Interview with F.T. Lukens, Author of Otherworldly

F.T. Lukens (they/them) is a New York Times bestselling author of YA speculative fiction including the novels Spell Bound, So This Is Ever After and In Deeper Waters (2022 ALA Rainbow Booklist; Junior Library Guild Selection) as well as other science fiction and fantasy works. Their contemporary fantasy novel The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Winner for YA fiction and won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction. F.T. resides in North Carolina with their spouse, three kids, three dogs, and three cats.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself to readers who might not know you yet?

Hello, I’m F.T. Lukens. I’m an author of queer YA speculative fiction. My previous works include So This Is Ever After and Spell Bound.

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

Otherworldly is a paranormal romance that blends elements of Faustian folklore and classical mythology in a contemporary fantasy setting. There are crossroads bargains, supernatural beings, liminal spaces, and a magical romance.

The inspiration was that I wanted to write a retelling and explore themes with different myths and folklore. I have always wanted to write a Faust-esque book because of a class I took in college. And magical bargains with dire consequences had started to appear in YA spaces again recently so it felt like a perfect time. I also relied on some classical myths and mythical figures as well as western European folklore to round out the worldbuilding.

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

The themes of young adult fiction—coming-of-age, finding yourself, making steps toward adulthood, making difficult choices—are themes to which most readers can relate. And I enjoy writing characters who are in that process of discovering themselves. As for romance, I am a fan of a good meet-cute and love writing them even if they are at times a meet-disaster. Also, I feel that books with a ‘happy ever after’ or a ‘happy for now’ are important for queer teens to be able to read and access as a part of YA shelves. It’s empowering to see queer characters thriving and overcoming odds in an adventure or romance.

How would you describe your creative process?

Honestly, it changes for each book. For Otherworldly, the process started with an idea for a specific scene between the two main characters. And from there I started brainstorming a narrative for how that scene would take place. However, I had started the novel as a high fantasy, more in the vein of So This Is Ever After but changed it to a contemporary fantasy. And when doing so, many of the details had to be altered, including that initial scene I had thought of. But the core of the story and relationships remained the same.

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

I’m a big believer that inspiration can come from anywhere at any time. I’m inspired by the authors that I read when I was a teen/young adult – Douglas Adams, Mercedes Lackey, Neil Gaiman—but I’m also inspired by authors who are my contemporaries. Like Ryan LaSala, Julian Winters, CB Lee, Beth Revis, Becky Albertali, etc.

For inspiration in general – I watch tons of movies and tv shows – especially anything speculative. I also read widely, not only fiction novels and comics, but non-fiction, newspaper/magazine articles, and the occasional social media app (though I’ve taken a huge step back over the past few years). I love browsing and similar websites and watching YT videos on various subjects. And I like to explore new music as well.

What are some of your favorite elements of bring a book to life? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

One of my favorite things to write are character interactions, relationships, and dialogue. I think it’s one of the aspects of writing where I excel.

One of the most challenging is conveying the picture or thought I have in my head to the page. Sometimes, I forget to add a detail or explain a concept because it makes sense to me and to the world I built in my mind. And there are times I don’t quite translate the idea to the page. Luckily, I have an amazing editor who assists with that process.

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?

Outlines! I’m a big fan of outlining. Recently, I’ve found that writing a detailed synopsis and then an outline of events through to the end has really helped with staying on task and following through. I also will utilize word sprints/timers and writing communities to help when I need encouragement. I use wordcount trackers because it’s helpful for my brain to see the numbers increase and to see the future finish line. And I like to envision the ‘happy ever after’ or ‘happy for now’ for the characters as well and it motivates me to give the characters that resolution.

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

I’m an avid crocheter and fiber artist and currently have too much yarn. I have a deep affinity for the characters of Nightwing and Spider-man from DC and Marvel respectively. I collect Funko Pops and action figures of both. I try to attend DragonCon in Atlanta every year as both an author and a fan.

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

I haven’t been asked about the research I did for Otherworldly. And I know it might seem weird that a paranormal romance book would require many hours of research, but it did. I re-read Chrisotpher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and did research on crossroads bargains in media and in other cultures. I re-read the myths of Eurydice and Orpheus. I refreshed my memory by reading about classical gods and goddesses to develop the characteristics of those in the world of Otherworldly. And I read tons of articles on folklore for specific references.

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

I would say to not give up. I know it can be difficult. Publishing is a challenging business and can be disheartening. But just keep writing, practicing, and developing your craft.

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

Yes. I just turned in a manuscript for my next YA novel. Currently, it’s titled The Future Tense and it’s pitched as Wednesday meets Heartstopper.

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

I mentioned a few above but I think readers should check out Jason June, Ryan LaSala, Julian Winters, CB Lee, Terry J. Benton-Walker, & Sophie Gonzales.

Interview with Dane Liu, Author of LaoLao’s Dumplings

Dane Liu believes in the power of stories to affirm, transport, and transform. Her debut for young readers FRIENDS ARE FRIENDS, FOREVER is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, a Kids Indie Next Pick, and a Best Book of the Year from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. It has been selected for national and international reading programs, including the Forest of Reading in Canada, the Panda Award in Asia, and the Gold House Book Club. As a writer, Dane hopes to empower young people to see the importance of their own stories and the beauty of sharing them.

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

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

I write books for young readers. My family and I live in a forest in the Pacific Northwest.

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

LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS is a picture book about intergenerational relationship, this food we love (dumplings!), and the different ways we show care. It is also a tribute to the North American communities of Chinatown and the relationships they nurture.

As a writer, what drew you to storytelling, specifically to picture books?

For me, storytelling is a game, a puzzle, a world to be constructed—character by character, scene by scene. It also helps me digest my own experiences and make sense of things. When my thoughts are heavy, I can unload them and let the paper help shoulder the weight. When my feelings are joyous, writing lets me live them twice. Then when we share our storytelling, we create a bond with someone else, a connection that wasn’t there before. Lucky for me, picture books connect me with our younger readers, though not only. I think the genre is for everyone. It is our easiest access to fine art.

What were some of your favorite picture book growing up? What are some of your favorite now?

I grew up in Northeastern China until my tween years. So I didn’t know picture books the way we know them here, until I became a parent. There are so many good picture books! I love MOLE IS NOT ALONE by Maya Tatsukawa, THE QUEEN IN THE CAVE by Júlia Sardà, THE WATER LADY by Alice B. McGinty and Shonto Begay, WHEN YOU CAN SWIM by Jack Wong, Mr. FIORELLO’S HEAD by Cecilia Ruiz, and DESERT QUEEN by Jyoti Rajan Gopal and Svabhu Kohli.

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

When I was a kid, there weren’t many stories about Asian girls in North America. Today (finally!), we see more and more books that center Asian kids, their families, and their many human layers, such as MEASURING UP by Lily LaMotte, WHILE I WAS AWAY by Waka T. Brown, STARGAZING by Jen Wang, THE TRYOUT by Christina Soontornvat, FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang, and Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee. I would love to see more stories that look at Asian families through the lens of humor.

How would you describe your general creative process?

When an idea comes, I write it down right away. I used to jot it on paper. These days, I use Notes on my phone to avoid misplacing it. LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS began in Notes as a dialogue between a girl and her grandmother. FRIENDS ARE FRIENDS, FOREVER began with my childhood memory of making paper-cut snowflakes and freezing them outside. Some ideas never go beyond Notes. But ones that stay with me, where the characters keep yapping in my ear and I see them in everything I do, become first drafts. Then I revise. I get feedback from my critique group and my agent. Then I revise some more.

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

I think everything is a source. Every thing can be the seed for a story. For me, being a creative is a lifetime practice of paying attention and growing those observations into something new.

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

My favorite is humor. The most challenging is also humor. When it works, humor deepens everything.

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

I love nature, and I love city. My husband and I live in a forest, but we met and married in New York City. I return often, including for LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS’ book launch, and it feels like home. I have two little kids. Our family of four is fluent in English, Mandarin, German, and French.

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)?

My mom and my kids are the inspiration for LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS. The exact moment was a conversation I overheard. A few years ago, my daughter asked Laolao if they could eat dumplings. It was a weeknight. There was no celebration. So my mom said, “Which tooth of yours craves my dumplings?” And my daughter answered, “All of them!” I wrote this exchange in Notes right away and grew the idea into a story.

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

Write foremost for yourself. You are the story’s first audience. The story (and this pursuit) isn’t working if you are not entertained. Read in the genre and widely. Stay observant. Write badly then rewrite. Join a critique group. Definitely join a critique group. Learn by giving and receiving feedback. Read more. Take risks with your storytelling. Repeat.

Writing takes guts, optimism, and persistence. It requires consistency, showing up at your keyboard and in your notebook. It takes confidence and humility, skill and luck, pushing and letting go. It takes passion, compassion, patience, and trust. Writing also gives. You know you are a writer, when you feel terrible not writing. When in that moment your story finally works, you feel indescribable joy. Being a writer has longevity when we accept what it takes and gives.

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

I am working on a board book, a chapter book series, a historical fiction picture book, a historical fiction middle grade, and a collaboration with an illustrator friend.

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

On my nightstand, there is LUNAR NEW YEAR LOVE STORY by Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham, MEXIKID by Pedro Martín, THE CREATIVE ACT by Rick Rubin, NEPANTLA (one of my favorite poetry collections), THE LIFTERS by Dave Eggers, and ONE MORE JAR OF JAM by Michelle Sumovich (my critique partner!) and Gracey Zhang. I also recommend books by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Tracy Subisak, ShinYeon Moon, Sophie Blackall, Sydney Smith, Lian Cho, Lynn Scurfield, Beatrice Alemagna, and Julie Flett.

Geeks OUT Highlights Ace Authors For International Asexuality Day

Today, April 6th is International Asexuality Day. To quote directly from their website, “IAD is a coordinated worldwide campaign promoting the ace umbrella, including demisexual, grey-asexual, and other ace identities.” We put together a round up of ace authors we interviewed for IAD in 2022 which you can find here. This year we would like to acknowledge this day by highlighting and promoting interviews we’ve conducted here at Geeks OUT with ace authors since our last round up, which are linked below.

Interview with Yilin Wang, Author of The Lantern and the Night Moths: Five Modern and Contemporary Chinese Poets in Translation

YILIN WANG 王艺霖 (she/they) is a writer, a poet, and Chinese-English translator. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, The Malahat Review, Grain, CV2, The Ex-Puritan, The Toronto Star, The Tyee, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. She is the editor and translator of The Lantern and Night Moths (Invisible Publishing, 2024). Her translations have also appeared in POETRY, Guernica, Room, Asymptote, Samovar, The Common, LA Review of Books’ “China Channel,” and the anthology The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories (TorDotCom 2022). She has won the Foster Poetry Prize, received an Honorable Mention in the poetry category of Canada’s National Magazine Award, been longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize, and been a finalist for an Aurora Award. Yilin has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and is a graduate of the 2021 Clarion West Writers Workshop.

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

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

Hello! Thank you so much for having me. I’m a queer Chinese diaspora writer, poet, literary translator, and editor living on the stolen and occupied lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-waututh nations (known colonially as Vancouver, Canada). I’m a genderqueer femme who is biromantic, demiromantic, and asexual. My book The Lantern and the Night Moths is forthcoming with Invisible Publishing available now.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Lantern and the Night Moths: Five Modern and Contemporary Chinese Poets in Translation? What inspired this project?

The Lantern and the Night Moths 灯与夜蛾 is my debut book. It contains a selection of poems by five modern and contemporary Chinese poets whose work collectively span the past century. Each poet’s work is accompanied by a short essay that I wrote, where I delve into what their work means to me personally, the translation process, and any literary, cultural, or sociopolitical contexts.

I first started translating Chinese poetry around six years ago, in a creative writing workshop during my MFA program, when I became frustrated that many of the stories and poems being studied in English and creative writing programs tend to be very Eurocentric in form and content. I started deliberately seeking out more Chinese literature to read—both in Mandarin and in translation.

While I found many translations of classical Chinese poetry, especially translations of poems written in the Tang dynasty, many of the collections are completed by Sinologists for niche, academic readerships. Others are often full of outdated, orientalist, and exoticizing language. For Chinese poetry in particular, there are even numerous “bridge translations”–translations where a writer who couldn’t actually read the original text simply adapted and rewrote a “literal translation,” presenting their own imagined version of a Chinese poem, without sensitivity for the original text’s emotional nuance, stylistic features, and surrounding context.   

Frustrated by this phenomenon and the underrepresentation of BIPOC heritage speaker translators, I drew on my skills as a poet and my multilingual background to start translating classical and modern Chinese poetry. I eventually decided to create an anthology that could serve as an accessible introduction to modern Sinophone poetry, aimed especially at members of the Sino diaspora, fellow writers and translators, and general readers interested in Chinese literature.

Regarding the five poets chosen for this project, what drew you to these specific names?

I have chosen the work of five poets who I each consider to be a literary zhīyīn 知音. The first poet included in the anthology, China’s first modern feminist poet, Qiu Jin 秋瑾, wrote frequently about her own longing for a zhīyīn. A zhīyīn literally means “someone who understands your music” or “someone who understands your songs.” The word is used to describe a close friend, a kindred spirit with shared ideals, a queerplatonic soulmate.

When I translate Qiu Jin’s work—and the work of the other poets I have chosen for the anthology—I feel like I am in conversation with fellow zhīyīn. While each poet has their own interests and styles, I see their work collectively as a series of ars poeticas on the art of modern poetry in Chinese. Through the anthology, I hope to introduce readers to a wide range of voices, from the feminist poet Qiu Jin 秋瑾 (who wrote at the end of the Qing dynasty) to the celebrated modernist poets Fei Ming 废名 and Dai Wangshu 戴望舒 (who wrote in the first half of the 20th century) to the talented contemporary poets Zhang Qiaohui 张巧慧 and Xiao Xi 小西.

Out of all five poets included, I especially have a soft spot in my heart for Qiu Jin’s poetry. As a genderqueer femme, I connect deeply with her words that reflected on women’s friendships and cross-dressing, subverted heteronormative views on relationships and marriage, and advocated tirelessly for gender equality. Folks interested in listening to me discuss her work can check out this podcast interview with The Ace Couple.

Translating is often described as an art and a science. How would you tend to describe it and your own relationship to the work of translating?

In the book, I try to foreground the invisible labour that translators do, work that is often overlooked and underappreciated. The first translator’s essay is written in the form of a letter addressed to the poet Qiu Jin. A letter is a very personal, intimate form of writing. I chose the format because I see translation as a dialogue, unfolding between the translator and the poet, between the source text and the target language, between the translation and its readers.

In another essay, I also discuss that while the art of writing is often compared to pregnancy and childbirth, the work of a translator is closer to that of a maternity nurse. “How does one go about bringing a literary text, so tender with warmth, vulnerabilities, and lyricism, into a distant, unfamiliar world that it might not be ready to encounter? I must guide it with gentle hands to ensure its spirit is kept alive and intact during this transformative, and often excruciating process.”

The book includes five essays on translation in total, where I share my personal journey as a translator, reflections on the process, anecdotes about the poets, and historical and sociopolitical contexts. I’m always curious about the creative practices of other poets and translators, so I hope these essays can be interesting and informative to others in a similar way.

In your bio, it states that you are “a big fan of wǔxiá and xiānxiá fiction, historical c-dramas, Classical Chinese poetry, and East Asian storytelling and narrative structures.” If you wouldn’t mind, I would love to hear any of those stories that you would consider to be some of your personal favorites?

I wrote a primer on wǔxiá fiction for SFWA’s bulletin before for folks who are not familiar with the genre. I always recommend folks to read Jin Yong’s Legend of Condor Heroes 射雕英雄传, which I consider to be a classic in the genre. I also enjoyed the 2017 c-drama adaptation of the same series. Some other favourite xiānxiá dramas include Journey of Flower 花千骨, Love Between Fairy and Devil 苍兰诀, and Once Upon a Time in Lingjian Mountain 从前有座灵剑山.

For folks who want to learn more about Chinese narrative structures, I strongly recommend Ming Dong Gu’s Chinese Theories of Fiction; it’s an academic book and fairly dense, but really insightful. It does an exceptional job providing a framework for thinking about Chinese narratives and story structures.

I would absolutely recommend The Lantern and the Night Moths to readers and audiences who are interested in c-dramas and Chinese media in general, because I consider poetry to be inseparable from Chinese popular culture. Many dramas regularly quote and allude to poems full of idioms and allusions, and understanding the poetry can really help audiences better appreciate Chinese dramas and films. While my book focuses on modern poetry, the poems do build on and engage with the classical poetry tradition, and folks interested in that can check out this bingo card that I created a while back to introduce folks to common tropes in Classical Chinese poetry.

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

I have so many influences, but I am a huge fan of Ken Liu’s work, both as a writer and translator. I love Gillian Sze’s book Quiet Night Think, which I re-read while working on this anthology. I also really enjoying reading a wide range of nonfiction on the art of translation; when I was fighting the British Museum over their misuse of my translations without permission, I drew strength and inspiration from the chapbooks Say Translation is Art by Sawako Nakayasu and Notes on Mother Tongues by Mirene Arsanios.

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

I’m currently working on translating a full-length collection of Qiu Jin’s poetry. She wrote over two hundred poems during the thirty-one years of her life, and I’d like to translate a selection of her most representative and powerful poems to share them with more readers. I’m also working on a collection of my own poems about multilingualism, translation, and Sino diaspora experiences.

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

Some poetry books written in English I’d recommend are Isabella Wang’s Pebble Swing, Grace Lau’s The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak, Larissa Lai’s Iron Goddess of Mercy, and Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche. For readers who understand Mandarin, I recommend 同在一個屋簷下:同志詩選, an anthology of queer Taiwanese poetry.

Header Photo Credit Divya Kaur

Dungeons, Drag Queens, D20: A Journey to the Underworld

Just in Case Disclaimer: This is a post about stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race appearing on an independent channel where comedians play RPGs. In case you did not realize this already, the language and references can get salty.

Have you watched all of Critical Role and don’t know how to get your RPG fix? Got behind on RPDR and want some new references to keep in your back pocket for trivia? Do you enjoy drag and/or RPGs? Check out D20, Dungeons and Drag Queens.

Still not sure? check out this trailer.

So, lets get started and say, “Hello Questing Queens!”

Welcome Adventurers to “Dungeons and Drag Queens,” where the worlds of drag and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) collide in a fabulous campaign hosted by the ever-charismatic Brennan Lee Mulligan. Like Monet’s foundation, Brennan lays the character on thick.

In this Dimension 20 adventure, four iconic queens from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” embark on a quest to the Underworld, each bringing their unique flair and talents to the table.

The Queens of the Campaign

Bob the Drag Queen as Gertrude: The Wise Witch of the Woods

Bob the Drag Queen, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 8, brings her comedic genius and charismatic personality to the role of Gertrude, a sardonic and powerful witch. Known for her sharp wit and ability to command attention, Bob infuses Gertrude with a sense of humor and depth that adds layers to the character’s solitary existence and magical prowess.

Alaska Thunderfuck as Princess: The Towering Orc Warrior

Alaska Thunderfuck, an icon from Season 5 and winner of “All Stars” Season 2, steps into the armored shoes of Princess, an orc with a penchant for pink and a heart as big as her stature. Alaska’s flair for the dramatic and her larger-than-life persona translate seamlessly into Princess’s bold and fearless approach to both fashion and combat.

Monét X Change as Troyánn: The Merfolk-Assassin with a Mission

Monét X Change, co-winner of “All Stars” Season 4, embodies the role of Troyánn, a determined assassin with a complex heritage. Monét’s regal presence and versatility shine through in Troyánn’s dedication to her task and the emotional depth she brings to her quest for redemption and truth.

Jujubee as Twyla: The Fierce Fairy with a Fiery Spirit

Jujubee, a beloved figure from Seasons 2 and 5, and “All Stars” Seasons 1 and 5, well known for one of the most epic reads in RPDR herstory (IYKYK) takes flight as Twyla, a fairy with a passion for dance and a fierce determination to restore her realm. Jujubee’s charm, wit, and resilience are reflected in Twyla’s spirited fight to protect her people and her unwavering belief in hope.

The Quest to the Underworld

Each queen has a personal wish to be granted by the Queen of the Underworld, leading them to form an unlikely alliance. Gertrude seeks a new beginning away from the dangers of witch hunters, Princess yearns to resurrect her slain family, Troyánn aims to uncover the truth about her mother’s pact, and Twyla hopes to restore the Fey realm. Together, they travel the Gallows Road, facing challenges and uncovering secrets that will test their strength, resolve, and friendship.

The Journey Ahead

“Dungeons and Drag Queens” is more than just a campaign; it’s a celebration of diversity, creativity, and the power of storytelling. As these queens embark on their journey to the Underworld, they remind us that the worlds of drag and D&D are not just compatible, but complementary, offering a space where identity is celebrated, and every roll of the dice tells a story of courage, camaraderie, and fabulousness.

So, grab your dice, adjust your wig, and your nails (because if you don’t have nails are you really doing drag?) , beat your face to the gods, then roll for Charisma (there are no specific rolls for Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent) and prepare for a journey that’s as fabulous as it is fantastical. This show made me laugh (including the always embarrassing snort laugh) it made me cry, it gave me all of the feels.

There’s character development, action, amazing miniatures and set work, outstanding improv, and a whole lot of shade. With Brennan Lee Mulligan at the helm and a cast of queens ready to slay, “Dungeons and Drag Queens” promises to be an adventure like no other.

Title Image and blog post include promotional images from Dimension 20, used under the principles of fair use for the purposes of commentary, criticism, and discussion. Dimension 20, Dropout:, and its related marks are trademarks of their respective owners, and their use in this post does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

Interview with Michael Paramo, Author of Ending the Pursuit: Asexuality, Aromanticism and Agender Identity

Michael Paramo is a Xicanx researcher, writer, poet, and artist born and raised in the suburbs of southern California (on Tongva land) in a Mexican-American family. They created AZE in 2016, a platform that publishes the writing and artwork of asexual, aromantic, and agender authors. AZE has been recognized for its work in books and by several universities, whilst Paramo’s own writing has been published in the Video Game Art Reader and cited in the Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling. Their visual art has been published in the University of New Mexico’s Blue Mesa Review and they release music under the name COZMECA.

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

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

Thank you! I am a queer Mexican-American researcher, writer, and visual artist. I grew up in Orange County, California on the traditional and unceded territory of the Tongva people. My research and creative work broadly focuses on interconnectivity, transformation, and hybridity in the modern/colonial world. Aside from writing and visual artwork, I have also recently developed an interest in creating music, which I do under the name COZMECA.

What can you tell us about your first book, Ending the Pursuit: Asexuality, Aromanticism and Agender Identity? What was the inspiration for this project?

Ending the Pursuit is a book examining asexuality, aromanticism, and agender identity that calls for a deconstruction of the dominant ways we imagine sex, romance, gender, intimacy, love, and relationships. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of this task. One chapter aims to deconstruct the idea that how we think about attraction should always be firstly sexual or romantic. Another chapter examines how some of our ideas about romantic love and desirability are influenced by colonial discourses that upheld myths of racial hierarchy. The book also features a lot of poetry sprinkled throughout as a place for readers to reflect on the subjects in a different, more creative, manner.

The book was inspired from my work with AZE, an online journal publishing the written and artistic works of asexual, aromantic, and agender people. When I first created the journal in 2016, I never imagined a book emerging out of it. However, as the journal evolved from a platform primarily focused on asexuality, I began to recognize the connections between asexual, aromantic, and agender experiences more readily. I realized that there was a lot left to be said about how these identities each destabilize dominant expectations of sex, romance, and gender. This motivated me to undertake the writing of Ending the Pursuit in order to consolidate all of my thoughts in one place.

As an author what drew you to writing?

What drew me most to writing was its potential to bring structure to conceptual thoughts that I wanted to express. It became a way for me to respond to the world around me and process my feelings in a deeper, more reflexive way. Poetry in particular has always flowed out of me more readily than analytical writing, the latter of which tends to be a more painful and slow leakage.

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

When I was young, I was directed by my mother to read children’s storybooks with vibrant illustrations and themes that focused on fostering creativity, such as Harold and the Purple Crayon and Mouse Paint. I also worked through various craft books, where I was instructed to cut and paste expressive objects together, some of which remained fixtures of our household during holidays. These gestures made me feel like my creativity was supported by my family as a child, which excited my capacity to express myself. Lately I find myself researching various aspects of how colonialism has damaged the human imagination. Many of these historical accounts that I am drawn to have come to influence my creative work. I have often felt compelled to create works that focus on remembering the past that informs our present.

How would you describe your general creative process?

I tend to create intuitively, with an openness to being guided rather than trying to predetermine what is to come from the process. I sometimes might revisit a work months or even years later to continue its evolution in a new direction that I had not previously foreseen. Dwelling in the unknown of what is to come is essential to my creative process.

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?

Music is my biggest source of inspiration and motivation in my work. If the music I am listening to stimulates my artistic spirit, then it guides me into a state of mind where being creative is more accessible to me. Some albums that have been influential to me in this way are Björk’s Vespertine, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Kelela’s Raven, and Shygirl’s Nymph.

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

I enjoy writing when I feel like I can swim in an idea through words. I enjoy discovering how writing can be a space for my imagination to relieve itself. This is what I consider to be theoretical writing. Conversely, writing becomes frustrating when I am being compelled to write for approval. It is in these instances that writing becomes constrained by other people’s perceptions and the task becomes monotonous.

What are some things for someone who is still new to asexuality/aromanticism/agender identity you would want people to take away from this interview?

I want people to remember that the human experience is broader than we have been led to believe. There are certain sexual, romantic, and gendered expectations that have been placed upon us that make it seem like it is impossible for people to not experience sexual attraction, not desire a romantic relationship, or not fit within the gender binary. However, acknowledging the vastness of human experience includes acknowledging that asexuality, aromanticism, and agender identity are possible.

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

Nature is a very strong grounding force in my life that has encouraged me to stabilize myself in the modern/colonial world. The ocean has helped me feel peace. Just standing in the shoreline waters can relieve me of any deep stress or anxiety that has been incubating inside of me. Being in the presence of massive ancient trees, such as coastal and giant redwoods, is another way I try to relax myself.

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 has been most supportive to you in helping make your work possible?

My mother has been the biggest supporter of my work. She has repeatedly encouraged me to continue being creative and has helped me establish a stronger sense of confidence in my voice. I would also like to thank my father for his financial support and my brother for being a close friend to me. There have also been many supportive people who have propelled my work forward at different times in my life that I would like to thank, including Susie Woo, Joelle Owusu, and Pilar Riaño-Alcala.

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

  1. Find and keep searching for music and art that relaxes you and puts you in a place where you feel you can express yourself creatively.
  2. Don’t create to get published or to pursue validation from others, not only because this places undue weight on acceptance or rejection from others, but also because this can deeply cloud the creative process.
  3. Build your body of work. Although everyone works at a different pace, try not to dwell too long on one particular work trying to pursue some idea of perfection. Try to remain open to whatever comes to you creatively.

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

I am working on my dissertation that will examine and expand upon the hybrid methodology I employed in Ending the Pursuit, where I interweaved memoir, poetry, and historical research. I intend to also focus on the incorporation of visual artwork and soundscapes toward the development of critical reflection in my dissertation. I believe the purpose is to explore how such a hybrid critical and creative exploratory approach can foster a deeper understanding of ourselves in relation to complex social issues.

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

Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture by Sherronda J. Brown

Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison