Interview with Kacen Callender, Author of Infinity Alchemist

Kacen Callender is a bestselling and award-winning author of multiple novels for children, teens, and adults, including the National Book Award-winning King and the Dragonflies and the bestselling novel Felix Ever After.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! For readers who might be new to you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Kacen, a trans masc demiguy who spends about 70% of my time living inside the stories in my head.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Infinity Alchemist? What was the inspiration for this project?

One of the biggest inspirations was the desire to write a fantasy where there wasn’t a chosen one, or a special, magical group of people. In this world, everyone has the capability to be magical.

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

I’ve always lived in the magical worlds in my head, so the stories and characters need a place to go. Luckily for me, I get to put those stories into books.

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

I really loved Animorphs; that was the first time I saw a Black main character who wasn’t just a part of the supporting cast.

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

Right now, meditation is my greatest source. More ideas are able to drop into my head, and there’s more clarity about what I want to write, versus what others might expect me to write. Meditation also fuels that creative energy, so that I feel like I can write for days.

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

I think the challenges are specific to every writer. For me, the biggest challenge is getting distracted by what I think others will want to see in the novels I write, instead of staying true to the story that wants to be told. Usually, that distraction takes me off course and makes it difficult to write the book. If I feel that familiar hesitation and uncertainty, I look back at what I’ve written and the plot I’ve planned, and ask myself if it’s really the story that I want to tell, making corrections that are more authentic to me.

What advice might you have to give for any aspiring writers out there?

Find your authenticity and stay true to the story that you want to tell.

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

I’m finishing up a YA mystery, published by Abrams and expected either next year or in 2026, and I’m working on the sequel to Infinity Alchemist.

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

The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa!

Interview with Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall, Creators of Brooms

Jasmine Walls is a writer, artist, and editor with former lives in professional baking and teaching martial arts. She still bakes (though she’s pretty rusty at martial arts) and has a deep love for storytelling, creating worlds, and building tales about the characters who inhabit them. Along with Levine Querido, she has works published with Boom! Studios, Capstone, Oni Press, The Atlantic, and The Nib. She lives in California with two dogs and a large stash of quality hot chocolate.

Teo DuVall is a queer Chicanx comic artist and illustrator based in Seattle, WA. They graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts and have had the immense pleasure of working with Levine Querido, HarperCollins, Dark Horse, Chronicle Books, Scholastic and more. He has a passion for fantasy, aesthetic ghost stories, and witches of color, and loves being able to create stories for a living. Teo lives with his partner, their two pets – a giant, cuddly pit-bull, and a tiny, ferocious cat – and a small horde of houseplants.

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

J: I’m a comics writer and editor, with a past career in baking and a deep love for hot chocolate. I’ve written for DC, Webtoons, Oni Press, and BOOM!, along with Levine Querido.

T: I’m a comic artist, illustrator and barista from Seattle. I’ve worked on projects for Star Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC, among others. I love ghosts, witches of color and stories with queer joy. Brooms is my second graphic novel.

What can you tell us about your new book, Brooms? What was the inspiration for this
story?

J: Brooms was heavily inspired by my own family, half of which come from the
American South. I wanted to tell a story set in a world of magic that was about the people who are often left forgotten on the margins. I also wanted it to be fun. I didn’t think I needed to make another story of hardship and struggle, but one of overcoming the odds and finding joy in a community.

T: It was important to me to draw witches who weren’t only white, cis and straight. Witches belong to all communities, and I wanted to make something that reflected all of the BIPOC witchy folks who exist in the real world – myself included.. Our communities have been long overdue for more representative magic content, and my hope with Brooms was to bring some of that content into the world myself.

How did the two of you come together to work on this project?

J: I was already of fan of Teo’s work and though he’d be a perfect fit as a collaborator for the story. Back then, I didn’t have much of a presence in the comics world at the time, but I sent Teo an email with the story pitch when I felt brave at 2am and was honestly shocked that he replied with an enthusiastic yes!

T: I truly could not say yes to Jasmine fast enough when I saw her email. I knew Brooms was something special, and I needed to be a part of it.

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

J: I’ve loved storytelling since I was very young, my whole family is very big on reading and I’ve always had an active imagination. The toughest part is trying to narrow down what stories to focus on and to actually get them written down. As for what drew me to graphic novels in particular, I think they are an incredible blend of storytelling mediums, it’s like having a printed movie in your hands, or a prose book that’s come to life, and they can span across every genre. There are also so many incredible ways of experimenting with style, lettering, and color to completely change the tone or mood of a scene.

T: I’ve been drawing stories ever since I was a kid (somewhere my mom has a picture book I drew in kindergarten about dinosaurs going to school). There’s something so beautiful about words and images coming together to create an immersive, emotional experience. Also, art helps bring characters to life in a way that we don’t get in prose novels. I can’t tell you how many times a teacher or librarian has told me that their students who have a hard time reading become so engaged when introduced to graphic novels. Visual imagery is very powerful.

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

J: As with any book I write, queer characters are front and center. In Brooms, there are three main openly queer characters: Billie Mae and Luella are in a relationship with each other and Cheng Kwan is a trans woman. There are also plenty of queer and gender nonconforming background characters. Teo did an amazing job of really bringing every person you see on the page to life.

T: I like to think that a good majority of the folks we see in Brooms belong to the LGBTQ+
community, particularly in the race festival scenes. I was deeply inspired by historical queer communities and how they would come together no matter how society fought to keep them hidden or isolated. I wanted the world of Brooms to feel populated by LGBTQ+ folks who would otherwise be pushed to the side by the annals of history, so I designed many folks with an intention towards queer representation. I hope marginalized readers can feel that energy and see themselves reflected in those characters.

Jasmine Walls

Since Brooms is a historical fiction graphic novel, I was wondering if there was any
research involved during your creative process? And if so, what kind?

J: Absolutely. I love doing research for stories, and I love history, so whenever I work on a project, especially a historical project, I try to do as much research as I can. Even though the characters and their lives are fictional, the setting (aside from all the magic) isn’t. We wanted to represent the kinds of people who really did exist in 1930s Mississippi, and we wanted to do so respectfully. A few examples on my side of things included looking into my own family’s history, but also doing research on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw which Luella, Mattie, and Emma are part of. Emma is deaf and uses sign language I referenced from Indian Sign Language by William Tomkins which is not entirely regionally accurate, but is period accurate. Loretta uses mobility aids from the time period after having a stroke at a young age, and the foods you see in various scenes are all things that would have been made by people in those places and times.

T: There was tons of research involved, which was great for someone who enjoys amassing folders and folders of reference. I dug through a lot of vintage photography from Mississippi in order to get a sense of the environment and clothing of the period.

Upon reading Brooms, readers discover that there seems to be a unique magic system that the main characters use, in particular referencing root magic. Would you mind going into some of the world-building behind that?

J: Because none of the girls have gone to an official magical academy, they’ve all
learned magic through familial knowledge or what they’ve shared with each other, and in the American South, particularly in Black communities, root magic is a very real cultural aspect of life. The magic Billie Mae and Loretta use and teach others is based loosely on the structure of real life root magic practices, which is often based in drawing energy from the earth and seeking guidance from ancestors.

How would you describe your writing process?

J: A little bit messy to be honest! I often think of a particular scene that just sticks in my mind and if I think it’s solid enough for a whole story, I begin to build around it bit by bit until everything starts to take shape. I often have several scribbled ideas on sticky notes all over the place before compiling them into a very rough outline. Then I rewrite it many, many times before showing it to anyone else.

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

J: One of my favorite books growing up was Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which
is a collection of oral stories, myths, and fairytales collected from Black folks in the American South. As a kid it was one of the few times I saw people who looked like me in fairytales and folk tales. Now that I’m older, I know there were other books but they were just harder to find. I think things have definitely improved as more queer and BIPOC stories are being published, which has been a joy to see, and I hope that trajectory continues.

T: As a kid, I read and re-read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and watched Studio Ghibli films whenever I could. Princess Mononke in particular always resonated with me, as well as Kiki’s Delivery Service. I never felt reflected by these stories, but they touched me very deeply. Now, I immediately think of Aidan Thomas’ Cemetery Boys. It was the first time I ever encountered a character that looked like me, and felt like me.

Ted DuVall

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

J: This one is always tough because I feel like I draw from so many influences from
books I read to artists I follow, but I can say that one of my earliest influences in writing was
Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles series, which made me rethink the role or classic fantasy tropes and how they’re used in stories. I was also obsessed with InuYasha as a teen so that probably had a lingering effect.

T: Mike Mignola is a huge one for me, as well as Ray Bradbury, Fiona Staples and Rosemary Valero O’Connell. Their works always remind me why I love (and need) to create stories. Music is also really important to my process. I listen to a lot of Wolf Alice, serpentwithfeet and Nation of Language and they never fail to inspire me.

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

J: For me, the best parts of writing are the initial rush where everything is new and
exciting, and then the point where it’s all a completed written mess and I get to go in and edit it into something polished. It’s just so satisfying. The parts I enjoy the least are when everything is half done and I have to slog through writing the less exciting scenes, or when I’m stuck and can’t seem to get the words to work the way I want them to. Usually that’s when I need to step away for a bit and take a long walk so I can come back with fresh eyes.

T: I really enjoy designing characters, and when I get to the inking stage for interior pages. I’ve always loved inking, and inking pages in particular is very satisfying. On the flipside, creative stamina is inevitably a huge challenge. I think this struggle is something a lot of graphic novelists can relate to. It’s a very troublesome mental block to experience, especially when you’re working on a project that requires years of commitment.

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

J: It’s true, the bulk of working on a book is sitting down and powering through the
tedious bits. My motivation (aside from deadlines and never wanting to burden my collaborators by delaying their work) is honestly using the parts of a story that I’m looking forward to writing as a reward for getting through the boring parts. Another factor is balancing the work that needs to be done while also giving yourself space to recharge the creative battery and step away. Work should never take over every aspect of your life. Take breaks, stretch, move around, drink more water, and get your sleep. You’ll come back to your work more energized for it.

T: Communication is really important, in my opinion. Talking with your team, asking for help…I can’t stress enough how vital that was to helping make BROOMS a reality.

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

J: I’m not very exciting outside of work, but I do love food and the process of how it’s made. I am a big supporter of agriculture workers and sustainable farming practices, particularly in the spice trade. If you ever need to know a good vanilla vendor, I’ve got you.

T: My spouse and I bought combat-grade French lightsabers and I’m learning how to spin with it. We’re planning on performing a choreographed battle sequence instead of a first dance at our wedding reception, and it’s been a blast to learn. If you’re curious, check out Michelle C. Smith’s spinning videos.

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)?

J: I always secretly hope people will ask for hot chocolate recommendations, and I
have several! These are all companies with fairly traded, sustainably grown cocoa, and are
owned by BIPOC: Cultura Chocolate’s Mexican Drinking Chocolate, Villa Real’s Vanilla Hot
Chocolate tablets, CRU Chocolate’s amazing flavor selection of drinking chocolates, and
Lucocoa’s Orange holiday hot cocoa mix.

T: I love rocks, gems, crystals…and I want any excuse to talk about them! It would be fun to be asked what my favorite is. (The answer is obsidian. Mirrors of polished obsidian called tezcatl were used by Aztec shamans as a way to view the spirit world).

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

J: My advice to aspiring writers is to write what you love, don’t try to jump onto trends for a quicker foot in the door, though it can be very tempting. Writing is a slow process and we only ever see the “sudden” successes from the outside. Take your time, put in the effort to get from start to finish, and write the stories you want to tell. And lastly, be open to feedback (from editorial pros, not internet randos who just want to be mean) because they’re there to help the story be the best it can be, it’s not a personal attack, so don’t be too precious with your first few drafts.

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

J: I’ve got a couple secret projects, but I also have a few new pitches I’m excited for. An enemies-to-lovers romcom about two former rival crime bosses, a non-romantic comedy about two ace teens fake dating, and an alternate history western.

T: I have some cool projects in the works, but nothing I can talk about just yet. Though hopefully I’ll be able to share some news soon!

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

J: I have SO MANY, so I’ll narrow it down to just a few. Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became The Sun, Olivia Stephens’ Artie and the Wolf Moon, Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon, Mike Brooks’ The Black Coast, and Sacha Lamb’s When The Angels Left The Old Country.

T: This isn’t comprehensive, but off the top of my head I would recommend Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas, Nimona by N.D. Stevenson and Let Me Out by Emmett Nahil and George Williams.

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Daddy Fantastic

art of cast of the new Fantastic Four movie as their comic counterparts

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Daddy Fantastic The Geeks OUT Podcast

In the return of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew) is joined by Ian Carlos Crawford (@ianxcarlos) as they discuss the newly announced cast of Marvel's Fantastic Four, the trailers for Deadpool & Wolverine and X-Men '97, realize we're part of the 1-in-5 gamers who are queer, and catch up on what they're getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture.  BIG OPENING:   KEVIN: Marvel reveals cast for new Fantastic Four IAN: New trailer for Deadpool & Wolverine & New trailer for X-Men ‘97   DOWN & NERDY:  KEVIN:  Argylle, Brothers Sun, Death & Other Details, Ted, Percy Jackson, The Deviant  IAN: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Blood Debts   STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER:  New trailer for Love Lies Bleeding   THIS WEEK IN QUEER:  According to a new study, 1 in 5 gamers identifies as LGBTQ+   CLIP OF THE WEEK:  New trailer for Femme   SHILF: KEVIN: Pedro Pascal as Mister Fantastic IAN: Joseph Quinn as Johnny Storm   **art by Wesley Burt @wes_burt
  1. The Geeks OUT Podcast: Daddy Fantastic
  2. Geeks OUT Podcast: Florida & Other Disney Villains
  3. Geeks OUT Podcast: Strange New Daddy
  4. Geeks OUT Podcast: Come on Barbie, Let’s Go Party!
  5. Geeks OUT Podcast: We're so GLAAD You're Queer

In the return of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Ian Carlos Crawford, as they discuss the newly announced cast of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, the trailers for Deadpool & Wolverine and X-Men ’97, realize we’re part of the 1-in-5 gamers who are queer, and catch up on what they’re getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture. 

.

BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Marvel reveals cast for new Fantastic Four

IAN:  New trailer for Deadpool & Wolverine & New trailer for X-Men ‘97

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Argylle, Brothers Sun, Death & Other Details, Ted, Percy Jackson, The Deviant


IAN: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Blood Debts

.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for Love Lies Bleeding

THIS WEEK IN QUEER

According to a new study, 1 in 5 gamers identifies as LGBTQ+

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Femme

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Pedro Pascal as Mister Fantastic
• IAN: Joseph Quinn as Johnny Storm

Interview with Erika Turner, Author of And Other Mistakes


Erika Turner is a writer, a poet, and the daughter of storytellers. Sometimes, she writes songs she may one day share. Once, in a Brooklyn community center, she read James Baldwin’s quote “You can’t tell the children there’s no hope,” and she carries those words from the city to the desert and beyond.

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

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

Hiiii! I’m a debut author, raised in the city that is centered in this book. While my day job is working as a book editor, my nights and weekends are spent writing, dreaming, and making sure my dogs are fed.

What can you tell us about your debut book And Other Mistakes? What was the inspiration for this story?

There were a lot of things I wanted to accomplish about this story – part of it was centering queer friendships, while understanding that romance is always sort of inevitable when you’re a teenager figuring out your emotions for the first time. I also wanted to write a contemporary story about a queer protagonist that went beyond the issues of identity – something that recognized that our highs and lows often do exist outside of who we’re attracted to, even if that’s always a part of it. In this instance, for the character Aaliyah, it was having a rocky home life due to her parents’ own issues with each other.

Finally, I really wanted to talk about music in a way that was fun and relatable. I was a black kid who loved emo and rock, and didn’t grow up knowing very much about black culture, of which music is a huge part. While that’s not at all unusual, it was something that made me feel really isolated as a teenager, so I wanted to write a relatable character for other teens who have similar experiences.

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

It would probably be easier to tell you about the straight characters, ha! Aaliyah, the main character is a lesbian, and there are bisexual, queer, and trans characters throughout the book.

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

I’ve always found writing to be the best medium to process the world, and when I started to write a book for the first time, this is the one that pushed itself forward. Part of it, probably, is that I was in my mid-twenties at the outset of this project, and that’s usually a good time to start processing your own teen years. For me, I also had cousins and siblings who were just starting to come into their late teens, so seeing how they were processing those first steps into adulthood and independence inspired me to write something that I hope could be a little bit of a roadmap, especially for brown and/or queer kids trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t always deem their experiences worthy of examination, or nurturing.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll put it this way – I discovered recently that I have an ADHD diagnosis, and that’s been pretty transformational in me being much kinder to the chaos that is what someone might hope to call “a process.”

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

Ella Enchanted was one of the first books I read constantly, and Gail Carson Levine became my “go-to” author, as a child and teenager. Anything she wrote, I read. I’m fairly certain most of her characters would be considered white and straight, but I think I connected to the fact that the girls were always brave, stubborn, and strong. As a kid, I wanted to be the same.

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

As a young writer just starting out, I had the incredibly privilege of being mentored by Naomi Jackson, Janet Mock, and Kirya Traber… black, queer, female writers who taught me the value of pushing forward, pushing through, and believing in yourself. Their wisdom and encouragement helped me get through some of my darkest days of uncertainty, and also gave me real, in-person models of possibility.

In a similar vein, I have been an eager student of James Baldwin as a writer, and his incisive and brilliant work always keeps me motivated, especially when the world seems at its most unreal.

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

I love writing dialogue. It’s really fun to think about how people connect to one another – jokes, quips, sarcasm, flirtation. An entire personality can be expressed in one word, and I find that so fascinating to explore.

The most frustrating aspect of writing is the act of putting a vision into words. It’s like painting a moving image – you know what’s supposed to happen, you even know how it’s happening, and who’s making it happen, but how do you show that on a page? And besides making it as clear as possible, how do you make it exciting? How do you make it sound good? It can be fun when the words flow, but that’s not always (or often) the case.

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

I love dogs, the first several seasons of Grey’s Anatomy saved my life, and I will drink fully caffeinated coffee at 10pm, and you can’t stop me.

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)?

Who was your first queer role model, and that would be Aaliyah Dana Haughton – hence the name of the protagonist in AND OTHER MISTAKES. I remember watching the ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY music video when I was like…seven? Maybe? And just knowing that she was magic.

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

Keep going, and surround yourself with mentors and community members who will encourage you, fight for you, cry with you, and know that you have a voice worth being heard.

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

I’m incredibly thrilled about a YA anthology I have coming out with Versify, with a cast of incredible authors – including Kirya Traber, who I mentioned above! And I have an adult holiday novel with Avon coming out this summer. Also, on the day-job side of things, I’m editing a middle grade series that I’m completely ecstatic about, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

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

Jacqueline Woodson, Malindo Lo, Robin Talley, and CB Lee all day every day. The incredible Jaz Joyner, whose debut graphic novel, DEVOUR, is coming out from Abrams this May. Kalynn Bayron, naturally. One of my favorite contemporary YA novels of all time is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. Oh! And, obviously, James Baldwin. I could go on!

Interview with Deya Muniz, Creator of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Deya Muniz was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they grew up watching Pride and Prejudice and reading copious amounts of shojo manga. In 2017, they moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in sequential art, where they met and fell in love with a wonderful girl who makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.

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

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

Thank you!! I’m Deya, I’m from Brazil, I have a beautiful wife and two dogs. You may know me from my comic strip series Brutally Honest, or me and my wife’s WEBTOON Blades of Furry!

What can you tell us about your graphic novel, The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

It’s cheesy and silly and gay!! I got the inspiration from my beautiful wife!! I explain it better in my author’s note at the back of the book. Basically, it all came about because of an incident involving grilled cheese sandwiches while we were both brainstorming ideas for a scriptwriting class.

In addition to The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, you are also known as the co-creator of the webcomic, Blades of Furry (a webcomic that said to be a mix of Yuri on Ice meets flurries, co-created with your partner-which is like the gayest thing ever ). What inspired this project, and co-creating it with your spouse?

Blades of Furry came about for my MFA thesis! I was writing about suspension of disbelief, so to prove my point I came up with the most out there concept I could at the time! I was at the early stages of my figure skating obsession then, and my wife had turned me into a furry. I have also always loved vampires and had a pretty intense Twilight phase, so that’s how that all came about.

Emily became an official co-creator when it came time to actually start production on BOF! I was already working on Grilled Cheese and realized I couldn’t do both at the same time on my own, so I asked if she would like to join. She had such a big influence in the creation of the concept, and we knew we worked really well together, so it was a natural fit! Little did I know that even doing Blades of Furry with her, I was very far from being able to pull off all the work I had to do on time. Whoops.

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

I’ve always liked comics, and even at the tender age of 8 I was writing silly little comics with my friends at school. When I was on the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, I was mostly thinking of going into either animation or video games. However, I started making the Brutally Honest comic strips instead of working on my thesis and they got popular online! One thing led to another and my thesis ended up becoming a comic, and then I went on to get my masters in Sequential Art. I was still considering getting into animation, but my pitch for Grilled Cheese got accepted before I got any storyboarding job offers, and now here we are!! I’m happy with how it all turned out!

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

Slow and painful. I like getting attention on the stuff I make, so it was really really hard for me to be putting in all this effort into writing and drawing this story with NO ONE giving me compliments. Yes, I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true!! It’s a big difference between online publishing where you’re interacting with your readers at least weekly, and print publishing where you work in the dark for years and get no interaction or feedback until the work is finally published, however many months of years after you’re done working on it!

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

I could list so many things… For The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich I was very much inspired by Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 movie version specifically) and by shoujo manga/anime. I was obsessed with CLAMP as a kid and LOVED the way they did sparkles, fabric and hair. From there, I became obsessed with the work of Alphonse Mucha, who was a big influence on the CLAMP style.

More recently, and around when I was working on Grilled Cheese, I was mostly inspired by artists I followed on twitter. I get a lot of inspiration from that nowadays, whenever I end up in a new fandom there’s always so many incredibly talented people pumping out beautiful art, it’s wild! Back then I was heavily into this story called Mo Dao Zu She (or Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) and the art coming from that fandom was incredible!

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

Yes, so many!! I already mentioned a few in the previous question, but there’s many many stories that have touched me deeply through the years – Kingdom Hearts, Fruits Basket, Howl’s Moving Castle (both the book and the movie), Yuri on Ice, Banana Fish… I don’t know if I felt reflected by them as a whole, but there’s always little pieces of who I am or want to be reflected in some of my favorite characters.

Right before starting work on Grilled Cheese I was reading TONS of gay webtoons/manhwas and my absolute favorites were Wolf in the House and Dark Heaven (both 18+, be warned!) – both stories had an iron grip on me. Wolf in the House has incredible heart and humor, and Dark Heaven had me extremely deep in my feelings. Those two helped me get through some tough times.

Right now I’m profoundly infatuated with Trigun Stampede. I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this!! I also just read Monotone Blue and really liked it!

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

I broke my skull when I was a baby and I’m fine, so I have reason to believe I might be immortal and undefeatable.

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

“Would you like 10 million dollars deposited in your bank account yearly?” The answer is yes!

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

… Unfortunately, I am legally bound to secrecy. 

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

Be self-indulgent in your creativity. Doing what you think you should instead of what you want to do is going to lead to some serious burnout pretty quickly. Enjoy yourself in your work as much as possible.

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

Ok! I have already mentioned a fewso here’s some more:

Manga/Anime: Our Dreams at DuskRestart After Coming Back Home, Given, the Kase-San series.

Western/US WEBTOONS: Castle Swimmer, Covenant, LoveBot, Not so Shoujo Love Story, Prince of Southland, and Nevermore.

Also, look into Danmei. Phenomenal stories there!

I’m not very good at recommending western LGBTQ+ books/comics because I get anxiety reading them. I’m also behind on every single Webtoon I mentioned for that reason. Everyone is so talented and imposter syndrome sucks! Anyway, I really liked The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Interview with Mel Valentine Vargas, Co-Creator of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: The Graphic Novel


Mel Valentine Vargas is a Queer Cuban-American graphic novelist based in Chicago. They hope to draw the kind of illustrations that their younger self, and others like them, could have seen to feel less alone. Mel Valentine Vargas loves singing in Spanish, playing farming video games, and eating lots of gyoza with their friends.

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

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

My name is Mel Valentine Vargas, I am a Non-Binary Queer Cuban- American graphic novelist and illustrator. I speak both Spanish and English and currently reside in Chicago, but I am originally from Florida. 

What can you tell us about your most recent project, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: The Graphic Novel? How did you come to work on this book?

I can say that it is as relevant today as it was ten years ago when the original chapter book came out. I loved working on a book that my younger self would have really needed while growing up. I’m very thankful to my agent Elizabeth Bennett, Transatlantic Literary Agency, for getting this book deal for me and connecting me with Candlewick. 

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

When I graduated High school back in 2015, that following summer was such a weird time for me. I didn’t really know what to do with myself and I was about to start college on a biology track. I spent that summer like a bit of a hermit, but I was reading so many webcomics and watching so many animated shows. Something within me was really drawn to those stories and mediums, I wanted to be part of their creation. I’ve always loved storytelling, both listening and creating, so as I tried creating my own comics that summer it’s like things just clicked.

What are some of your favorite things to draw?

My favorite things to draw are people. I love drawing different kinds of people. I love deciding their outfits, coming up with silly t-shirts they wear, styling their hair, it’s like having Barbies all over again. I also love drawing plants, I really enjoy making some up as I go. And while we are on this topic, my least favorite thing to draw is animals… I should practice that.

How would you describe your creative process? And what went into collaborating with Meg Medina for the book?

My creative process always starts with immersing myself into the topic and medium for said project. With this book I read the original book twice. You should see the copy Candlewick gifted to me, it’s covered in highlighter marks and little color-coded sticky notes. It’s important for me to really get to know what I will be drawing, and in this case, adapting. 

I think people would be surprised how little illustrators partner with authors of graphic novels. I actually didn’t get to speak with Meg very much during the process of this book. Of course, she saw and approved everything in the end, but she and I really did not discuss anything much during the making of this book. Occasionally I would get a note from my editors that Meg really wanted something a certain way and I would of course make sure that what I drew was true to her vision. 

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

Some of my greatest influences are, of course, other graphic novelists and cartoonists. I love Rosemary Valero-O’connell’s work as well as Leslie Hung’s and Lucy Knisley’s comics. Generally, I get very inspired by work that showcases people.

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

Growing up I didn’t have many stories that I saw myself in. I grew up Hispanic, bilingual, and fat. It was difficult finding books or movies and shows that talked about that in a positive way. I really gravitated towards media that showcased awesome women though. I remember being awestruck at Raven and Starfire from Teen Titans and Marceline from Adventure Time. Now I am so thankful that there is much more media that showcases different people in a way that I would have loved to witness as a kid. Turning Red, Dead End: Paranormal Park, The Owl House, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and so much more.  

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

I would want readers to know that illustrators, like me, work really hard on graphic novels and would love it if you spend just a tiny bit more time on every page. Just really soak up the details. I would want readers to know that all comics and graphic novels are a labor of love. I would like readers to know that I watch so many shows while I draw, specifically BoJack Horseman which I watched about 13 times through the course of making this book alone. 

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

I’m not too sure. This is my first book interview. What is my zodiac, perhaps? It’s cancer by the way. I’m a cancer sun and moon, do with that info what you will. 

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

YES! My next graphic novel Pillow Talk, written by Stephanie Cooke, is coming out in 2024! There are also other projects in the works that are a bit hush-hush. 

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

The advice I always give people who say they want to get into comics is MAKE COMICS! You can’t possibly get hired or followed or whatever your end goal is with comics if you aren’t producing them. It doesn’t matter if they are bad, or if you don’t post them, just make them. Diary comics, or little joke comics, zines, or fan art comics. Read and make comics!

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

Books I recommend-

Anything by Nicole Dennis-Benn, Maggie Nelson, and Madeline Miller. Of course anything by Meg Medina! Graphic NovelsLaura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Snotgirl series, The Leak, and honestly any graphic novel written/ drawn by women and genderqueer people.  

Interview with Rebecca Thorne, Author of Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea

Rebecca Thorne (she/her) is an author of all things fantasy, sci-fi, and romantic, such as the Tomes & Tea series. She thrives on deadlines, averages 2,700 words a day, and tries to write at least 3 books a year. (She also might be a little hyper-focused ADHD.) After years in the traditional publishing space, Rebecca pivoted into self-publishing. Now, she’s found a happy medium as a hybrid author, and leans into her love of teaching by helping other authors find their perfect publication path. When she’s not writing (or avoiding writing), Rebecca can be found traveling the country as a flight attendant, or doing her best impression of a granola-girl hermit with her two dogs. She’s always scheming to move to a mountain town and open a bookshop that serves tea.

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

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

It’s such a pleasure to be here!! I’m Rebecca Thorne, a writer of all things fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. My books usually feature LGBTQIA+ representation, and are known for their witty dialogue and fast-paced writing style. When I’m not writing, I’m touring the country as a flight attendant—which has been my day job for over a decade. J

What can you tell us about your latest book, Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea? What was the inspiration for this story?  

This is so wild to see such a reception for this book. I wrote Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea after happening upon Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes in a Barnes and Noble—back when it was self-published. Aside from it being the exact story I needed at that time in my life—cozy, quaint, low stakes—it opened my eyes about the movement self-publishing has had on the industry. Before that day, I didn’t realize indie books could be in Barnes and Noble.

The actual story of Treason and Tea had been lurking in my mind for years. I wanted to write two women opening a coffee shop on the edge of a frozen tundra. Early iterations involved them serving adventurers who ventured into Dragon Country looking to steal from dragon hoards—but of course, it had higher stakes, because cozy fantasy wasn’t really around back then. When I found L&L, it made it easy to adapt this idea into something quieter!

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

I’ve been writing since I was 11, so by this point I’ve experimented with most genres. I’m a romantic at heart, so everything I write has some element of romance—it’s a safe place to observe those dramatic love stories without risking my own feelings. LOL.

I actually spent a lot of time writing contemporary when I was young. I used it to get a hang of the mechanics of writing and storytelling, without the chaos of creating a whole new world. Fanfiction was also a big driver in my writing development; taking someone else’s characters and setting, and creating fresh plots gave me the chance to really fine-tune my writing style without pressure.

Nowadays, I thrive on creating new worlds! Fantasy grabbed me about four years back, and hasn’t let go. J

How would you describe your writing process?

I’m all about efficiency. Treason and Tea was my fifteenth book, and on a slow year, I write 2 novels. On a good year, like in 2023, I write 5. I use a 5 Sentence plotting method to ensure my books have goalposts I can meet, and that gives me the freedom to discover everything in between those five sentences. But I tie word count goals to those plot events, and that helps keep my pacing on track!

Basically, it takes me about 3 – 6 weeks to draft a new book, and when I’m really moving, I can write 10,000 words in a day. That’s a big reason why I do both traditional publishing and self-publishing; I have so many books that it just makes sense to release some of them on my own. J

If you’re interested in learning more about my writing method, you can check out the craft book I published in December 2023: The 5 Sentence Method: How to Write Your D*mn Book, Already. It’s a lot of fun, haha!

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

My childhood was defined by fantasy classics like Patricia C Wrede and Tamora Pierce. I always adored the quartet idea from Tamora Pierce, so I’m thrilled that Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is the start of my very own quartet!

These days, I’m reading almost exclusively sapphic fiction and diverse stories, since I grew up with straight, white protagonists. I’m thrilled we have so many great options to show LGBTQIA+ love stories, and that we’re seeing PoC and ND characters taking center stage. Gimme all the representation!

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

Ally Carter was one of my most formative authors. Back in high school, I remember reading her spy series; I’d finish the books the day they were released, and then re-read it immediately with an eye for how she hooked me for so long. Her quick-witted banter and easily-consumable writing style really stuck with me, and paved the way for my own writing.

My goal was always to be like those books: simple, easy to read, vastly enjoyable. These days, I add more intense themes into some of my books, but that goal never wavers. I always want my books to be as approachable as possible!

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

Dialogue is my absolute favorite. When I find two characters with chemistry, I love the way they can just fly off the page with their snark and humor. Adding puns for Kianthe really lightened the whole of the Tomes and Tea quartet, and made it an absolute pleasure to return to that world over and over.

As for challenging… I think I fall into the trap of boring conversation sometimes. I rely so heavily on dialogue to make my stories unique that I forget there’s actions outside of their words. So, if I’m not careful, I’ll wind up with a lot of eyebrow raising, smirking, laughing, etc. When I notice this happening, I try to add some kind of background activity—the characters making tea, or stocking a bookshelf, etc—just to keep things more interesting on every level. It… doesn’t always work. LOL.

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?

See the 5 Sentence Method above. In my opinion, half of the struggle in finishing a book is knowing how it ends—and if that isn’t mapped out, it’s a lot more effort to sit down and get it done.

Another issue I ran into when I was young is hopping from book to book. I would write 30k words, then get a shiny new idea and be convinced that was a better use of my time. Rinse, repeat. I finally realized when I was 23 or so that if I did that forever, I’d never accomplish my dream of being published, because you can’t publish an unfinished book.

Nowadays, when a new idea catches my interest, I write it down in Scrivener, then keep it in my brain and remain focused on my current project. Once that one is done, the new idea is my reward. It’s a much more sustainable option for me. LOL.

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

I… I don’t know. I love teaching publishing and writing—that’s my biggest passion in life, other than writing my own books. So, if you’re interested in learning more about that, find me on my socials—TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc—because I answer questions all the time!

If I had to pick a fun piece of trivia, it’s that I failed an FBI polygraph… twice. >.>

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’s the best book you’ve ever written?

My answer is definitely The Day Death Stopped. No one seems to know about this book, which is a damn shame, because I really stretched my writing abilities for it. It uses footnotes and omniscient narration to follow 3 stories, one of which is told in reverse. The first chapter of the book is literally the book’s ending, so it’s honestly the culmination of all my writing. AND I somehow snagged Moira Quirk to narrate it. Go check it out, please; I adored it.

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

Don’t quit your day job. Better yet, find a day job you don’t absolutely loathe, get yourself happy outside of publishing, and THEN focus on getting that six figure book deal. Publishing is a business of rejection, so if you’re hoping some massive book deal will scoop you out of your misery, you’ll be disappointed over and over. I’ve watched those authors turn more and more desperate, and everyone around them suffers.

Find a job you like well enough. Then go towards your dream of publishing. It will lighten the pressure you put on yourself so much.

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

I’m always working on something! My newest idea is a cozy sci-fi that follows a doctor and a soldier on an edge-of-space station. It’s going to have adventure and coffee that makes someone immortal and space farmers markets and a great, adorable love story. I can’t wait!

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

This is How You Lose the Time War (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone)is one of my all-time favorites! I reread it at least once a year; it’s so unique, and has gorgeous prose. Otherwise, I’m reading Bluebird (Ciel Perlot), which is a very fun sci-fi romp about an ultra-intelligent engineer trying to keep weapon schematics out of an evil faction’s hands. Next on my list is the Honey Witch (Sydney J. Shields), which I’m confident will sweep me off my feet—it’s Bridgerton, if Penelope discovered she was a witch and relocated to a magical island. Can’t wait!

Interview with Margaret Owen, Author of Little Thieves

Born and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, Margaret Owen first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked in everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page, and negotiating a long-term hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations, and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

I had the opportunity to interview Margaret, 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! My name is Margaret Owen, and I’m the author of four YA fantasy books, and the co-editor on a recently-released YA fantasy anthology! I live in Seattle in an ever-shifting power struggle with my monstrous cats, and when I’m not writing, you can usually find me hunched over some ill-conceived art project.

What can you tell us about your latest book series, Little Thieves? What was the inspiration for this story?

This is a very nerdy answer, and I make no apology for it; a good chunk of the inspiration came from my D&D character’s criminally underutilized backstory (stolen identity, jewel thief, you get the idea), which I realized had a lot of potential on its own. I also knew I wanted to tell a story about a very competent and unscrupulous con artist who is cursed to do good deeds. When I spun those two together, I realized that it had a lot of common ground with the fairytale The Goose Girl, if told from the villain’s point of view, and it was all downhill from there!

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

I can’t tell you what exactly draws me to storytelling anymore than a moth can tell you why they want nothing more than to seduce an open flame, alas! But I think both speculative fiction and young adult fiction have a capacity for unfettered creativity that appeals to me. All the colors in the paint set, all the tools in the toolbox, they’re all in the mix. No concept is too unhinged for speculative fiction. No plot twist or dramatic reveal is too absurd for YA. I actually quite admire the restraint and efficiency of stripped down, minimalist fiction, but right now I’m in my maximalism era.

From what I can tell about the book, both the protagonist and love interest of Little Thieves are demisexual. Could you take a bit about what it means to feature ace/demisexual representation in your writing?

Honestly, I’ve always found it a bit jarring to read about romance where the narrator sees someone and is immediately head over heels—not because instalove is unrealistic, especially for teens, just that it simply wasn’t how that went for me. As a teen, I rarely experienced attraction, just a very occasional intense crush on someone I already knew; when people would gush about some celebrity’s washboard abs or dreamy eyelashes, I’d have to gamely nod along and mumble something about a jawline and hope no one realized I was just making it up as I went.

So when I was writing Vanja, the protagonist of Little Thieves, early on, there was a moment for her to articulate how she experienced attraction, as a teen girl in a society that says she should be falling in love with a new person each week. And I decided to write someone a bit closer to my own experiences, and when considering the love interest, I specifically chose to make it someone she didn’t have to explain herself to. I’m sure I’ve lost some readers who expected the romance to follow particular beats, or others who wanted a Demisexuality 101 course. And there are always those who deem any inclusion as intentional discourse bait, rather than a simple desire to speak your experience into the void and see if it resonates with anyone else. But I’ve gotten a lot of lovely shouts back from that void from folks who do feel seen, and it drowns out the bad. Gosh, this answer ran long!

How would you describe your creative process?

Perhaps overwrought, haha! I usually marinate an idea over months, ideally years, usually while I’m working on something else. Once I’m ready to write it, I have a needlessly regimented outlining process that is effectively like taking a picture of the overall plot, then zooming in on one act, then zooming in further on one chapter, and writing that chapter, then zooming back out to the act, zooming in on the next chapter, and continuing that chapter by chapter, act by act, until the book is done. It allows me flexibility to retain the joy of discovery, while providing enough structure that I don’t get so overwhelmed I ram into writer’s block!

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

This is always a difficult question, because I have what I optimistically refer to as a decorator crab brain, and at any given moment it’s plucking bottle caps and bits of coral off the seafloor and affixing it to my shell. I grew up on Tamora Pierce, but found Terry Pratchett’s thoughtful and merrily scathing work unmatched. Manga authors like CLAMP, Rumiko Takahashi, and Naoko Takeuchi crowded my shelves for certain. But inspiration comes at all sides for me, which isn’t as fun as you might think. It could be an offhand comment from a podcast host, amateur attempts at locksmithing, unusual weather, a container ship blocking a canal, it’s all fodder.

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

The closest I think I got was Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, which tracks, as Tamora said a while after the series’ completion that she’d now consider the protagonist to be on the ace spectrum. I also personally really enjoy Nina Zenik from Six of Crows, as it was one of the first depictions I’d read of a fat girl that was fun, not just a dowdy wallflower relegated to being a constant punchline.

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

I really enjoy the moments in the middle of drafting where you figure out a solution to a problem that has haunted you the entire drafting process up to that point. You feel superhuman, like you could fight the pope. I think the most challenging and frustrating moments are when you have to keep drafting, knowing you have a problem and haven’t figured out the fix yet, because you have to trust yourself enough to know the answer will come to you, and keep going.

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

That when I post artwork, they do not need to tell me to credit the artist. Darlings, I am the artist. Good instinct, god bless, but I wear many hats.

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

Favorite Sailor Scout. It’s Sailor Jupiter. How could it be anyone else? She’s a terminal romantic who loves to cook, has heaps of houseplants, is like six feet tall, and will absolutely demolish an asshole with her bare fists.

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

Don’t try to write to a trend, or to write what you think is popular. Books that come out today were bought by a publisher two years ago, and typically written a year before that, so those ‘trends’ are three years old. Write what sets your brain on fire. 

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

I am currently working on the third book in the Little Thieves trilogy, and I’ve got some exciting stuff I really hope to announce soon! But I can say Book 3 is going well. I have a calendar to track all the character deaths and make sure they’re appropriately spaced. It’s great.

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

I feel like if you haven’t read Aiden Thomas’s work yet, and I’m your introduction to him, we have failed as a society. Linsey Miller continues to be an ace of aces, and folks looking for queer fairytale shenanigans absolutely cannot go wrong with Laura Pohl!

Interview with Shannon C.F. Rogers, Author of I’d Rather Burn Than Bloom

Shannon C.F. Rogers is a multiracial American writer of Filipinx and European descent. Her work has appeared in Bodega Magazine, Newfound Journal, and on stage with Tricklock Company, Lady Luck Productions, and the UNM Words Afire Festival of New Plays. She earned her B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico and her MFA in Writing For Young People at Antioch University Los Angeles. She has served as an educator, after-school program director, and lost mitten finder at schools in Albuquerque, Chicago, and NYC, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM is her first novel.

I had the opportunity to interview Shannon, 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 a multiracial Filipinx-American writer based in Brooklyn, NY, and I grew up in Albuquerque, NM. I work in the education field and I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM is my debut novel.

What can you tell us about your debut book, I’d Rather Burn Than Bloom? What inspired this story?

It’s a story for teens (14+) about rage, loss, and learning to drive. The main character, Marisol Martin, is sixteen and grieving a parent, her mother, who dies suddenly in a car accident. Marisol blames herself for her mother’s death because they’d been in a huge fight right before it happened. Her story is one of personal growth – messy, and nonlinear, like grief really is. This book is inspired and informed by my own experiences with grief and growing up with a Filipina mom and a white American dad in the Southwest. Losing a parent is always traumatic, and for Marisol, she is also dealing with losing the parent who she feels was her only connection to her cultural heritage, which causes her to question her identity.

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

Reading was a big part of my life as a young person, I was at the library all the time, checking out the maximum number of books allowed. Writing flowed naturally from that. I wrote stories as a kid in Elementary school and that evolved to writing a lot of fanfiction when I was in high school– I wrote a self-insert Animorphs fanfiction with a word count that makes my eyes water, I wish I could still write that quickly and with so much abandon. Someone sent me a piece of fanart about it and I was over the moon. That was such a fun, magical time on the internet and my first experience being part of a writing community which I think is so crucial. I believe the reason I’m still drawn to writing for young people now, and about adolescence especially, is because it’s a time of life that’s about self-exploration and growth and change – all powerful ideas that still capture me as an adult reader and writer.

How would you describe your writing process?

I start with a character and see where that takes me, though my process is evolving to include more attention to structure earlier on in the drafting process, like outlining. It really makes life easier, I hate to say it, but it does. I’d describe my natural writing process as one that relies heavily on vibes, the vibes are very important and I love a book that really captures an elusive feeling and a mood, and ideas that are hard to articulate succinctly, ideas that need an entire book’s length of words to tease out. Because of this, I revise a lot. Like, a lot. I revised I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM more times than I can count, but that was the process I needed to use in order to figure out what I was really trying to say.

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

There are so many amazing stories I’ve read recently that resonated with me as a multiracial person, someone who feels very much in between – many more recently as opposed to when I was growing up, but that being said, back then I was searching for myself in every story and usually found something to grasp onto even if it wasn’t literal. I remember picking up The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw at my local library as a kid because of the image on the cover – it somehow communicated to me that the main character was an outsider. The Moorchild is about a fairy who grows up in the human world because she was switched with a human baby, and she never fits in. When she finds out the truth, she goes on this quest to get her family’s real daughter back. That struck me to my core as a kid. I think it was this feeling of not belonging, this feeling that your people are somewhere out there, that really resonated. As an adult, I’ve read so many amazing books about the experiences of young people that resonate with me, one that had a huge impact on me and my writing is Nicola Yoon’s THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR that places a romance in the context of family legacies impacted by the histories of colonization and immigration, which I so relate to, and also has a really interesting story structure, which showed me that you can be creative and take risks there.

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

Reflecting back, I can see that Miyazaki movies had a strong impact on me as a young person– Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke especially. I loved these stories that centered on girl protagonists and honored their feelings and inner worlds and also treated nature with so much respect and reverence. Creating a specific sense of place is really important to me in my writing. In the case of my debut novel, the setting of New Mexico is a key component in the story, both the physical landscape and its cultural history.

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

I love writing dialogue, that always flows the easiest for me, and I think that’s because my primary interest in fiction is character. Why are people like this? Why do we do all the weird things we do? I love listening to how people talk and how people say things they don’t mean at all or say things they mean by accident. The most difficult for me is plot and structure, distilling down the scope of the story and articulating it in a way that feels satisfying for the reader– I have to pay a lot of attention to that as I revise my many drafts!

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

Something I do is write out of order so that I can write something I can be successful with that day rather than get mired in writing a scene I’m struggling with for some reason. I used to waste a lot of time doing that before I realized that sometimes I really need to let things percolate, render in the background. There is a reason why “sleep on it” is very good advice, there is a great deal of subconscious work in writing and sometimes the best thing to do is just not write. Then, you might wake up the next day and realize you know just what to do.

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

Although it’s fiction, I think people can probably infer a lot about me from my work! I think maybe the fact that I’m left-handed doesn’t appear anywhere in my book– that’s one thing!

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)?

One element of the book that I loved writing that I haven’t talked about much yet is the impact of music on Marisol’s life and how closely tied to her friendships her experience with music is. When I was in high school the mixed tapes and burned CDs my friends gave me were life-changing. In the book, Marisol’s friends take her to some basement shows to see touring bands and it’s like opening up a whole new world in her city she didn’t know was there. I guess the question I’m dying to be asked is “what are your favorite local Albuquerque bands?” and I would say: Red Light Cameras, Self Neglect (which is my brother’s band), and Prism Bitch.

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

Honestly, the writing life is really hard, but don’t let that stop you! Just know that it’s really hard for everyone, but it’s something that you will get better at over time, and that is so satisfying. The time is going to pass anyway, you may as well spend it doing the thing you want to do. Focus on your work, about why you want to do it, what ideas you’re interested in, and that will take you a long way. Join a writing group with other writers you trust. Give their work your time and attention. You will grow together, and it will be beautiful.

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

My second book is currently scheduled to come out next summer from Feiwel & Friends! It’s another YA contemporary also set in Albuquerque, New Mexico! It’s a lot lighter and funnier than my debut in many ways (it centers on an aspiring stand-up comedian), but I would say it’s still pretty emotional (Sad Girl Summer remains the brand!).

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

So, so many great books on my shelves right now! I’ll mention a few other YA contemporary novels: THE NEXT NEW SYRIAN GIRL by Ream Shukairy, told in alternating perspectives between a Syrian-American teen, Khadija Shami, and the Syrian refugee her family takes in to live with them in Detroit, Leene Tahir – a really beautiful and nuanced story. MY HEART UNDERWATER by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo, which follows Fil-Am teen Cory Tagubio who is sent to live with her half-brother in the Philippines when her mother discovers her kissing her 25-year-old history teacher, Ms. Holden. I loved the exploration of Filipino familial duty in conflict with self-actualization and the tenderness and care Fantauzzo brings to the subject. BECOMING A QUEEN by Dan Clay is a heartbreaking yet very funny story about loss and coming of age which follows Mark Harris who begins to pursue drag as part of his healing and grieving process. Just lovely.

Additionally, for my book launch event I was lucky to be joined in conversation by author Yume Kitasei, whose debut book, THE DEEP SKY also just came out. This is a fascinating Sci-Fi thriller for adults that I just started reading – it follows Asuka Hoshino-Silva, a biracial Japanese-American who has been selected as one of a small crew of a spaceship bound to start a new civilization after climate collapse on earth. I’m also looking forward to reading FORGIVE ME NOT, by Jenn Baker, which explores family, forgiveness, and centers Violetta Chen-Samuels who is incarcerated as a juvenile defender, as well as THESE DEATHLESS SHORES by P.H. Low which is already on my TBR for 2024 – it’s a gender-bent retelling of Captain Hook’s origin story in an Southeast Asian-inspired setting.