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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Unfortunately, I am legally bound to secrecy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, look into Danmei. Phenomenal stories there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite things to draw?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books I recommend-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you’ve ever written?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Margaret Owen, Author of Little Thieves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your creative process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! I’m a multiracial Filipinx-American writer based in Brooklyn, NY, and I grew up in Albuquerque, NM. I work in the education field and I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM is my debut novel.

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with ShinYeon Moon, Illustrator of LaoLao’s Dumplings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your general creative process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Linda Cheng, Author of Gorgeous Gruesome Faces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration for the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your creative process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Clar Angkasa, Author of Stories of the Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your creative process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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