Interview with author L.C. Rosen

A writer for all ages, L.C. Rosen (otherwise known as Lev Rosen) is the author of Young-Adult books Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) as well as the upcoming novel Camp coming out on May 26th that you can pre-order here. Known for their sex positively and deconstruction of toxic masculinity, Rosen’s books are unapologetically queer, as quoted to give “queer kids own voices queer writing. So they can see THEMSELVES, and not their reflection in straight culture’s eyes. Let queer kids see themselves as messy, and making mistakes and HUMAN.” L.C. Rosen lives in New York with his husband and cat.

Geeks OUT’s own Michele Kirichanskaya had the privilege to ask Rosen some questions about their previous and upcoming work.

When and how did you first realize you wanted to become an author?

I’ve been writing my entire life.  At my 8th grade “graduation” the teachers gave me a little wizard figure and told me I was a “wizard with words” and was sure to be a writer.  I still have it!  I’ve just always loved stories and making up stories.  I honestly feel like I never had a choice in the matter.  Oh, except lawyer.  Dad really wanted me to be a lawyer (like him).  I think I made the right decision.  

What was the inspiration for Camp?

The real starting inspiration was this desire to do a contemporary queer YA version of a 1960s Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedy.  I have no idea where that desire came from (probably watching Down With Love over and over), but once it was in my brain, I fussed around with it until I realized that instead of a battle of the sexes, it could be a battle of the masc/femme.  And these movies always have a playboy pretending to be a romantic to woo a romantic woman, but then they actually become a romantic!  But that alone felt like an unpleasant motivation.  So I mixed up the elements a bit – a romantic pretending to be a butch to win the supposed love of his life felt like a modern queer interpretation of those elements.  But once I started writing it, I realized I needed to sort of get to the heart of Hudson’s masc4masc mentality and if Randy really feels like it’s love if he’s pretending to be different, and it opened itself up to more complexity.  

In 2019, the Met held an exhibition called Camp: Notes on Fashion, inviting a variety of artists and performers to provide their own interpretation on the word. In your book we see multiple meanings of the word. What’s your take on Camp?

Oh man, how much time you got?  First, I think telling people to dress camp is an act of pure sadism.  Being told to do camp means you can’t really do camp, because camp is about expectations and playing with them, so it’s defined by context.  Doing drag on a camp runway isn’t camp.  Doing drag at your grandmother’s funeral is.  So because of the expectations of camp, these poor guests were being told to do a camp version of camp, which involves playing with the idea of camp itself.  I thought Lady Gaga did an ok job of it, but she did that by making it about her performance: the changing of outfits, the parading in front of the cameras.  Celine Dion did it by becoming a camp version of Celine Dion.  She was making fun of her own image, toying with it.  But for the most part, I thought the outfits didn’t suit the nearly-impossible challenge. 

As for the exhibit itself, I wished they’d provided more context.  It felt like they were saying “look, this outfit has a big collar – that’s camp, right?”  But again, it’s about context – show us what this outfit was playing with in the context of when it was created.  As for why it’s the title of my book – it wasn’t originally.  This was a title by committee situation, as often happens with books.  But I like it because it has a lot of meaning – not just the summer camp location – but the idea of the performance of gender.  That butching it up is just as camp as a drag look.  At one point in the book, Randy even puts on a “masc fashion show” for his bunkmates, mixing up his outfits to look butcher as they shout stuff like “she almost passes” and “Ooooh, honey, butch!” – it’s masculinity as a drag show.  That’s why the title works for me.  Everyone is camping up their identity – even if it’s a false one.  

If the characters of your books could interact with any other fictional universe, which universe would it be? Which characters from that universe would you be most interested in seeing your characters interact with?

I’m going back to my inspiration here, and saying Down With Love.  Randy, George and maybe Ashleigh would worship the way Barbara and Vikki dress, enter a room, walk, talk.  It would be hilarious.  I’d love to see that crossover.  

In a previous interview with i-D, you talked a little about the disparity between Own Voices m/m fiction and that which is written by female (often cis-het) authors? Can you expand on this?

I think that own voices m/m work in YA is something that often gets overlooked and is actually really important and vital.  The way I look at it, an author’s first audience is almost always themselves.  When you write about someone who isn’t like you (as a main character), you have to ask yourself why you want to write about them.  And I think when people who aren’t queer write queer men, the answer is often fetishizing or exploitative.  Plenty of m/m writers who aren’t queer men talk openly about how m/m makes more money, so they focus their attention there.  Or how they think m/m romance is hot (the same way straight men would say lesbian porn is hot).  When you’re writing for adults, that doesn’t matter much, because adults usually have a sense of their own sexuality in relation to the outside world, have a sense of their own identity.  But when you’re talking about teenagers, who are still figuring out how the world sees them, if they look for that in a book that was written by someone who wrote about people like the teenager just because it turns them on, or because it makes them money, then that view is going to be in the writing, and it’s how the teenager is going to end up seeing themself.  They’re going to fetishize themselves, or see themselves as an object for straight people to tell stories about, as opposed to someone with their own stories to tell.  Authenticity is important because it tells queer teens about what being queer is really like.  And that’s not to say non-gay men shouldn’t write stories about gay men, but I think it requires a real examination of their motives and a willingness to make someone else the first audience and put their own viewpoints as secondary, which is difficult.  It means doing the work, and talking to queer men about their experiences, and how they see themselves and how the world sees them.  And it means not just writing about gay men because you think it’s fun or hot or whatever.  If you want to do that and keep it in a journal, fine, I won’t kink shame.  But if you’re doing it to be published and read by queer teens, then you’re essentially telling queer teens that they exist for your pleasure or to make money off of.  That’s not cool.  

In both your books, Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) and Camp, you talk about the prominence of femme shaming of queer men, even within the queer community itself. How is this topic relevant for you as well as relevant for the YA audience?

I think a lot of gay men grew up thinking that being gay meant behaving in a specific way, and if they were like me, they resented that, and so tried to prove we were more than just the vapid stereotypes we saw on TV, and which our peers expected of us.  But the truth is, that’s just straight people telling gay people what being gay is: either you’re a stereotype, or you’re a “real person” – which means you act the way straight people do, defined by the patriarchy and obsolete gender roles.  

In Jack of Hearts, I wanted to show the way straight culture punishes gay men for having the nerve to be both a stereotype and full-fledged human, and I wanted readers to see someone who acted like a “bad gay” but was a complicated and good person.  But with Camp I want to play with the way gay people can internalize that and then become enforcers of the patriarchy ourselves.  I thought a lot about the idea of the “Special Gay.”  That is, gay men who come out, and whose homophobic parents or friends tell them “I don’t like gay people aside from you – you’re special, you don’t act like the rest of them.”  When you’re a teenager and your parents or friends tell you that, you start clinging to that identity because you know the moment you wander from it, you’ll be rejected by the people you depend on.  You internalize it – it becomes the most important thing about you: “I’m gay, but I’m not like those other gays.  I’m special.”  And when you start looking for romance, you know that you need to find someone else who fits those standards too, otherwise this potential partner will be rejected by your loved ones, or worse, they’ll see your choice in partner as a reflection of you and reject you.  So I wanted to play with that idea – that behaving a certain way, for queer teens, is needed to survive.  And in both Camp and Jack, what I’m really talking about is how coming out isn’t the end of a story.  It’s not a happy resolved thing like a lot of books and movies want us to believe.  One you’re out, you still experience homophobia – often even from people who love you, and that shapes the way you see your queerness.  Coming out is just a first step.  Not a happy ending.  

What do you wish to see for the future of YA?

More diversity, of course, especially in terms of authors.  More diversity in terms of where YA takes place.  More queer communities in YA, instead of just one or two queer kids with mostly straight friends.  More sex-positive YA.  More YA that says “there’s no wrong way to be queer.”  

Finally, are there any LGBTQ+ authors and/or books that have inspired you and your own work? Can you recommend any titles or authors for other readers?

Oh man, I have so many recommendations!  I’m going to limit myself to three.  Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, which is coming out soon and I had the pleasure of reading early, is this amazing queer adventure novel – essentially imagine queer kids shipped to a conversion camp on the island from Lost fighting to escape.  Julian Winters most recent book, How to Be Remy Cameron, is all about shedding labels, which is a topic dear to my heart.  And I am CRAZY excited for The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig, which I haven’t read yet, but is gay vampires and Roehrig does suspense so well I’m sure it’s going to be a bloodsucking delight.  

Interview: Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee uses her BA in history and her MFA in writing in increasingly engaging ways: after writing This Monstrous Thing, her Gothic fantasy retelling of Frankenstein, and her New York Times bestseller The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, she published Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World, a gorgeously illustrated collection of short biographies of little-known women from history, based on a series she started on Twitter. Her forthcoming novels include the sequel to The Gentleman Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Semper Augustus (coming in 2019 from Flatiron/Macmillan), and an untitled novel about Loki being queer (date TBD from Marvel). So naturally, we wanted to learn more about her!


Before you became a full-time author, you earned a BA in history and worked as an amateur historian. How did you transition from your academic pursuits to writing fiction?


Very easily because my writing was so not suited for academia! I had a professor who told me that my papers read like novels—which was not okay as a history student, but maybe I should consider writing historical fiction. So I was already writing that way. But when I started writing fiction, I also got to make things up! The biggest difficulty with the transition was feeling like I was giving up on my career as a historian. I had been working for so long on that degree and walking away from it felt like a huge gamble. Betting on yourself is hard and scary!


Were there any writers in particular who inspired you to make this transition?


I loved Shannon Hale’s books when I was a kid, and rereading her books as an adult was what really inspired me to pursue writing.


How much does your passion for history—and research—inform your writing?


Most of my books start with a historical phenomenon or weird fact or person that I become obsessed with. With This Monstrous Thing, it was Mary Shelley. With Gent’s Guide, it was the Grand Tour. For me, it always starts with history.


History (at least Western history) is dominated by straight, able-bodied, cisgender, white, male narratives? How do you challenge this or subvert it in your work?


I believe that everywhere in history that we are told white men are doing things, there were also women, minorities, queer people, disabled people, etc. doing the exact same thing… We just don’t talk about those stories. But they’re out there! You have to look for them, but they’re there! I try and subvert this narrative in the best way I can—by putting these characters in my books and giving them plot lines and identities that extend beyond their marginalization.


Can you tell us about your upcoming project with Marvel about Loki, a character whose canon pansexuality and gender fluidity has thus far been conspicuously underrepresented?


I actually can’t. I’m not allowed to say anything about the book right now! Sorry! But soon…


Are there any other works in progress that we can look forward to?


I have a book coming out at some point in the future called Semper Augustus, which is set in Holland in the 1600s. I also have two more books with Marvel about other anti-heroes. Stay tuned!


Recently there has been news from Variety, that Greg Berlanti, a very successful and openly queer film and television producer optioned your book as a potential project. How do you feel about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue possibly being adapted into a queer historical television narrative?


It’s absolutely wild to me. There are still a lot of hoops to jump through before the show actually arrives on screen, but as someone who has long been frustrated by BBC period dramas with queer characters relegated to tragic subplots, it’s amazing to be part of this incredible movement forward toward more representation.

Interview: Erica Friedman

Erica Friedman is the Founder of Yuricon, a celebration of yuri (lesbian-themed) anime and manga held in New Jersey from 2003 to 2007 that now exists as an online entity,  as well as the founder of ALC Publishing. She describes herself as an LGBTQ and Geek Marketing Consultant, and a proud holder of a Masters degree in Library Science. Last year, Geeks OUT welcomed her as a presenter at Flame Con, and we finally caught up with her to learn more about what she does and why she does it.


As the founder of Yuricon, how would you describe the responsibilities of your profession?


Yuricon as a community was founded almost 20 years ago on Usenet. We’ve had community spaces on every social platform since then—we had a mailing list that was founded in 2001 that we just closed up last year, MySpace, LiveJournal, now obviously Facebook, and I’m kind of thinking of starting up a Slack, but I’d need to get more admins than just me. I’ve run events in the USA and in Tokyo and traveled to events all over the world.


So a lot of what I’ve always done is promote and share and talk with folks wherever they happened to be, online or off. These days I most promote yuri by speaking at conventions (I was at Flame Con last year), school, and organizations.


How does yuri distinguish itself from other international queer female-centered comics, like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color?


Yuri is a genre of Japanese media, specifically manga and anime. Our Yuricon definition of yuri is “yuri can describe any anime or manga series (or other derivative media, i.e.: fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the perception of the audience. In short, Yuri is any story with lesbian themes.”


What are your current favorite examples of yuri manga (or other media)?


Most of my top series aren’t out in English, like Collectors by Nishi Uko or Gunjo by Nakamura Ching. But I recommend Sweet Blue Flowers, by Takako Shimura from Viz Media and Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl by Canno from Yen Press, which are out in English. In fact, I have a whole category of English manga on my blog Okazu and a category for Top Series of each year for folks who want some titles to take a look at.


In any fandom, there’s a bias toward male-centered narratives, even within queer fandom. Why do you think this is?


Men largely hold the social, political and financial power in all facets of society. They’ve got the purse strings, so obviously they dictate the terms. This is true globally. It’s not really anything to do with straight or gay. When women have equal access to money, they will tell their stories. As we’ve started to see in film. A lot of the editors in Japanese manga are women, but men run the companies.


Currently, there are several queer-themed anime events all over the country (because so much of the fandom in the US is queer folk) but relatively little canonically queer anime being produced. How do you think we can bridge this gap?


There’s so much more queer-interest anime than ever before. I mean, like amazing amounts. Yuri series Asagao to Kase-san (published in English as Kase-san) and Morning Glories by Seven Seas) is getting an anime OVA theatrical release in Japan, Yuri comedy Love to Lie Angle is out now and is streaming free and legally on Crunchyroll, Yagate Kimi ni Naru (Bloom into You in English from Seven Seas) has just been green-lighted as an anime. That’s three major releases in one year. That’s amazing.


But like the previous question, the answer is: money. The presumed market for anime is men. Straight men. Just like the presumed market for movies in the USA is men. It doesn’t matter that women make up a huge portion of the existing market and there’s an untapped market, white men make movies for white men, and do not understand how to react when movies about black people do well. When something like Free! makes a ton of money in Japan, the male-run studios make another Boy’s Love-ish series and then squeeze that stone. They don’t open up a division to make a dozen BL-audience appealing anime.


The US audience is not making anime, so we cannot change anything in relationship to this. As fans we can buy what we want to see more of. It lets the companies know what the market wants. That is the only power of influence fandom has.


How would you describe the current culture of LGBTQ fandom in the US? Is it different now then it was when Yuricon first originated?


It’s different of course. One of the things we’ve achieved in these last two decades is the creation of a whole new genre! Twenty years ago, yuri did not exist as a separate genre. It was assumed to be the opposite side of the coin from BL, which it isn’t. BL is a genre that has an assumed homogeneous audience of straight women, where yuri came in different forms, with different tropes from all of the different demographic genres of manga. So BL tropes exist to appeal to one specific audience, and yuri tropes appeal to various audiences varying ways.


The fandom has itself changed in age and identity. Younger people are more likely to identify as queer, less likely to have negative feelings about gender and sexuality in media. Anime fandom has mostly been young and open, in my experience, but it’s even more so, now.


How much do you believe queer representation in manga and anime is realistic or authentic in its portrayals of women?


It entirely depends on the individual story. Even the most ridiculous story can get it right and the most realistic story can get it wrong. Manga by and for women don’t always get it “right” for all women, either. I read a lot of josei (manga by and for adult women) and, for the purposes of the plot, people make idiotic choices all the time.

Interview: Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki is an artist and writer of mixed Japanese Canadian and Jewish Canadian descent, known for her graphic novels Skim and This One Summer (co-created with her cousin Jillian Tamaki). Recurring themes in her work include becoming, identity, and queerness. Since 2016, she’s been writing for both DC and Marvel  on comics like She-Hulk and Supergirl: Being Super, and her English language translation of the queer coming-of-age story Luisa: Now and Then (by French writer and illustrator Carole Maurel) was released today by Humanoids. This August, she’ll be joining Geeks OUT as a special guest at Flame Con, so we wanted to get to know her a bit better before then!


For several years, you’ve collaborated with your cousin, artist Jillian Tamaki, on books like Skim and This One Summer. What is the creative process like for you working with family? Are there any challenges that are unique to working with a familial relation?


I imagine pretty much all collaborations have unique elements. There is a part of our connection that is familial, in that we have very similar senses of humor, I think, and some very Tamaki sensibilities.  Mostly I, certainly, have always trusted Jillian to do her thing (which she does exceptionally well) and mostly our publisher has let us do things the way we need to do them, so that’s awesome.


Throughout much of your career, queerness has been a prominent (or at least recurring) theme of your work. As a queer woman yourself, how much of your own experiences do you incorporate into your fiction writing?


I’m not sure sometimes if I default to a queer experience because I am queer or if it is because I specifically want to see more queer content out there.  I think it’s always a little bit of both.  I try not to overthink it.  I try to write the story I want to write and see how that pans out.  Definitely if I am writing something that feels completely straight, I’ll sew some queerness in there, because queerness is always there. It’s like when you’re writing a cityscape, you need to write in the characters that would be there.  To me, not doing that is more of a choice.


My first introduction to your work was Skim, the graphic novel about a young girl named Kimberly Keiko Cameron, set against themes of first love, mental illness, and suicide. What was the creative inspiration behind this work?


I just pictured this character one day who had a broken arm because she had tripped over a candleholder that was part of her Wiccan altar.  I was sitting on the bus and I just had that image so clearly I was like, “I bet that’s a book.” Once I started writing it everything sort of just fell into place. I’d always wanted to use my experience in a private all girls school for something, so this seemed like that place to do it.


There’s a recurring theme in your stories of characters coming-of-age stories. Why do you gravitated toward this particular narrative?


I don’t necessarily mean to write “coming-of-age” stories. I am interested in the mechanics, the experiences, that go into the things we take for granted, like identity, like being a girl or boy or neither, like being smart or funny.  All that stuff.  We are all always becoming the things we are.  That doesn’t stop when you turn 20, but it’s incredibly potent when you’re a teenager.  And potency makes for good stories.  So there you are.


What is the most significant way your more personal work differs from your work on comics like She-Hulk?


Generally, until I wrote She-Hulk, very few of my characters were green or grey. Also, writing for superhero comics, you’re writing into a world, you’’re writing against the backdrop of a genre, which is sort of always there no matter what you’re writing.  So it affects what you write in a myriad of little ways.  It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.  I want my mainstream comics work to feel like it’s coming from me, but I also want it to be a part of the larger whole of mainstream comics.


Do you have any favorite queer authors or books you can recommend?


Right now I’m recommending Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters.  I know Maurice Vellekoop is working on a graphic memoir to that will be published by Pantheon Books.  I have seen bits of it and it is amazing.  I loved Molly Ostertag’s Witch Boy and I’m thoroughly enjoying Moonstuck series by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle.  I could go on.


Do you have any new ideas or projects for us to look forward to?


I have a book coming out in 2019 with Rosemary Valero-O’Connell called Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me.  I’m working with Juan Cabal on X-23 for Marvel.  I have a Harley Quinn graphic novel with DC Ink with Steve Pugh called Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass.  My third book with Abrams for our Lumberjanes series with Brooklyn Allen is called The Good Egg and I am so excited for people to read it.  And I’m currently writing a YA murder mystery, but I’m not sure what the title will be yet, so look out for that.