Interview with Author Steven Salvatore

Steven Salvatore (they/them and he/him) is a gay, genderqueer author, writing professor, Mariah Carey lamb, and Star Wars fanatic. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. They currently live in Peekskill, New York, with their amazingly patient husband, whose name is also Steve. They are the author of CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY and AND THEY LIVED…. They are also the co-founder of Pride Book Fest. Steven is represented by Jess Regel of Helm Literary Agency.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m honored to here! My name is Steven Salvatore and I’m a gay, genderqueer (they/them and he/him) author—my debut CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY came out this past March, 2021, and my next novel AND THEY LIVED… comes out this coming March 8, 2022. I’m are also the co-founder of Pride Book Fest. I spend most of my time daydreaming about all the stories floating around inside my head. Honestly, if I could live inside my stories, I would. That’s kind of how I write: Embody my main characters, walk around in their heads, do what they would do. Thankfully, it hasn’t gotten me in trouble yet, but maybe that’s because so many of my main characters tend to share my same obsessions: Like, Carey Parker in CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, I’m obsessed with Mariah Carey. Like Chase Arthur in AND THEY LIVED…, I’m a Disneynerd. Like the main character in my 2023 release A SUPERCUT OF US, I’m a Star Wars fanatic. I could go on and go, but basically, if you want to know who I am, read my books and meet my main characters and that’ll tell you everything you need to know. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to Young Adult Fiction?

I’ve been writing stories since I was eight years old (that’s as far back as I can remember, anyway.) I started by writing The Lion King fanfiction, and eventually that lead to me trying to write original stories. It took me a long time to hone my craft, though. I got my undergraduate degree in writing, and went on to get my MFA in creative writing, but I had to really work hard to improve to get to where I am today, where I can more easily tell the stories I want to tell; a lot of that had to do with my identity because I lied to myself and suppressed who I was for such a long time that my stories felt like they were lying or that they just existed on the surface of something much, much deeper. Once I came out, I was able to start writing my truth, and as I continued to explore my genderqueerness I really came into myself as a storyteller.

I was first exposed to YA in undergrad in a children’s literature writing course, and the voice of YA drew me in. It felt raw and honest and chaotic and straightforward in a way that adult literary fiction just wasn’t. Now, you see more voice-y adult commercial fiction being published, but that wasn’t the case 15 years ago. 

Where did the inspiration and the impetus to write your debut book, Can’t Take That Away, come from? What about for your upcoming book, And They Lived…?

When I started CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, I was processing my own complicated relationship with gender and realizing that I’m genderqueer. It started when I was teaching a creative writing course in the spring of 2018 and I decided to participate in the free-write prompt I gave my students. Carey Parker appeared on the page in their therapist’s office, holding a pair of ruby red slippers that were destroyed. I knew immediately who they were: a diva without a stage. I didn’t know the full story yet, but Carey was the person I wanted to be in high school. I imagined what it would have been like if I knew all aspects of my identity in high school and as I wrote, I channeled all my thoughts and feelings and experiences into Carey and their story.

AND THEY LIVED… has a slightly different origin story. The main character, Chase Arthur, has existed in my mind since I was 15-years-old. He was my way of escaping the world around me. And I’ve tried to write his story so many times over the years but could never get it right. Then I realized that his story is not just his story, but his story with his first love, Jack, who is based on the first person I fell in love with. It didn’t go the way I had hoped, so this was a way for me to rewrite my past and give myself and my version of Jack our happily ever after.

Like Ali Stroker’s book The Chance To Fly reimagines Wicked with a disabled lead, you also reimagine a more diverse portraying of the Broadway musical, this time with a genderqueer lead. What do you think your book has to say about musical theater, both its power, limitations and possibility for reinvention?

I think the beauty of musical theater is the energy and creativity and power of the live performance structure. The obvious limitations—the fact that everything exists on one stage, in the performances and dialogue, and is person-made as opposed to computer effects—are its greatest strengths, and in that stage has the ability to reinvent what’s possible: gender-diverse, racially diverse, and ability-diverse casting can broaden up the possibilities, and the fact that actors are always rotating in and out means that many different actors can embody lead roles, which will show audiences that the only limitations that exist are the ones that imposed by those in power. So really, that’s the real limitation: the imagination and agenda of those in power, who hold the purse strings (who are usually cis, straight, white, able-bodied men.) Theater has and always will be the most progressive and imaginative and raw form of entertainment. Hopefully Carey Parker can represent that for readers.

On that note, what’s your favorite number from Wicked and are there any other musicals you enjoy?

“The Wizard and I” will forever be my favorite. I will always love RENT, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Newsies, Beauty and the Beast (my first Broadway show—it will always stay with me!)

Something I’ve noticed with a lot of queer authors is that they often write the books that they wished their younger selves had. Did that in any way feel true for you?

Absolutely. I wish I had a gay genderqueer diva like Carey Parker as a teen. I wish I had a supportive mom, like Carey had. Perhaps if my book existed for me, I would’ve felt less alone and could’ve shared that with my own mom. Likewise, if I had a love story like Chase’s in AND THEY LIVED…, maybe I wouldn’t have thought that love wasn’t just a fairytale idea. It’s so important to have stories like these so that young people—and older folks too!!—feel valid, loved, supported, and can see themselves and all the possibilities, good, bad, and in-between.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? What stories feel relatable to you today?

Queer stories? No. I had nothing growing up but Will & Grace, and while I enjoyed it, I never felt like a “Will” or a “Jack,” so I didn’t think I fit in anywhere because those were the only two representations of gay male archetypes I saw. I wish I saw more stories that reflected me when I was young so that I could have related better to myself. 

The stories I relate to today are the ones that showcase the queer experience in all of its shades—from identity to sex.

I also want to address the idea of relatability, too. Because for me, stories shouldn’t necessarily be just about that aspect. I love stories that showcase something different than what I know because it’s about exposing me to different thought processes, different cultures, different practices and such. I think that every good story is a human story, and in that way, we can and should all relate to the humanity that exists in every story. But beyond that, as an adult, I don’t feel like I need to personally relate to everything I read in order to love and enjoy them the way I did was I was younger and never saw any aspects of myself.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Don’t give up! Writing is fun, but it’s also hard work, and it’s a long path to publication, if that’s your journey. But that doesn’t have to be your journey, either. Every writer has their own relationship with writing, and the most important thing is to keep doing it, over and over again. Try and fail. And then try again. Find your people, other writers you can trust to share your work with so that you can improve and learn from and share in successes with. Write, write, write. If you can’t live with telling stories, then do whatever you can tell to share that. Because the truth is, only YOU can tell YOUR story. 

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

There are so many things, so many goals I have, so much of my past and present, so much of my personhood and personality that I could share if I wanted to. But honestly, I just people to remember that I’m human. I’m vulnerable and sensitive and emotional. Sometimes I think people forget that writers are human. 

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

I am obsessed with cheese, so “What’s your favorite cheese?” 

Thank you for asking! I would have to say a good cambozola. 

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

My third novel, A SUPERCUT OF US in coming out Spring of 2023, and I’m super excited about that—very Jandy Nelson’s I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN meets Dawson’s Creek with a bit of HBO’s Euphoria, which is told from two points of view—a brother and sister—who are dealing with their incarcerated fathers’ death and the mess he left behind for them, including an unknown half-sibling. I also have other projects in the work s

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

Jason June’s JAY GAY AGENDA, Julian Winters’ THE SUMMER OF EVERYTHING, Nicolas DiDomizio’s BURN IT ALL DOWN, Kalynn Bayron’s CINDERELLA IS DEAD, PJ Vernon’s BATH HAUS, Kacen Callender’s FELIX EVER AFTER, TJ Klune’s THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA, Margot Wood’s FRESH, and anything by Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and Casey McQuiston.

Interview with Ryka Aoki

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

Thank you for having me! It means a lot to be chatting with the folks at Geeks OUT. I’m Ryka, and I write, compose, and teach martial arts and self-defense to queer and trans women at the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles. My favorite composer is Chopin and since COVID, I miss eating hot pot with friends. I think everybody reading this should watch “Yuri on Ice.” I have a pet python named Peppermint. And my latest novel is Light from Uncommon Stars!

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly speculative fiction? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I can’t ever remember not being a writer. It always just seemed to be that thing I did. Even when I tried to do something else, I always came back to writing. 

Growing up, I enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. Magazines like Analog and Amazing made me fall in love with the short story. Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” was another one. But I also felt there was something self-assured in that writing—it seemed almost overly indulgent—in a way that I wasn’t allowed to be. When it came to my own writing, I was quite aware of my own nonwhite background and outsider identity…and I realized that people like me were not meant to save the Universe.

Instead, I found much more resonance with writers like Toni Morrison and the late Primo Levi who wrote of worlds much closer to us, sometimes tragically so. So, I channeled my writing into poetry and literary fiction and essays. In fact, I still love all three.

What brought me back into speculative fiction was a short story I wrote for the trans speculative anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere. I didn’t expect it, but writing a science fiction short story gave me a very familiar thrill. I wanted more,

And I as started watching anime and manga like “Aria,” “Space Battleship Yamato,” and “Sailor Moon” and “Macross” I realized, in a very SMH way, that there was more to speculative fiction than what was being produced in the United States. 

And so, I took everything that I knew, and channeled it into imagining what I wanted to know. I’m very happy with the result. ☺

Music and food seem to be pretty strong elements of your latest book, Light From Uncommon Stars. What prompted you to write with this in mind?

Culture is conveyed so often and so well through food and music, yet there’s comparatively little cooking and music in science fiction. Yes, I know there’s some, but compared with space battles and aliens and epidemics and geologies…not too many depictions of rice porridge. 

More personally, unlike a lot of my friends, I don’t have the constant “internal monologue” that people were talking about so much a year or so ago. So nonverbal forms of communication such as food and music feel very close and real to me.

I tell people that I love them with my cooking. And sometimes, I don’t need to watch a movie; all I need is the soundtrack.

When I write, I have music playing and I have rice cooking. I have images and smells and tastes and dreams of where I want a story to go. But words on the page can feel almost after-the-fact. I have these feelings and they go on the paper and everything that I was feeling at the time—the music or the food or the way my feet feel on the floor—makes their way into my work.

But often, I don’t even know how the words are going to be coming out. Of course, later I’ll go back and edit them. But the way the words form is still a mystery to me. 

On that note, what would you say are some of your favorite things to eat and favorite artists/ types of music to listen to?

I’m particular with the music I listen to as I write. I use a lot of YouTube. I search for what would make a great soundtrack for the story or chapter that I’m writing. For example, the novel I’m working on right now has a lot of wistful, slightly mysterious music because I’m hoping to put some of that into the book. In general, I like music that’s not too percussive, because it startles me, and I try to avoid piano music because when I hear piano, it just makes me feel guilty that I’m not practicing.

Also, some music is just too emotional. If I am listening to the soundtrack of “Your Lie in April” I’m not going to get any writing done. I’m just going to be crying.

With food? Even though I talk about them all the time in Light from Uncommon Stars, my main writing food is not donuts. It’s potato chips. I have to be careful when I’m writing because if I’m not careful, I can cut through an entire big bag of potato chips while I’m concentrating on work. So instead of buying a big bag of potato chips, I have to buy small bags of potato chips so I can keep track of all the potato chips that I’m eating.

At least that’s the theory. What usually happens is that I just eat all the small bags of potato chips anyway.

When many people think of science fiction, many often think old white cis men. Yet as a genre, science fiction has always attracted marginalized writers, from female authors such as Mary Shelley and Octavia Butler (who also further revolutionized the field as a woman of color) and Jewish science fiction writers who invited new realities outside of the hostile ones they inhabited, as seen in the various Jewish comic book makers who were drawn to the field due to anti-Semitic hiring practices in other fields. What’s your take on this as a trans woman of color? 

This is not an easy question to answer. On one hand, so many amazing female writers and artists have done brilliant work before me, and it feels natural to want to continue this legacy. 

However, there are in cases where some of my writing role models have said damaging things to queer and trans women. And there’s always the possibility of anti-Asian sentiment. So, I will always respect and admire the work, but will also be careful not to idealize the creators themselves.

I guess that’s just another way of saying that I try to keep grounded and focused on own universe and my own writing, because I know that here I can find inclusion, possibility, and love—at least in a way that works for me.   

What are some of your favorite elements of writing?

Besides the potato chips? I love the first part of writing, when there’s a blank page in front of me and I have pretty ink and a nice fountain pen.

And I love all the middle parts, and the frustration when something’s not quite working because then I just laugh at myself and say, “You asked for this! You’re the one who wanted to be a writer—now look at you!” I love writing a scene and crying while I’m writing, and thinking, “Gosh, I don’t know for certain, but think my readers are really going to like this!”

I also love people-watching, and going to places that I’m writing about to catch a scene, maybe taking a picture. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to catch. Maybe it’s just a color or maybe it’s someone pushing an ice cream cart. And then it’s going to show up in the book, and that’s the best thing.

And I also love the last part of editing, where I’m just tying up those little loose ends here and there. But each time I do it, the manuscript shines—it’s amazing how much like poetry a late-edit novel can behave.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers, especially other queer writers?

It’s good to be queer. It’s good to be trans. It’s good to be beautiful. It’s good to be badass. It’s good to be a pillar in the community. It’s good to be a good friend. (Actually, it’s really great to be a good friend.)

But if you’re going to be a writer, what’s most important is to be good with you. Sometimes, even though you are part of a queer chosen community, you must consciously disengage from that queer chosen community. And you’re going to feel guilty sometimes. 

But please try not to. 

Yes, there are so many compelling stories around you, but as a writer, you desperately need time and space to listen to your own.

And I know that can suck, because being queer or being trans is lonely all on its own. I know all about that one. 

But nobody else can write your story—the one only you can write. The one that the world needs to read. When they talk about bravery as a writer, I found where I’ve had to be the bravest is where I’ve had to be alone. But so many readers have been grateful for what that loneliness produced. 

So, is it worth it? For me, absolutely. 

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

“So many of the bonds in Light from Uncommon Stars are maternal. What does motherhood mean to you?”

One of the toughest parts about my being a trans woman, taking hormones and doing all the medical things that one does, is that I sterilized myself. Sure, I can bank my semen, but even then, I’m never going to be able to physically give birth. Speaking for myself, because all trans women are different—but speaking for myself—this is emotionally the most difficult part about being trans.

However, life goes on. I teach, and I have these books, and in these books, I can write characters who are mothers. I think I’m always going to have mother figures in my work. I’d like to say it’s for altruistic reasons, but some of it is envy. I so wish I could be a mother.

And yet, my books are like my children, and seeing them out in the world interacting with folks that I will never meet making new friends…that makes me so very, very proud.

In addition to being a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

Gosh, the whole point of being a writer is that it helps me interact with people. I don’t know where I would be without writing. 

Let’s go with this—I am very grateful to be able to pursue something that I love very much. However, being transgender in this country remains precarious for all trans people. It seems that every time we relax, someone wants to take one of our human rights away or another. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to speak with you, and even more so to have this opportunity to become a writer. I am very, very grateful. 

However, having this sort of opportunity and feeling safe are two different things. 

So, I encourage non-trans-identifying people to get to know more of the trans people in your community. Maybe first as allies, but as later friends–even as family. Not the lip-service kind, but the real kind. There’s a lot there to love. I think your life will be so much better for it. And, if enough of y’all do this, I think it’s going to be easier for trans people like me to exhale and sleep at night.

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

I’m deep in the middle of my next novel. It’s not a sequel, but it’s going to take place in the same universe as Light from Uncommon Stars and there may even be a couple characters that carry over. I can’t talk about it too much, but, as I told my editor, if I can write the story that’s in my heart, I’m going to be thrilled and proud to bring it to you.

I’m also writing a weekly newsletter called “Ryka’s Most Excellent World” ( where I can explore topics that might seem random, even contradictory, to uncover insights and relations that may be hidden in plain view. One of my recent essays discussed supermarkets and supersymmetry and makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. 

And, because of COVID, I’ve not been able to have self-defense classes in person. so, I’m working with two of my senior students to create a manual of everything we teach for the TransLatin@ Coalition. It’s exciting because we’re going to be writing it in Spanish and English. 

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

Sure! The first is Samuel R. Delany. A good place to start is Dhalgren. The second is Rachel Pollack, with Unquenchable Fire or Doom Patrol. Both Delany and Pollack are in their 70s—Samuel Delany will be 80 next year. 

With so much beautiful queer (and BIPOC) and trans literature being produced, by so many beautiful LGBTQ+ writers, Delany and Pollack remind us that so much of what we think is new today was also new years ago. 

And that’s the way it should be, because as long as humans have been able to see the stars, LGBTQ+ people have been there to fill the skies with stories amazing and profound. 

Interview with Jeremy Atherton Lin

Jeremy Atherton Lin is an Asian-American essayist based in the UK. He has contributed to The Yale Review, Noon, Granta, The White Review, ArtReview, Literary Hub, Port, The Face, W, Tinted Window and the Times Literary Supplement. His debut book Gay Bar (2021) was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice and the Guardian Book of the Week. Jeremy’s mixtapes can be heard on NTS Radio, Spotify and Mixcloud. He has also appeared on NPR, BBC Radio London, BBC Radio 4 and Resonance FM. Teaching and speaking engagements include The Courtauld Institute, Cornell University, Central St Martins, the Royal College of Art, Camberwell College of Arts, University of Glasgow, Birkbeck University and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He is an editor at Failed States, the journal of art and writing on place.

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

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your debut book, Gay Bar! Could you tell us a little about yourself and the book? How did you find yourself gravitating toward this specific topic?

Thanks so much for having me. Sorry I’m late! I’m Jeremy, from California and currently living in London. My favorite color is pale lilac. I love pickles, okra and nectarines. I write, and teach sometimes, always seem to be running errands, and ride a rusty Dawes Galaxy that my next door neighbor gave to me.

With Gay Bar, I revisited spots where I’ve hung out over the years in an attempt to interrogate the connection between place and identity. I conceived the book around 2017, when over half the gay bars in London had closed within a decade. So this got me thinking: What does it all mean? Should we unequivocally lament the closure of these venues, or is it possible their time was up? Why should my identity be dictated by a commercial aesthetic and particular form of socializing? Had gay bars informed me, and how? With each bar in the book, I dug deep to figure out what went on before my time there, uncovering euphoric and problematic histories, dating to the 1970s and as far back as the 17th century. 

When it comes to gay bars, what often comes to mind is “gay men” rather gay men and women, or queer people in general. Why do you think that is?

One reason could be that, in very general terms, women have often socialized in private spaces. In the States, for instance, there is an incredible history of house parties in locations like Oakland and Fire Island. Some early lesbian-run bars were known as much for other aspects, like poetry readings and live folk music. Commercial gay venues were generally dominated by white men. Now, of course, the most exciting parties may be those that center womxn, femmes and trans people of color. But my choice to write specifically about gay bars populated by men was deliberate — I was interested in rethinking a somewhat passé institution.

While the historical and symbolic significance of gay bars can’t be denied, there is something to be said about how gay bars have not always felt accessible to various members within the queer community, including the disabled/neurodivergent members of our community and others. How do we reconcile the idea of this queer safe space and its limitations?

It’s hard for me to think of gay bars as safe spaces at all — in that they rely on the consumption of booze, usually neglect to provide adequate wheelchair access, are lookist and ageist and have been blatantly racist and sexist, too. It was never my intention to write about what gay bars should have been or could be, but rather to consider what they have been, including the failings. 

As a queer woman who’s also asexual, I’ve found that bars (gay or straight) haven’t exactly felt comfortable for me, since most contain an element of hook-up culture. Do you find the gay bar to be inherently sexual in nature or is the answer more complicated?

Oh, yes, the answer is always more complicated, right? Bars, after all, are commercial spaces, and sexuality of course has been repurposed as a weapon of commerce. Bars and other institutions of gay culture were selling sex even at the height of AIDS infections — they just sold an idea of sex, of its promise, and not just a promise of getting laid but of power and status. But in terms of my own approach, I was absolutely interested in gay bars as a site in which to cruise and engage in semi-public sex. I wanted the book to be as much about sexual proclivity as cultural identity, and about the tension between.

This book seems be a reflection on the past (both your own personal experiences as well as the collective memories of the queer community). As a writer, how did it feel exploring the lines between non-fiction writer/essayist and historian?

I would not claim to be a historian. I am, however, very interested in history as one strategy of learning, including the foibles of historical retelling. I gave myself the title of essayist in my twenties as a kind of risk, as if on a dare, and that’s how the job has remained — all about trying things out through writing. To essay, as a verb, means to attempt. 

I sometimes say that I’m an unreliable narrator of non-fiction. Why do we expect our fictional characters to be flawed and complicated in order to appear ‘real,’ yet demand non-fiction authors achieve some kind of neutral and all-seeing stature? Writing Gay Bar, as I searched my memories, it was very much through the lens of my specific positionality — as Asian-American, gay, cis, West Coast, and so on. So I’m not going to bury any of these aspects, but lean in. And as I researched the historical elements of the book, I found various events — and the ways they were reported — to be delightful, funny, icky, repulsive, depressing, sexy, everything. I’m not inclined to hide my impressions of what I’m seeing. I reveal my point-of-view by selecting the very stuff that I find the most delightful or repulsive or whatever to share with the reader, because I want us to go on an intense journey together. And I can never be an objective guide.

What have been some of your favorite gay/queer bar experiences?

Those moments when I realized I’m dancing in a fire trap, but still can’t resist the beat. 

In the time of Covid-19, has there been any cognitive dissonance about writing about a subject that has been shut down for so long?

I had mostly finished the book before the pandemic, but the interviews have been conducted throughout lockdown so yes, there was a kind of estrangement. On a personal level, I’m pretty adaptable. I began making radio shows as a way of communicating with others under the new conditions. And I’m very lucky to have a roof over my head, and a partner with a sunny disposition, so we approached much of lockdown as if it were a two-person house party. 

In an article from i-D, “the gay bar is dead: how the queer space killed it” the author writes about the shifting cultural perspective on bars and how the gay bar may be losing significance in terms of other queer people finding alternative spaces to celebrate queer identity. What’s your take on this and your take on the future of gay bars?

I think these kinds of spaces have been, at their best, about exploring the possibilities within oneself and between others, rather than arriving into one uniform thing. And as everything continues to evolve, the ways we explore need to change, too. So the advent of new forms of coming together seems absolutely as it should be. However, that doesn’t mean I believe there’s no longer a need for the old school gay bar. For one thing, some elder lesbians, gay men and trans people might happen to like perching on a barstool in a comfy old dive, and I hope they continue to have destinations that afford them that kind of refuge. 

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

“Which Sex and the City character are you?” Answer: I’ve never watched Sex and the City.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers, both those working on their craft and looking to be published?

Make playlists and mixtapes. For me, fostering musical arcs and a logic of transitions is akin to the nuts and bolts of storytelling. So that’s my advice on craft. As for getting published, I’d say worry first about the integrity of what you’re making. My own trajectory has been long and full of detours, but I was learning and improving. Then when the time comes, try sending short, polite emails to the agents who represent other writers you admire. Be precise, humble and open. Bring your sense of humor. Be prepared to listen. And remember: Be brief.

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

I’m going to recommend a book that isn’t explicitly queer, but to me has a kind of queer undercurrent: The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford. The young girl at its heart is prickly, dissatisfied and non-conforming. She’s perceived by others as unlikable, but she’s struggling to make sense of a sick world. Many, if not all, of the same things could be said of another of my favorite books, Cruddy by Lynda Barry. I am recommending them because they are about being messy. And I identify as a mess as much as anything.

Interview with Author Jason June

Jason June (it’s a two-name first name, like Mary-Kate without the hyphen or the Olsen twin) is a writer mermaid who loves to create picture books that mix the flamboyantly wacky with the slightly dark, and young adult contemporary queer rom-coms full of love and lust and hijinks. When not writing, JJ zips about Austin, Texas, with his Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw.  His work includes the queer-inclusive Valentine’s Day picture book, Porcupine Cupid; the whimsical chapter book series, Mermicorn Island; and the YA rom-coms, Jay’s Gay Agenda (out now) and Out of the Blue (May 31, 2022).

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! My name is Jason June (it’s a two-name first name, like Mary-Kate but without the hyphen or the Olsen twin), and I’m the author of Jay’s Gay Agenda and the upcoming Out of the Blue. I love writing YA featuring the love lives and shenanigans of queer characters!

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to Young Adult Fiction?

I’ve been writing my entire life! I actually started by writing down word for word the dialogue in the movie Labyrinth starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. I was probably seven years old and completely robsessed with that movie. But in that moment I realized the magic of a movie started with the words in a script. And then I became completely smitten with words in general, and read like my life depended on it. My love for YA came about a few years ago, after a few failed attempts at publishing middle grade fantasy. I needed a palate cleanser to just clear my mind, and became totally wrapped up in contemporary YA and how there is magic in real life that doesn’t have to be literal fairies or witches or potions, but the sort of electric buzzing that occurs when we’re creating strong connections in our teen years. 

Where did the inspiration and the impetus to write your debut book, Jay’s Gay Agenda come from? (Also I’m very curious how you came up with the title.)

JGA is very loosely based on my experiences as the only out queer kid at my rural eastern Washington high school. While I didn’t keep my gay hopes and dreams in a list, I did have a diary that detailed all I couldn’t wait to experience when I finally met another gay person. I didn’t get to jump into a queer community until college, but I used that diary as the seed for the book along with my Type-A Virgo tendencies of list-making, which led to the creation of the titular Gay Agenda. I specifically wanted Gay Agenda in the title because I think it’s hysterical that some people think there is this Queer Master Plan, and instead wanted to show how each person in the LGBTQIA+ community has their own individual relationship wants and goals, and the chaos and joy and magic that can come about when you actually start accomplishing them. 

One element that people have seemed to responded to is the open discussion about sex positivity in Jay’s Gay Agenda? (Also on a small note, as an asexual person, thanks for the brief asexual acknowledgement.)

I’m really happy that people have responded so well to the sex positivity in the book. Going in, I knew that was something I wanted to include in this story because starting around the age of 15, I was thinking about sex constantly, but everywhere I looked I was told that my desire was wrong. So JGA was made to be an antidote to that, to show gay teens that as long as everything is safe and consensual, their physical desires are just as beautiful as anyone else’s. It’s part of human connection for so many of us! And thank you for the thanks! I think it’s important to note in any sex positive discussion that all sexualities are fabulous!

Something I’ve noticed with a lot of queer authors is often they write the books that they wished their younger selves would have wanted. Was this in any way true for you?

Absolutely! I needed to know I wasn’t alone when I was a teen in my relationship and physical hopes and dreams, but minus a selection of books I could count on less than one hand, I couldn’t find many books that I felt truly represented me. It’s why I pretty much stopped reading for enjoyment in high school and didn’t really get back into it until after college. It’s now super important to me to write stories that will always center a queer protagonist and queer relationships.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way?

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez was the first time I read a book where I was like, “Okay, wait! I relate to this!” It’s actually one of the books I was thinking of above where there was representation I could connect with. And there was Marco on Degrassi

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

To keep at it! You’re going to hear no so many times. No, an agent doesn’t want to take you on as a client; no, an editor doesn’t think your story is right for their imprint; no, a reader doesn’t like your book. But you’ve got to keep going! There are going to be those times that people say yes, they absolutely love what you’re writing, or relate to your story, or can’t wait for what you’re coming out with next. So anytime you hear a no, know that a yes is out there for you too, and you’ve got to keep writing for those yeses. 

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

Chikorita is the best Pokémon and that’s all there is to it. 

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

I honestly can’t think of one! Interviewers like you are so good at coming up with questions that let me discuss the heart of my work, so I don’t feel like I haven’t been able to talk about the things that mean the most to me. So thank you! 

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

Yes! My second novel with HarperTeen comes out in May and it’s called Out of the Blue. It’s a contemporary YA with light magical elements featuring queer merpeople! It’s dual POV between a merperson (Crest, pronounced like the actual sound of a cresting wave, which is impossible for humans to say, so they go by the human name Ross while on land) who has to come on land for a month to help a human, and the recently dumped lifeguard (Sean) that Crest fake dates to help Sean save face in front of Sean’s ex. And we all know what happens when fake dating ensues! This is about romance helping us discover parts of ourselves we hadn’t yet realized, and it also explores the whole emotional journey of having to choose between love for a person and love for your home when you literally have to choose one over the other. I’m so excited for it! 

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

I love love love book talking! Here are a few that I have absolutely adored this year:

Jonny Garza Villa’s FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN. It follows Julián as he gets drunk and accidentally comes out online, unleashing a whole storm of excitement (a Cutie McCuterson DMs him after coming out) and anxiety (having to still stay in the closet when it comes to his dad). Jonny has so perfectly found that balance of jubilation at being yourself after you come out that can come hand in hand with fear when we’re still in an environment that’s not safe. It’s so beautifully done, with both laugh-out-loud and heart-clutching moments.

Ashley Shuttleworth’s A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR. It it is an epic high fantasy told from four POVs, and they’re all queer! It was so amazing to get all this magical action and high stakes and be surrounded by queerness!

Emery Lee’s MEET CUTE DIARY. In this we follow Noah, a transgender teen, who runs a blog full of trans happily ever afters. But, all the stories are fiction. And when a troll calls Noah out for making up stories, Noah starts a whole fake-dating escapade to get real-life material that teaches him so much about relationships and what makes a good partner. I loved it so much and everyone should read it!

Stephan Lee’s K-POP CONFIDENTIAL in which we follow Candace as she moves to Seoul to train to become a K-Pop idol! I loved every last second of this and felt like I could see the choreography and hear the music. And I just finished the sequel, K-POP REVOLUTION, which comes out in spring 2022, and everyone should preorder it now!

Interview with Cartoonist Damian Alexander

Damian Alexander is a cartoonist and storyteller who grew up in and around Boston. Damian’s illustrations and comic shorts can be found on The Trevor Project, Narratively, The Nib and others. He loves ghost stories, miniatures, and watching cartoons with his cats on sunny afternoons.

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

First of all, congrats on your debut book, Other Boys! Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?

Thank you so much and thank you for interviewing me! Other Boys is a graphic memoir, primarily following my middle school experiences in the mid-2000s, but follows little me from kindergarten up until that age. Bullying, gender roles and stereotypes, and the death of my mother are some of the more serious issues it touches on. Though I made sure to sprinkle humor throughout and balance it all with bright and colorful artwork. Eventually the story leads up to middle school me realizing that I’m gay. I’ve wanted to tell a story about growing up as a little boy who played with dollhouses and doesn’t fit in, but never knew I’d be writing one about myself.

What first attracted you to comics? Were there comics or stories that caught your eye growing up that later inspired you to become an artist yourself?

When I was really little I would read “The Peanuts” comic strips in the newspaper with my grandfather and I loved how these colorful and cartoony characters were so poignant and witty. I think that was the first series that drew me to comics. My grandfather also gave me older comic books before I could even read, so I’d just stare at Archie and the 1994 Super Boy because I thought they were cute and didn’t realize it yet. Later, I found Brian Selznick’s illustrated books and fell in love with them, and it really got me into illustrated storytelling.

Could you describe your artistic background in some detail. Like how you got into art and what your art education was like?

I had always been interested in art because I always loved cartoons. My grandfather used to draw all the time in our dining room when I was growing up, and I’d watch him in amazement. He was a retired garbage man and it was like a side hobby as he got older. Most people in my family liked to draw, but would eventually move on from it at some point to pursue a different career. I come from a very low income family, so dreams were often put on the back-burner. I wasn’t lucky enough to afford art school, but I was lucky enough to end up at a public high school with great art classes and teachers. I continued to take art classes through college while also studying writing.

Queer graphic memoirs is definitely an emerging field right now. What drew you to writing non-fiction and do you believe your book stands in conversation with any other books at the moment?

There’s a lot more graphic memoirs coming out now than I’d ever seen before and I think “Other Boys” will fit comfortably beside books like “Flamer” by Mike Curato. In all honesty, I was much more into fictional stories and escaping in worlds of fantasy. Though occasionally I would post these little shorts online about my childhood, inspired by the weekly format of “The Peanuts,” and people liked them so much. “Other Boys” just blossomed out of that.

Your graphic novel originally started as a webcomic, correct? What drew you toward that medium?

The webcomic format is so easy and accessible. Anyone can just draw up something they think is funny or interesting, post it, and then get immediate reactions. The format also allows any artist from any diverse background and skill level to share whatever they like whenever they want. And allows queer artists like me to be seen as well. For the longest time comics seemed very white, straight and male, but I’m loving all of the diversity that’s breaking through recently.

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

I suppose, something like, “What were your artistic influences for this book?” I’ve been nervous people might not realize the way I illustrated the book was entirely intentional. The bold primary colors and black outlines are meant to be reminiscent of the cartoons, video games and LEGO sets I loved growing up. A lot of graphic memoirs have simple muted color schemes, and I wanted an explosion of color to fill the page, helping to off-set the melancholy tone at times. These colorful shows, games and toys, are what helped me get through the bad times during my childhood.

What messages do you want to give to your readers through your art? What stories or messages do you wish you had gotten when you were a young reader yourself? 

I would like my readers to know that they are not alone. I felt so alone as a kid, and I wish that I had even the slightest inkling that there were people out there who understood me or were even a little bit  like me.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creatives who might want to make their own comics? 

The best advice I think I could give young creators is to just keep drawing and keep sharing it. Even if someone puts you down, which will probably happen at some point, just don’t let that stop you from doing what you love. At the same time, don’t feel pressured to share if you’re not ready or comfortable with it yet.

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

For other queer graphic memoirs I would recommend “Flamer” by Mike Curato as mentioned above, and “Spinning” by Tillie Walden. Some queer young adult novels I think Geeks OUT readers would also love are “Surrender Your Sons” by Adam Sass, as well as Caleb Roehrig’s “Last Seen Leaving” and “White Rabbit.” I also love everything by Brian Selznick, but especially “The Marvels,” which made me cry when I first read it.

Interview with Author Amy Ratcliffe

Amy Ratcliffe is part of many fandoms, including Star Wars, The Witcher, and anything Tolkien. She’s cosplayed as Han Solo and Merida. She’s the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy and Elee and Me. She’s the managing editor for Nerdist, a host, and an entertainment reporter. Her latest book, A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, was illustrated by Dave Perillo and is available now. Based in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats, she’s always looking forward to the next time she eats pizza.

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

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

Thank you! I’m a geek, an author, an entertainment reporter, a host, and a managing editor for Nerdist. My first fandom was probably The Wheel of Time book series; I started reading them as a teen. Then fast forward several years later, and I fell in love with Star Wars: The Clone Wars and that series (especially Ahsoka!) led me to discover my passion for writing.

How did A Kid’s Guide to Fandom come to be? Did someone reach out to you about the project or did you generate the idea on your own?

My incredible editor at Running Press Kids, Britny Brooks-Perilli, emailed me with the idea of writing something to help kids learn about fandom and get involved. Through a lot of back and forth, the project took the shape of a guide. We wanted it to be welcoming, practical, and helpful for any kids who might be curious about finding other kids who felt enthusiastic about similar things. 

How did you get your start in pop culture journalism?  What would you say are some of your favorite fandoms to cover?

When Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered, I was just finding my way in the blogging world. At the time I was blogging about regional travel and food, but it never quite clicked. Then in gushing about The Clone Wars it hit me: I could start a blog about geeky things from my perspective. I launched Geek with Curves through Blogger in around 2009 and I did so with the intent of covering a wide range of topics and styles with the hopes that I could build a portfolio of sorts to show editors who might have paying work. And after a couple of years of pouring a lot of hours into Geek with Curves, I started getting a little money writing for various outlets.

The fandoms I cover depend upon what’s in the pop culture zeitgeist to some degree, so recently my favorites have included: Shadow and Bone (I adore the books this series is adapted from), Loki and the MCU at large, and Star Wars.

Many would argue that pop culture isn’t that important to talk about, serving merely as shallow entertainment. What would you say is the significance or function of pop culture in our culture?

This is something I think about a lot in my role at Nerdist. Pop culture is hugely important. Stories are never just stories. Fiction is a reflection of our world and sometimes a lens through which we can examine IRL issues. Representation matters. Stories can present different perspectives and ideas, and writers reacting to those stories through essays or interviews can do the same. As a culture we give a lot of attention to pop culture, so we can’t dismiss it as shallow at the same time. Pop culture should broaden our horizons.

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into your field?

It’s definitely a constantly changing field, and I recognize that the path I took over 10 years isn’t as likely to work out now. So I’d say get in touch with entertainment writers and editors you admire. Challenge yourself to think of pitches connected to contemporary pop culture—even if you’re not ready to pitch yet, it will help put you in the right mind set. Have some kind of writing samples, even published through your own site or blog, to share with editors. And once you do start pitching, be very aware of the kind of stories the outlet you’re pitching to publishers. Finally, be persistent.

In your book, A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, you advise kids to reach out to their parents/guardians upon first entering fandom, which might be tricky for some closeted kids? Are there any alternatives you might suggest?

That’s a really good point! When kids are entering spaces online or IRL where they’re meeting new people, I think it’s wise for someone else—usually an older someone else—to be in the loop for safety. Perhaps closeted kids can stick to sharing details about only the fandom, whatever that may be.

Since the time of the pandemic, are there ways you’ve seen fandom evolve, change, or adapt when much of fandom hasn’t been able to meet up IRL?

In the earlier days of the pandemic, before many of us experienced Zoom fatigue, being able to meet up online was a boon. It was an easy way to connect with people regardless of distance, or traffic, or schedules. For myself and for friends, playing RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons became easy and happened on a more regular schedule because we took away the in person aspect. Likewise conventions have scrambled to bring experiences online for fans, and it’s made those kind of events more accessible. I hope we see more of that accessibility in the future, even after it’s safe for in person events to resume.

Can you name any of your favorite fandom experiences growing up?

I definitely didn’t know the word fandom until I was in my 20s, but looking back, I was absolutely part of The Wheel of Time fandom. I started reading the Robert Jordan books in high school. I had to visit a family friend to use her dial-up internet in order to visit fan sites and roleplay as an Aes Sedai in a fan forum.

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

I have a few projects in the works right now, but I can’t talk about any of them yet unfortunately.

What queer books/media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I recently read and adored Molly Ostertag’s The Girl from the Sea graphic novel for middle grade readers. On the adult side, I recommend Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop and Cat Sebastian’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb.

Interview with Sean Avery Medlin

Sean Avery Medlin (he/they) is a gamer and Hip-Hop nerd, whose only wish in this world is to watch an unproblematic Black sci-fi T.V. show. Till then, Medlin teaches creative writing and guides cultural work for organizations across the U.S., while also creating rap, poetry, prose, and performance. Their music, literature, and theater all question the limits of Black masculinity, media (mis)representation, and personal narrative.

Medlin has shared stages with Saul Williams, J. Ivy, and Lemon Andersen. Their work’s been featured in Afropunk, Blavity, the 2018–2019 Chicago Hip-Hop Theater Festival, and the 2020 Tucson Poetry Festival. Their Hip-Hop play and album, skinnyblk, along with all their previous work, is available online at 808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes, & Mythologies is Medlin’s debut collection.

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

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

Hi Michele! Thank you so much for doing this interview! I’m really excited and interested in Geeks OUT! 

So a little about me: I’ve been a self-proclaimed nerd most of my life, whether it’s rap music, poetry / spoken word, anime, video games, Greek mythology, or random science facts, ha. It took me most of my life to become comfortable with my geekiness, and I think that projections and stereotypes of Blackness or Black masculinity definitely interfered with that. 

Now as an adult I recognize, welcome, and respect that all the best people, and artists, are GEEKS!  🙂 AND that oftentimes Blackfolk are among the geekiness of them all! 

Judging from your book, you appear interested in a variety of subjects, such as poetry and literary non-fiction. How did you find yourself becoming drawn to these different forms of writing and do you think they ever play off each other for you?

For the longest time I did not understand the terms “literary nonfiction” or “creative nonfiction” for that matter. As a student of spoken word, slam poetry, and rap music, the norm is to write about your lived experience in creative, poetic, dramatic, and sometimes fantastical ways. So when I sat down to write what would become “808s & Otherworlds”, I was aiming for something like “creative nonfiction” or “literary nonfiction” because I’d seen MFA programs (and literary awards for manuscripts and pieces) in those genres. The more I tried to write for that specific category, the further away I got from what makes my writing special. 

The integration of non-fiction elements into poetry is almost natural for me, because I mainly construct poems based on my lived experience. Storytelling, extended metaphor, rhyme, those devices were introduced to me by a Hip-Hop musical / literary tradition. In short, I’ve always thought of my work as poetry, and it wasn’t until others used nonfiction terms to describe it that I began viewing it from that lens. 

As a writer, what drew you to spoken word and what do you think are the merits of this form of expression? Are there any poets you would say have inspired you or influenced your style?

Spoken Word really is the foundation of my writing. It’s a deeply Black american tradition, and I was introduced to it from a young age via musicians and bands like The Roots, Jill Scott, and Gil Scott Heron. The written word is always meant to be spoken, especially for my people, who were barred from formally reading or writing English for decades on end. A few of my biggest influences are Saul Williams, Danez Smith, Joshua Bennett, Jasmine Mans, and Aja Monet. 

Since Geeks OUT is basically a queer nerdy organization, how would you describe your own literary/geeky tastes and preferences?

I’m a big Marvel fan, more on the cinematic side than comic side, and even then what gets me most is the mythology. I’ll spend hours reading online about alternative timelines and universes within Marvel, reading superhero origin stories and abilities, and watching fan made versus videos, aha. Like I mentioned earlier I’m into anime too, but now I mostly watch it with a critical lens, looking for imperial propaganda or commentary haha (cuz Japan is also imperialist, lest we forget). 

The thing I geek out the most about is rap music, actually. I love listening in-depth to lyrics, breaking down double entendres, rhyme schemes, flow patterns, different kinds of rhymes, everything really. I’ll look up samples from my favorite songs, writing credits, the whole nine. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the goosebumps I get from hearing a good rap song. 

Is there anything you do to help you get inspired to write or facilitate the creative process?

I’m a big fan of the freewrite. Some of my best or most interesting work started as a freewrite. I try to do a certain number of freewrites a week, depending on what kind of project I’m working on, like poetry, music, essays, whatever. It allows me to always have my thoughts on paper somewhere, and I can revisit them, edit them, pull the juiciest parts, or just never look at it again. The freedom of the freewrite is what I enjoy the most, no pun intended. It’s fun, and that fun fuels my process, especially in the generative phases. Once I have a lot of writing that I think might be related by theme, aesthetic, or content, I begin a mass rereading of the freewrites that move me the most, which leads to rewrites and revisions. 

Two Dollar Radio

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

I want people to know that you don’t have to be a fan of Hip-Hop, or an american Southwest citizen to enjoy my work. My work is mostly concerned with a kind of self-reclamation and declaration. Sure I write about specific identities, Blackness, nonbinary identity, bisexuality, etc. And I don’t hide my political and philosophical views. But at the end of the day, I’m trying to connect on an experiential and emotional level, I just want even a fraction of what I feel to be felt by the reader and listener. I want that, I want people to know that I want to connect with them. 

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

Well I just put out an EP titled “I Never Left” in August 2021, which can be found on all streaming services, Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Youtube, Amazon, Google, etc. The deluxe version, which includes an extra 7 tracks, is available on sale only at Bandcamp. My rap name is the same as my author name, Sean Avery Medlin. 

I’m also currently the Narrative Designer for an indie video game in early development stages, but I cannot say anything else about it! 

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

Keep writing. That’s probably it. Keep writing. Make it a practice, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t maintain a rigorous schedule. Building discipline takes time. And one more thing I guess: you don’t need an MFA to be a writer. You most definitely can get one, but it’s not a necessity. Okay wait, one last thing, forreal: find a community of writers who hold your work with care and rigor. That last one is actually the most important; all good art is collaborative. 

What do you hope readers will take away from 808s & Otherworlds?

I want people to have a taste of my world, that’s all. I want readers and listeners to experience the hodgepodge of cultures and circumstances that has crafted me into the artist and human that I am. I want people to put down the book with a renewed (or new) interest in contemporary rap, modern day abolitionist movements, and vulnerable conversations on intersectional identities and relationships. I want folks to actually look up some of the songs and poems listed in the “References and Credits” section. I guess I want a lot, aha. I want to be received. 

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

BOOM! So two of them I’ve already mentioned: Danez Smith and Jasmine Mans. Also Billy-Ray Belcourt, who has a book with Two Dollar Radio as well. Marlin M. Jenkins has a book called “Capable Monsters” which uses Pokémon to explore his experience as a Black gay man, it’s really awesome, and perfect for Geeks OUT!  

Header Photo taken by Nina Paz Photography

Interview with Author Ashley Woodfolk

Ashley Woodfolk has loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked in children’s book publishing for over a decade. Now a full-time mom and writer, Ashley lives in a sunny Brooklyn apartment with her cute husband, her cuter dog, and the cutest baby in the world. Her books include The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, and the Flyy Girls series. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @ashwrites. 

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, Nothing Burns as Bright as You? 

Well hello. I’m Ashley. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I’ve been lucky enough in the last few years to have a few different YA novels published. My latest, NOTHING BURNS AS BRIGHT AS YOU, is my feminist manifesto and the queer novel of my heart, and as much as I love this book, everything about it terrifies me. NOTHING BURNS is about two messy girls in a tumultuous relationship—they’re friends but also more than friends, with hardly any boundaries. On the day they set a fire, their relationship spirals out of control, and as the truth of their history is unraveled, their future is revealed.

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction specifically?

I’ve been writing poetry and stories since kindergarten, and I can’t say I was specifically drawn to YA on purpose. It’s just that when I sit down to write I almost always have young characters in mind. I think it has something to do with how unique the teen years are. They’re the first time you’re able to make your own decisions and yet, there are still so many freedoms you don’t yet have. It’s a time full of firsts and rife with opportunities to make mistakes while also being full of second chances. Teens can be so messy and so brilliant in the space of a few hours, and I find that resilience and versatility so fascinating—it’s such a cool thing to play with when writing stories. I also just think teenagers are the best people: so much more passionate and kind and motivated than anyone else I know.

In a beautiful essay you wrote for Catapult, “How Writing My Young Adult Novel Helped Me Reclaim the Queer Girlhood I Lost,” you talk about how writing a queer young adult story allowed you to access a version of queer youth you yourself didn’t get to have? Could you expand on this and the vicarious power of fiction?

I think that essay says it all. I didn’t see my own queerness for years despite the signs being everywhere. Attraction to multiple genders? Check. Romantic entanglements with multiple genders? Double check. Queer besties? Celebrity crushes across the gender/sexuality spectrum? Undying empathy for the queer community as an “ally”? Triple check. I have always been who I am, I just didn’t have a name for it, didn’t recognize it for what it was until I was well into my adulthood. And the pain I feel for what was lost—people I didn’t pursue or maybe didn’t even notice, relationships I destroyed because of an idea I had in my head about who I was…it troubles me sometimes. Through writing I’m able to work through some of that grief, some of my sadness about what I missed out on. I’m able to explore feelings that I suppressed without even realizing I was suppressing something. Through my own powerful imagination, I can write the stories I wish I had read; stories that may have helped me see myself more clearly years earlier. I felt invisible for decades. I just hope that the things I write are able to help someone else feel seen.

What are some of your favorite elements of craft?

Coming up with and building characters is by far my favorite part of writing any book. 

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

I’m on a mission to help kids (and adults!) believe they’re worthy of love and acceptance simply because they exist. I try to plant that message in the heart of everything I write and say and do. Other than that, I’m a mama to a toddler and a pittie, a wife to a very cute guy I’ve loved since I was 19, and a lover of good food, emotional books, indie movies, and all kinds of music. I’m a card-carrying member of the frequent criers club, and I believe therapy should be free and widely available to everyone. But until then, I’ll keep writing books that I hope help people feel a little less alone.

What advice might you give to other aspiring authors?

Be relentless (you only ever need one yes to move forward at every step in this process, so don’t be too discouraged by rejections), and write like no one’s watching.

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

The characters in NOTHING BURNS don’t have names. Why not? 

Names felt too restrictive, too tied to a single identity. I want these characters to be anyone. I want them to be everyone.

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

Working on lots of things, but nothing else I can talk about right now. ☹

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

Anything by Leah Johnson, Kacen Callender, Nina LaCour, or David Levithan

Odd One Out by Nic Stone. 

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow.

Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda & Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli.

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Interview with Cartoonist Jarad Greene

Jarad Greene is a cartoonist originally from Lutz, Florida, who now lives in the curious village of White River Junction, Vermont. In addition to his own comics, Jarad works on staff at the Center for Cartoon Studies and has helped color many graphic novels for younger readers. He is the author and illustrator of the graphic novels Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity and A-Okay.

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

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

Sure – thank you for having me! I’m Jarad Greene, a cartoonist living up in the mountains of Vermont. I’ve been working as a cartoonist since I was a teenager, originally doing gag cartoons and comic strips for the newspaper, but currently my focus is on longer form work. I like to make fantasy, adventure, and contemporary autobiographical works for kids and young adults. Moving to New England unlocked a latent athletic affinity, so I’m still getting used to the fact that I now do CrossFit and feel compelled to go running. During the summer I try to spend as much time outside as possible, swimming, hiking, and looking for new ice cream spots. As for winter… that’s a work in progress.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I was an avid comics reader as a kid, reading comics in the newspaper and picking up monthly titles whenever I could. I was also an on-again, off-again journal-er and I took a sketchbook with me everywhere, so making comics came pretty intuitively. I created illustrated book reports for Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, and The High King while in middle school and I think those were my first foray into putting words and pictures together with panels and dialogue balloons. I started working on a deadline when I joined my high school newspaper staff as a cartoonist and I haven’t really stopped since.

Your forthcoming book, A-OKAY, is described as a semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel centered around an asexual boy. Could you talk about where the impetus for this story came from?

It began as a reaction to my first book, Scullion, a fantasy adventure, and wanting to do something very different from that while I waited on responses to my queries to editors and agents. I ended up writing a comics essay called Memories of a Former Porcelain Doll, which was a memoir comic about my two times going through Accutane treatment, ages 18-25. I had so much built-up energy and feelings about the years I spent trying to clear up my skin, that I felt compelled to write about it to organize my thoughts and get it out of my head. My draft of the comic received a publishing grant from the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) in Boston, where I debuted it as a 32-page mini comic a few months later. People’s response to it was unlike anything I had experienced with my other work. Readers kept circling back to my table to tell me how much it meant to them or how much it helped them understand what someone in their life who had acne went through. I planned to follow the essay up with a part two, but I had subsequently sold Scullion and it was almost 2 years later when I sat down to write again. The full-length memoir version I conceived felt pretty dark and miserable and in talking with my agent, she asked me who the book was for, and who I was hoping to reach. It reminded me of the reaction at MICE and that almost every person who spoke to me related the acne experience to their younger self or a young person in their life. I immediately knew how I could reconceive the story and age it down to a time when most kids experience acne troubles, while also making a less miserable, much happier story, which aligns better with who I am as a person. The asexuality aspect was in the new version from the start, a bit to my own surprise, since it wasn’t something I had ever planned to write about. Middle school is a time when questions of sexuality begin to arise, but back then I didn’t have the words I needed or any representations that could’ve been helpful. I hope A-OKAY can be that rep for a kid who doesn’t even know that they need it.

In addition to exploring asexual and aromantic identities, the book also explores something else that’s often rare in narratives with a male lead, specifically body insecurities. Would you mind talking about this a little in detail?

When I experienced my acne troubles, I didn’t know how to talk about it with other people, even my friends and family. I only wanted my skin to clear up to the way it was previously, but looking back on that time, I can see that a big part of talking about it meant accepting a level of vanity that I didn’t want to be revealed to other people, so I mostly kept my feelings to myself.

I couldn’t have asked my clear-skinned friends about their skincare regime, that would’ve been WAY too embarrassing! As time goes on, I’ve found that most of my friends are dealing with all kinds of insecurities. Maybe it’s getting older, maybe it’s that I went through my acne troubles and came out the other side, but I feel much more comfortable sharing my struggles and feelings with friends and knowing that I’m not alone. That’s one thing I wanted to put into A-Okay, that once Jay opens up, he realizes that his real friends aren’t making fun of him for going on acne medication or wanting to take care of his skin, they just want to know that he’s okay.

As a person who identifies on the Aromantic-Asexual spectrum, would you say you’ve seen any media that you felt you related to or represented by in this way? If not, was A-OKAY a response to that?

Certainly not when I was growing up; I can’t recall a single book I read or was assigned to read with any queer characters. TV was a little better or maybe just more accessible? I first heard a character refer to themselves as ‘asexual’ in the TV show “The Killing,” but that wasn’t until I was 24 years old. It was absolutely a factor in having it represented in A-OKAY. It was the only request I had of my agent when pitching it, that I didn’t want to work with an editor who would ask me to remove it or turn it into a love triangle. She found it an amazing home at HarperAlley. It has been extremely validating to be supported by so many in making this book.

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

Oh boy, where do I begin! Obviously with this book I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my own life. But more broadly, I’m a huge fan of the author-artists: Atelier Sento, Faith Erin Hicks, Hope Larson, Raina Telgemeier, Vera Brosgol, Liniers, Gene Yang, Alexis Deacon, Tove Jansson, and Becky Cloonan to name a handful. There are also SO MANY amazing cartoonists and illustrators on Instagram whose work gives me little jolts of inspiration when they pop up on my feed… but I could be here all day listing them.

Another big source of inspiration for me comes from my free time: hanging out with friends, cooking, baking, going on adventures, visiting my family, wandering around a new store or city, etc. It all fills my well of experiences. If I want to write about the lives of characters, I have to have a life myself.

What’s something you hope readers take away from A-OKAY?

I hope readers can get a better sense of what it’s like to privately struggle with something, and that they may have people in their life going through an issue they don’t know about. And even if it’s something like acne, which isn’t life-threatening and may not seem like a huge deal, they’ll understand that it may feel big to the person experiencing it.

Besides A-OKAY, are you currently working on any projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I am contracted for a second book with HarperAlley, but as for the title and plot, I am not at liberty to say. I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops! I post random things from my desk, like paintings and sketchbook doodles on my Instagram, so that may tie people over until then.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Sincerity is the secret ingredient to any good story. Focus on the work that really matters to you, no matter how strange, goofy, personal, or specific the stories you want to tell are. As long as you love it and are excited to tell it, it will reach the people it’s meant to find.

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Oh, there are so many great queer books and comics out there now! I recently devoured three volumes of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, The Montague Twins by Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, The Contradictions by Sophie Yanow, Alone in Space by Tillie Walden, Flamer by Mike Curato, The Magic Fish by Trung le Nguyen, and Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston.

Interview with Author Bill Konigsberg

Bill Konigsberg is the author of six books for young adults, which have won awards including the Stonewall Book Award, the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and the Lambda Literary Award. Bill lives with his husband, Chuck, and their two Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Please visit him on Twitter @billkonigsberg.

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

CW: Discussion of mental illness and suicide.

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

Thank you, and sure! I’m the author of six young adult novels, all of which explore the lives of LGBTQ characters. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, with my husband, Chuck, and our Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Before turning to YA lit, which I did by publishing my first novel in 2008, I was a sports writer for ESPN and The Associated Press. In fact, I became the first openly gay man at ESPN when I wrote an essay called “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays” in 2001.

As a journalist for websites for ESPN, how would you describe the transition from sports writer to young adult author? Would you say there are any times where your former writing experience bleeds into the other?

It’s really a different world. With sports journalism—any journalism, really—you’re looking to be as concise as possible, using an economy of words. Creative writing allows me to really branch out and explore language in a way that journalism never did. I would say that a bunch of my novels include athletics, and (hopefully) I do that well. ☺

Where would you say your ideas for books usually come from? Do you look towards anywhere specific for inspiration while writing?

It’s kind of all over the place. Sometimes, like with my most recent, THE BRIDGE, I get inspired with a concept and move forward from the idea. More frequently with me, I want to write about a specific character whose voice I hear in my head. It’s like I’ll get a line of dialogue or something that triggers me to explore more, as if a character is leading me and saying, “Hey there, come see about me!”

Some of your books, including The Music of What Happens, deal with the subject of masculinity, of characters trying to figure out what it means to be a “man” as well as navigating toxic masculinity. Could you lend us your thoughts on this?

This has been such a huge theme in my life. Maybe because of my youth, in which I played a lot of sports but was also dealing with what was at the time a secret, that I liked other guys? I think over time I began to really focus in on those questions about what it means to be a man, as opposed to the lessons we learn from media, or in our society. I think standing up and being counted even when you’re different is more courageous than so many of the toxically masculine attributes—violence, being taciturn—are. So yes, I seem to come back to that issue a lot. I think it’s important that we allow boys to be who they are, and not try to live up to some bogus and false vision of masculinity that breaks down the more you look at it.

Your latest book, The Bridge, deals with some very strong subjects, including suicide and depression. What drew you to writing about this? Is there any advice you would want to give to other writers writing this topic?

I was drawn to write about suicide and depression because of my own history with both. I have been dealing with chronic depression since I was a teenager, though at the time I don’t know that I knew what that was. In my mid-to-late 20s, I attempted suicide by taking pills. The pain in my life was just too much for me to bear, or that’s what it felt like at the time. It took me a long time to write about these things, because it’s such a vulnerable thing, talking about mental health. I didn’t want people to judge me based on that, but really over time I began to realize that was the same thing as not wanting to be judged for being gay. My life’s work, it seems, is to keep uncovering the things I’m not supposed to talk about, and writing about them in great detail. 

As for advice for someone writing about this topic: I would stress the importance of not glamorizing suicide. Suicidal feelings can be so powerful, and what is most helpful, in my opinion, is letting people know that they are not alone, that other people have felt the same way. The most dangerous thing we can tell people who are struggling is that something good comes from completing suicide. We need to stress how important it is for all of us to stay another day, even when it’s really hard.

What advice would you give to writers in general, especially those looking to finish a book?

I’d stress that when we talk about finishing a book, often we are talking about finishing a first draft of a book! And by that, I mean that novels generally take at least three rounds of revisions to get really good! So instead of comparing your first draft to someone’s third (or eighth, you never know!), just get the words down so you can see what you have and get into revision, which is where a lot of the magic happens.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love spending time with my dogs, and I love spending time with good friends. Those are probably the things I spend most of my time doing, and I really enjoy both.

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

That’s a tough one. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years! Maybe something about legacy, about what I hope I have given to young readers. And the answer to that would be that I hope some young readers have seen their own hearts in my writing. That they have recognized something innately wonderful in my characters that they can also identify in themselves, and feel really good about.

As a writer who has been in the game for a while, how have you seen the landscape of young adult literature change since you first entered and today, or even since you were a young adult yourself?

In the 13 years since my first novel came out, the landscape of young adult literature has changed drastically. I remember winning the Lambda Literary Award with that first novel, Out of the Pocket. There were maybe 25 books that year to choose from that had LGBTQ protagonists. Now, on a yearly basis, there are probably 300! I think the quality of writing has improved a lot. I think the diversity of voices has grown significantly, though we are still working on that. I think the types of intersectionality seen in these novels today dwarfs anything that was happening 13 years ago. In short, I think we’re in a YA renaissance, where some incredible work is being done.

Are there any questions you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I have a novel coming out next May called DESTINATION UNKNOWN. It’s about two boys meeting in 1987 New York City, with the AIDS crisis looming all around them. I have read so many books about AIDS, and have always dreamed of writing one. Having grown up in that time and place, it has been a huge issue in my life, and I think I’ve needed to write about it for a long time.

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

So many! 


TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE… by Benjamin Alire Saenz

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian


FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Calendar

To name a few…