wrote these very mature, carefully structured, distantly snarky songfics that never had satisfying endings because I was afraid to commit to anything. 

Don’t avoid doing something you love out of fear that you’ll look back at yourself and cringe. You’re going to do that no matter what! But you’ll learn a lot more if you just do the thing you wanted to do in the first place.

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

I wish! Animation is such a slow process, especially if you’re trying to develop and pitch your own shows. I haven’t been able to talk about a project I’ve worked on in years!

But–and this may be cheating a bit–I have been creating new merch for The Glass Scientists pre-order campaign: enamel pins, bookplates, bookmarks, that sort of thing. Before starting TGS, I ran the Kickstarter for a prequel comic called Bleeding Heart and had to make all of the rewards for the campaign, as well as the book itself. It’s been fun to stretch that muscle again. The world of traditional publishing can be so big and overwhelming, so I’m glad to have a small but tangible part I can take on myself. Plus, I get to hand-package them for the fans who pre-order the book. I love being able to give that personal touch! 

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

I just finished reading Molly Ostertag’s Darkest Night, a masterfully-crafted graphic novel about depression and childhood trauma in the traditional of magical realism. I had the honor of reading an early draft of the comic a while ago, and it’s been so inspiring watching it evolve and grow over time.

I’ve been excited to read Mari Costa’s Belle of the Ball ever since they first started posting sketches of the three main characters . . . I don’t even remember how long ago! Mari has a talent for crafting juicy queer relationships that will have you hooked after a single page.