Interview with Dahlia Adler

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, the overlord of LGBTQReads by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of several anthologies and the author of seven novels, including Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books. I had the opportunity to interview her which you can read below.

As a person who wears multiple hats in the literary community/publishing industry and as an author/editor/book blogger and more, how do you maintain a balance between all of those responsibilities as well as work/life balance?

Not well! I mean, I’m sort of kidding, but the truth is that when you love so much about what you do, it can be really hard not to overload yourself, or least that’s true for me. Probably the most balancing thing is that because I observe Jewish Sabbath, I’m completely offline from Friday night through Saturday night, which means nothing but family, food, and reading. 

I also try as much as I can to be absolutely done with things by 5 p.m. I might do social media stuff or beta read with a baby sleeping on me, but thanks to both my husband and me working from home during the pandemic, we actually get to do family dinner pretty often. This does mean a lot of pressure to back things in during my workdays and Sundays, and I’m learning hard lessons this year about there just not being any way to pull more than 24 hours into a day. 

As a bisexual writer, you have discussed the importance of canon bi representation to combat biphobia/erasure as well as provide validation for those who are questioning. Could you speak a little more on this?

Bisexual books have been so heavily gatekept for so long, and even when we started to finally get some actual bi rep, it always had to be the “perfect” kind of bi who never leaned into any stereotypes. But anyone who’s actually gone through the process of questioning as a bi person knows that it comes with a lot of messiness and complexity, and those stereotypes exist for a reason; they’re just not who a whole person is. I think telling people they can’t ever have conflicting feelings or wonder “what if?” or experiment to see where your heart and head are at because it’s “bad representation” is not only invalidating but harmful. I embrace the messy. And I love the other bi books that embrace the messy. 

Your latest book, Cool for the Summer, features a bisexual Jewish main character. Did this story feel in any way personal to you and what are your thoughts on queer/Jewish representation in the YA world today?

It’s definitely personal to me, although Lara’s experience with Judaism isn’t reflective of mine, being that I’m considerably more affiliated and observance. Truthfully, Jasmine’s Judaism, despite being further from my background with her being Syrian, is a little closer. But I’m grateful to have been able to show two of the million ways to be both queer and Jewish, and I love how much more queer Jewish lit we’re seeing, and queer religious lit in general where those two aspects of a person don’t have to clash. I think that’s one of the most important directions YA can take, and I’m really excited to see more of it. 

Aside from Demi Lovato, whose song obviously inspired the title for your latest book, what other musical artists have inspired you? Which singers or songs would be the go-to on any of your characters’ (previous or new) Spotify playlist?

I tend to write girls with some fire to them, so I love artists like Hole and Halestorm and Garbage and The Pretty Reckless. Lara is a little softer than my usual, so Cool for the Summer is more Demi and Taylor Swift—the song “Betty,” which I obviously hadn’t heard until my book was already done, is a shockingly dead ringer for the story. 

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

What would you put in a book box dedicated to Cool for the Summer? Random, I know, but it’s a really fun thing to fantasize about! Obviously heart-shaped sunglasses, and a packet of coffee, because Lara’s a barista. An art print by one of the illustrators behind Lara and Jasmine’s mutual favorite graphic novels, probably Wendy Xu because I’m obsessed with Mooncakes which means so are they. A cheesy little souvenir from the Outer Banks—I personally have a flip-flop-shaped magnet with real sand inside. A mini bi pride flag. And sparkly peach body lotion, for Reasons. 

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

A few! I’m currently revising my next f/f YA novel, which is tentatively titled Home Field Advantage and hopefully coming out in Summer 2022 from Wednesday Books—it’s a dual-POV Romance between an aspiring cheer captain and her high school’s very unwelcome first female quarterback. I’m also editing my next anthology, At the Stroke of Midnight, which is a collection of fairytale retellings releasing in Fall 2022 from Flatiron Books—my third anthology with them. And in the background, I’m also treating myself to writing a Chanukah rom-com novella I’ll probably ultimately self-publish. 

What advice would you give for writers who are stepping into their own creativity?

Don’t get in your own way. That means don’t shoot down your own idea for sounding too similar to something out there—I sold a bi YA Grease to the imprint that published a gay YA Grease!—don’t edit into oblivion as you go as an excuse not to finish your draft, and don’t tell yourself you suck; there’ll be enough people eager to do that for you in publishing. You’ve gotta be your own cheerleader and advocate, especially if you’re going to ask people to spend their time and money on your books. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Oof, so many. It’s an incredible time for LGBTQ+ lit in all categories, which is so new. I definitely haven’t read as many of this year’s titles as I should, but a few that feel like perfect Geeks OUT reads are It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, about a one-time all-queer, all-girl band that blew up when they were in high school and then fell apart, and their potential reunion despite all the bad feelings, a painful romance, new lives, and one of the members no longer identifying as a girl; Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, which has so many fun romance tropes and a rare main character who’s already confidently out as trans, plus a love interest who’s still working through gender identity and trying out different pronouns; Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, which is a take on Romeo & Juliet with beautiful mental health rep and set in the world of comics; and a great riff on Empire Records but with a bookstore and a super queer cast, The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters.

Interview with Alyssa Zaczek

Alyssa Zaczek grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where she spent her childhood writing stories about nervy girls and slowly amassing a landslide of books beneath her bed. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting, which she uses to justify her love of banter. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, curating vintage clothing and making her partner laugh. She currently lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with said partner and their four animals. MARTIN MCLEAN, MIDDLE SCHOOL QUEEN is her debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come into writing? What draws you in most about the craft, be it middle grade or other genres?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I only began to explore it seriously when I merged it with my love of theatre in college and majored in Playwriting. Interestingly, coming back to prose in adulthood, I’ve found that the aspects which draw me in the most are also the most theatrical aspects — the ways language can be used to reveal or conceal elements of character, the way a story can set a scene and keep you there, fully immersed in that world. Writing middle grade in particular, I’ve found a great deal of joy in exploring those difficult emotions of that age and expressing them in ways that feel true. It’s a wonderful age group to write for, because it is so inherently full of tension — these kids are not quite as “grown-up” as high-schoolers, but they’re also not exactly “children” any more — and tension makes for dynamic, emotionally rich stories! 

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, Martin McLean, Middle School Queen, come from? Was there some impetus for writing queer middle grade book as a queer writer yourself?

When I began to consider writing my first novel, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be middle grade. Middle school was a deeply formative — but also deeply difficult — time for me, and I think it’s a season of life where we tend to feel lonely, and stories can be an incredible comfort in loneliness. I also knew I wanted it to incorporate the performing arts in some way, because discovering theatre in my middle school years was so pivotal for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself strictly to theatre. Drag, which is so inherently theatrical already, seemed like a perfect fit, both for its inextricable ties to the queer community as well as its joyful exploration of self. 

I identify now as a queer person, but in middle school, I wasn’t even aware that there was a spectrum of queerness. As far as I knew, there was gay and straight, and that was it. None of the books I had access to at that time had queer protagonists, and if a queer character did appear, they were always a supporting character and always either the butt of the joke or a caricature of  an ultra-femme gay man. When I began to explore my queerness as an adult, I reflected often on how differently my experience as a young, questioning person would have been if I’d been exposed to books with queer protagonists — particularly ones that were diverse and complex,  who questioned and lingered in that uncertainty. That was a huge driving factor in creating Martin as a character and as a narrative. I wanted to show kids that not only is it okay to be different, it’s okay to not be sure where you fit in. 

Martin McLean, Middle School Queen centers an Afro-Cuban-American queer boy. What concerns did you have with writing a character outside of your own identities, including consulting sensitivity readers?

As a white cis woman, I knew that writing a BIPOC protagonist outside of my own gender identity would be hugely sensitive, and I wanted to approach those aspects of Martin’s identity as a listener, not a speaker. The BIPOC experience, the Afro-Cuban experience, the mixed-race experience, the queer man experience — these are all well outside my own lived experience, so I knew going in that I wanted to do a great deal of listening to others who have lived those experiences.

Martin’s Afro-Cuban identity was inspired by the roots of drag; drag was built by Black and Latinx queer men, and I felt that having anything other than a POC at the center of this story would be doing a disservice to the institution of drag. His father being Irish-American is a nod to my own roots, but from a story standpoint, Martin’s mixed background serves to highlight that sense of not really fitting in anywhere — having one foot in one world, and one foot in another. Choosing an Afro-Cuban background was also a conscious choice. I’d noticed that in popular queer media, the queens that received the most attention and the most opportunities were almost always Black, white or white-passing, while queens from Latinx backgrounds were pushed aside, teased for their accents, etc. It never sat well with me, so I wanted Martin to offer some positive representation for young Latinx queens.

But therein lies the question I asked myself repeatedly in the writing and publishing of MARTIN: As a white woman, can I even offer that kind of representation? Would it be accurate and authentic? The answer is no — not without a lot of help. Knowing that, I was passionate about finding sensitivity readers, paying them for their work and expertise, actively listening to their feedback and making changes accordingly. I was humbled and blessed to have been able to do exactly that. We worked with sensitivity readers on every single diverse identity in this book. I was honored to listen to their feedback — from the Spanish language and Cuban turns-of-phrase throughout the book to the mechanics of Violet’s motorized wheelchair — to make this book something I’m proud to put in the hands of readers. 

With the emergence of younger drag artists and more queer middle grade fiction, it seems like there’s more exploration of queer identity in all-ages audiences. What are your thoughts on the current state of LGBTQ+ literature and how do you think we can do better?

I’m delighted to see young people feeling the validation and safety they need to express themselves with curiosity and joy, and that there are more queer stories on the shelves than ever before to reflect their experiences. As a young reader, I don’t think I could have fathomed that queer literature would move into the mainstream the way it has even in the last 5 years or so. 

Personally, I’m excited by queer literature that very mindfully moves past the coming-out narrative. MARTIN was specifically written to be an exploration narrative, not a coming-out narrative, because I felt — and still feel — that the questioning phase of queerness is one not yet richly explored in our books for young people. I also love books that are moving past queer pain and into queer joy. In 2021 and beyond, I’d love to see more books with queer characters at the center of a story that is not driven by their queerness — that is to say, more books about queer people simply living their extraordinary lives! I’d also like to see publishing steer away from queer retellings and start putting some significant resources behind original stories by queer authors. Don’t get me wrong — I love a retelling, especially a queer one, and I think examining classic literature through a queer lens is both important and just plain fun to read! — but the fact remains that queer people are good for more than simply stepping into stories already validated by history. Ultimately, my feeling is that true equality is only achieved when queer readers can see themselves represented in the same depth and breadth of literature as straight readers — so I’m excited to see more original queer narratives emerge across every genre and age group! 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet or wish you were asked?

So far, I’ve not been asked why I chose to have Martin’s two competitions turn out the way they do. [In the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, I’ll stay vague as to what those outcomes are, but if you know, you know!] I’d love to talk about why I made those decisions. 

Learning to cope with failure was a massive part of my middle- and high-school experiences. I’m naturally ambitious and competitive, and I threw myself into theatre and the speech team in a big way. Experiencing failure — bombed auditions, coming this close to landing a role, not placing at a competition — was extremely hard for me, but eventually I learned how to process it without derailing my mental and emotional health. Middle school is a time where a lot of kids experience their first significant failure, be it a low grade on a test or a lost championship game, so it was important to me to show that, even with all his talent, preparation, support, ambition and positive attitude, Martin could still fail. But — and this is the most important part — he learns from it, and doesn’t let it crush him. That’s a huge lesson at that age. 

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from?

Martin would definitely want to hang out with the Marvel heroes, that’s completely his jam. I could see him really enjoying time with Miles Morales, or the Tom Holland iteration of Peter Parker. Carmen would want to be thrown into the world of a musical — maybe Prom Night or something classic, like Grease. I could see Pickle in the world of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as all the characters on that show are very erudite and clever, just like him. 

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

My next middle grade project, which I’m working on currently, is a dark fantasy retelling of Peter Pan that transforms Peter into a monstrous antagonist and sends Wendy on a quest through Neverland’s creepy shadow world to rescue her little brother with the help of Captain Hook and her flying pirates. 

It is very different from MARTIN, and intentionally so. Authors, especially in the middle grade and YA spaces, are often told that it’s best to find their particular niche, but I have interests coming out the wazoo! I couldn’t possibly pick a single age range or genre to write in, so I’m quite happy to write whatever tugs at my mind and my heart at that moment in time. I hope that you’ll see many different kinds of novels from me in the future, especially in middle grade and YA. 

What advice would you give for writers who want to attempt to write middle grade or just in general?

The hardest part about writing is getting started. If you have a story that’s been nagging at you to get out, or even just an inkling that you’d like to write a novel, start! Start today! Start right now! 

After that? Listen to what interests you. If you don’t feel like you know what you might like to write about, make a list of your favorite books, TV shows and movies. Then look at each title and ask yourself: What exactly about this do I like? What makes it interesting to me? Write those things down, too. Soon enough, you’ll have a list of story elements that could help inspire your first (or second, or third, or thirty-third) novel. 

Finally, don’t listen to the people who insist “real writers” write every day. That’s a privileged, nonsense point of view. It doesn’t matter if you write every day — it only matters that you write. Whenever you write, you’re a “real writer,” and you don’t stop being one just because you’ve walked away from your laptop or notebook for a while. I promise, your words will still be there when you get back. Take your own time and run your own race. 

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

I read James Howe’s THE MISFITS when I was in middle school, and it was a major influence on MARTIN all these years later. There are now several books in the series, and I love them for their frank, empathetic approach to difficult issues, like Joe’s queerness or Addie’s insecurities. 

Other recent middle grade books I love that fans of MARTIN will enjoy, too, include the ALAN COLE books by Eric Bell and the BETTER NATE THAN EVER series by Tim Federle, STAR-CROSSED by Barbara Dee, LILY AND DUNKIN by Donna Gephart, and IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS by Nicole Melleby.

For young lovers of graphic novels, I recommend NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson, THE DEEP & DARK BLUE by Niki Smith, THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY by Katie O’Neill and LUMBERJANES by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson. For grown-up graphic novel lovers, SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan makes my heart sing.

Interview with Ashley Shuttleworth

Ashley Shuttleworth is a young adult fantasy author with a degree in English literature and a slight obsession with The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. They currently live in Ontario, Canada, with their cat named Zack and a growing collection of cosplay swords. I had the opportunity to interview Ashley which you can read below.

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? What were some of the first stories that grabbed your attention and inspired you?

I knew I enjoyed writing from a very early age. I spent much of my childhood writing fan fictions for the shows and video games and books I loved, filled so many notebooks with handwritten chapters (because back then, I was more into writing scenes than full complete stories) and eventually took to online communities to post the fanfic I wrote. Some of the first books I can ever remember adoring were The Bailey School Kids books (I love my paranormal mystery novels) and the Artemis Fowl series, which played a huge role in developing my fascination with faeries. A little later on, I discovered Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES and I was hooked.

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, A Dark and Hollow Star, come from?

A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR was influenced by a number of things—my university studies in English Lit and Ancient Greek and Roman history/mythology; my love for video games like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda; books I enjoyed reading such as THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor and CITY OF BONES series by Cassandra Clare. I’m also heavily influenced by music and shows and day to day things in my personal life, but I think the biggest inspiration for ADAHS was the lack of LGBTQ+ representation I had growing up, and my desire to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I just wanted to write a book full of different identities, all being accepted and represented in a casual, normal way while at the same time, leaving nothing ambiguous.

Your book, A Dark and Hollow Star, is a queer urban fantasy that touches upon fairy mythology. Are there any urban fantasy authors/stories you looked to for inspiration while writing this project?

Well I was definitely inspired by Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES and Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES (particularly VALIANT, my favourite) when it comes to who I probably have to thank for my fascination with urban fantasy. But honestly it was probably FINAL FANTASY XV that I looked to the most for crafting my particular world, an expansive world of its own that blended high fantasy with urban fantasy in a really neat way. I like to try and balance reading fiction with “research” for my projects though, so I did pick up a few books on European folklore and the science of alchemy. 

As a queer author, what were some of the LGBTQ+ stories that first caught your attention? What kind of stories did you feel were missing or lacking and did this inspire you as a writer today?

ASH by Malinda Lo stands out to me as one of the first LGBTQ+ books with a queer MC to really grab my attention. A fairy-tale retelling of Cinderella, at the time of reading this I hadn’t come across too many traditionally published works that were both Young Adult and fantasy in genre, that depicted main characters doing and going through the same sort of fantastical and every-day things you’d encounter in books about allocishet characters. Growing up, there really wasn’t all that much available to me that had openly queer characters with meaningful development, going on grand adventures, falling in love, and exploring magical settings. It definitely inspired what I write now, my desire to put more content into the world like what I found in ASH.

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

Well, I’ve never been asked which author I would choose to do a panel/event with, if I could pick from anyone—and I’d have to say I would love to do one with Laini Taylor. Her books have been a pretty big inspiration to me and I really admire her talent. It would be fun (and also intimidating) to get to chat craft with her.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

I do have a few things on the go right now, a couple that are just private tinkerings I hope to unleash on my agent, and then the public, one day soon. For now, I’m currently working on the second installment in the HOLLOW STAR story, where I get to expand on the characters introduced in the first, as well as bring a new play or two into the mix whom I hope people will enjoy.

What advice would you give for writers who are navigating writing and publishing?

The best advice I can give is to find your community—other writers to keep you company and share in this experience with you—and honestly just to keep writing. The road to publication can be a difficult journey at times. It never goes the way anyone expects it to, and set-backs can become discouraging the more of them you encounter. But if authoring books is something you genuinely want to do, first and foremost you just have to write that book. It’s okay if it isn’t perfect, if you need to edit it multiple times, find beta-readers and critique partners to help you catch what you miss on your own—it’s okay even if that story ultimately gets shelved and you have to start a new one. It’s all experience that will lead you to the story you need to tell, but nothing else is worth worrying about without that first draft to work with. So just keep going, learn how to drown out the impostor syndrome (which never really goes away, I have to say, but it does get easier to manage with writing friends as support, and time) and focus on things one step at a time.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

There are so many incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out this year—definitely buy and read as many as you can! But a few that I’m personally VERY excited for:

SWEET & BITTER MAGIC by Adrienne Tooley (out now)

IN THE RAVENOUS DARK by A. M. Strickland (May 18th 2021)

THE WITCH KING by H. E. Edgemon (June 1st 2021)

ACE OF SPADES by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (June 1st 2021)

GEARBREAKERS by Zoe Hana Mikuta (June 29th 2021)

IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao (September 21st 2021)

Interview with Tripping Over You Creators Suzana and Owen

Suzana and Owen are a married lesbian couple who love world-building, character-making, and story-telling together. Tripping Over You is their current ongoing webcomic, and their attempt to fold all of those shared interests and passions together. I had the opportunity to talk to them, which you can read below.

Where did the inspiration for Tripping Over You (TOY) and what has made it stick with you for this long? Where did the inspiration for Milo and Liam as characters come from?

Suzana and I have been making original characters to bounce off of each other since we were kids, long before we started dating. We’ve always been interested in writing together, pitching each other ideas for how so-and-so’s relationship would go, making little gift arts for each other of each others’ character— it just sort of snowballed into webcomic-shape after we started dating and moved in together. We keep making pages because (we’re addicted) it continues to be really satisfying to finish just one more page; it feels like giving our characters a couple more seconds of existence with every update.

Both of you are collaborators on this comic as well as wives. How would you say the romantic partnership has reflected/ affected on the artistic partnership and vice versa?

We started dating a couple years after we made Milo and Liam, and then (on a whim) started making a webcomic shortly after we started dating. It’s really hard for me to imagine what our life would look like without the comic being part of it. It’s true that a lot of how our characters relate to each other has flickers of what our actual relationship once felt like, but I think the real takeaway for us goes the opposite direction: making stuff together has improved our ability to communicate with each other. 

We’ve basically crafted this perfect excuse to practice expressing to each other what each of our individual goals are, and then to try to figure out how to accomplish as many of those goals as possible without taking away from the other person’s goals. That’s given us a really solid framework to build on when it comes to talking to each other about what we both want out of our personal life together, too.

TOY has been running on a digital platform since 2011. How do you find yourself drawn to web comics and What do you think are some of the benefits of this medium?

Webcomics were some of the first things we ever found as we were first stumbling around the internet as kids back in 2000. Suzana and I used to send each other links to new comics we’d find, or yell at each other to go catch up on an old favorite after they’d posted a particularly exciting update. It’s just so compelling to follow something that’s so indie-made, where the story and art is directly handed off from creator to reader. You get to watch the art and the story improve over time— and you get to see what kinds of stories people make when they’re being really self-indulgent. It’s all really authentic and sincere and fun. 

One of the loveliest things about TOY in my opinion is the progression of the main characters’ relationship, seeing how they evolve in their relationship with the world and each other. How did you keep the balance between maturity and light-heartedness when creating this queer narrative?

This means a lot to me, specifically because I feel like I really struggle with this. I’m not sure I always keep this balance in a way that’s masterful, despite it being one of my biggest goals to improve at it as much as I can. I’m one of those people who will enthusiastically explain my joke if no one laughs— even to a chorus of groans and eye-rolling. It’s definitely a forever thing, developing more mindful ways to think about this particular puzzle. I do find that it’s really helpful to read pages out loud to myself, to see if it sounds like what I intended for it to sound like. Getting feedback on what lands (and what doesn’t) is really helpful, too – which is cool, because that’s sort of naturally built into the webcomic format.

Nearing the end of TOY, what sort of stories do you think you might be working on in the future?

We have a sequel to TOY lined up to start at the end of the chapter we’re working on now (with a fun little time skip between them), which we are deliriously excited about lately. We’re also working on launching an adult queer comic with Slipshine this year. We also have some fun (very silly, very meta) plans for some of Liam’s stories once we get into exploring his career in writing.

What advice might you offer for hopeful creatives out there?

Something I remind myself daily, especially when I find myself hitting a wall: you may not feel like you’re good enough yet to work on that dream project you’ve been chewing on, but I promise that’s not a bad thing. You’re allowed (and entitled!) to make whatever you want, even before you become as good at it as you’d like to be. Plus: there’s always going to be someone out there who your stuff means a lot to. As long as you make something you care very much about, some people will sense how much you care, and they’ll care too. Please, please make stuff. I personally want to read more things like that! 

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

Here’s some of our absolute favorites! Some are completed, some are ongoing, and some have adult content:

The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal

Go Get A Roomie

Always Raining Here

Boys Love Boys’ Love

Sea Legs

The Quick and Dirty Life of Fritz Fargo

Lies Within

Easy

Adagio Comic

Cans of Beans

O Human Star

Heartstopper

Interview With Musician And Author Adrienne Tooley

Adrienne Tooley grew up in Southern California, majored in musical theater in Pittsburgh, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife, six guitars, and a banjo. In addition to writing novels, she is a singer/songwriter who has currently released three indie-folk EPs. Sweet & Bitter Magic is her debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview Adrienne, which you can read below.

First of all, congrats on your new book! Where did the inspiration for Sweet & Bitter Magic come from?

Thank you!! It definitely started with a few big concepts. At the heart of it, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is a book about grief, love, and  power. These concepts are explored through the eyes of two very different girls. With a dual POV I got to see the world through the eyes of Wren, a girl who feels everything, and Tamsin, who feels nothing (though not by her own volition). 

I also wanted to explore the idea of strength and power and how that affects the world and the individual. When being told that strength is good, and weakness is bad, how does that affect the ways a person can grow? How does that affect their relationships? How does that affect their own perceived value? And then, on the flip side, how does a person deal with the consequences of that power? In SWEET & BITTER MAGIC I got to attack those concepts head-on. 

How did you find yourself drawn to storytelling and the YA genre specifically? And what was it about fantasy that drew your attention?

The books I read when I was a teenager are the books that have stuck with me, even to this day. There’s so much room for exploration in YA. When you’re a teenager, that’s the first time that you’re really finding your place in the world, and those are the stories that really call to me as a writer. Fantasy also offers the ability to build a world on top of a story. Especially as a queer writer there is a freedom in fantasy and building a world for your characters to inhabit that is different than the world we live in.

In an essay you wrote for YA Pride, “Finding My Queer Self Through Books,” you had discussed a little bit of your publishing journey, including telling potential agents, “All of my books will be queer. In every age-category or genre I choose to write. This is important to me and I want to make sure it’s important to you, too.” With publishing, I feel like there’s sometimes this hesitancy for new writers to advocate for themselves, especially those from more marginalized communities, i.e. the LGBT community. What made you decide to say this?

I definitely recognize the privilege in being able to advocate for myself in that way. Not every publishing gatekeeper will respond positively to something like that, but I was fortunate enough to find an agent who prioritizes queer stories, who didn’t even blink when I made that request. In no way do I think writers should need to out themselves in order to write queer stories, but for me personally, I live the rest of my life out and wanted to make sure that my writing career was in the hands of someone who understood and respected that. 

Besides queer witches, are there any other mythological or magical elements are you are hoping to explore in future stories?

I’m hoping to delve deeper into different types of magic and magical systems in future books. I’m also fascinated by cults and hope to explore something like that in one of my future stories. One of the best parts of world-building is getting to create brand new lore and legends and religious figures and deities, and in that sense, the possibilities are endless! 

As an out author, what would you say to your young queer self? What message do you hope to give to young queer readers and writers out there?

You matter. Your heart matters. Your love matters. Your words matter. So keep supporting and seeking out and writing those books that make you feel seen, because there are so many stories to tell, and there is room for your voice. 

What advice would you give for aspiring authors who are navigating writing and publishing?

Be diligent, be patient, and always be looking for ways to level up your craft. Read widely and often! Since so much about what happens to a book after you write it comes down to luck and timing, it’s important to focus on what you can control: ie your characters, the heart of your writing, constructing an intriguing voice, and studying and improving your craft.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

Yes! My second book, SOFI & THE BONE SONG is a standalone fantasy about a young musician whose future falls apart when another girl wins the title she’s been training her whole life for. It’s got magic, music, taverns, an endless winter, and an exploration and dismantling of the idea that people should suffer for their art. Also, it’s sapphic!! Currently, it’s slated for a Spring 2022 release. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

There are some INCREDIBLE LGBTQ+ books coming out this year! This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, She Drives Me Crazy  by Kelly Quindlen, These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy, The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez, & The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould are just a few that immediately come to mind!!

Interview with Author Aiden Thomas

Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys, received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Born in Oakland, California, Aiden often haunted Mountain View Cemetery like a second home during their misspent youth. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden is notorious among their friends for always being surprised by twist endings to books/movies and organizing their bookshelves by color. When not writing, Aiden enjoys exploring the outdoors with their dog, Ronan. Their cat, Figaro, prefers to support their indoor hobbies, like reading and drinking too much coffee. I had the opportunity to interview them which you can read below.

How would you describe yourself to someone you’ve never met? What are the first things you would want someone to know about you?

Hello! I’m Aiden Thomas and I am the New York Times bestselling author of “Cemetery Boys” and soon to be “Lost in the Never Woods”! I’m a queer, trans, Latinx author and, unfortunately, I’m also a Disney Adult. I was born and raised in Oakland, CA but moved up to Portland, OR about 4 years ago. I love anime, I’m afraid of wolves, and I’m a night owl which is when I get most of my writing done!

Your debut book, Cemetery Boys, seems to have a unique origin, stemming from a Tumblr writing prompt. Could you tell us more about that?

That’s true! “Cemetery Boys” was inspired by a writing prompt I saw on Tumblr — I follow a bunch of writing prompt blogs and one day as I was mindless scrolling, I saw one that said, “What would you do if you summoned a ghost and you couldn’t get rid of it?” A lot of folks replied with scary story ideas with lots of Paranormal Activity type events, but my brain went, “Yes, and what if he was cute?” From there, I knew if I was going to have a Latinx main character and ghosts were involved, I wanted the book to revolve around my favorite holiday, Dia de Muertos.

As the first trans author to have a trans-centered fiction book on New York Times Best Seller list, how do you feel about the legacy of that impact? And what do you want to see for the future of trans narratives?

Honestly, it was completely wild and unexpected. I don’t think me or my publishing team thought “Cemetery Boys” would take off the way it did! I didn’t even know that a trans-centered fiction book had never hit list until like a month beforehand, and when “Cemetery Boys” did, it was incredible but also disappointing that it had taken this long. Honestly, I don’t really think of it as me “paving the way” because these stories have been written for a really long time. I like to think of it more as me shoving my shoulder into the publishing door and sneaking as many other trans and BIPOC authors as I can with me.

In your bio it is stated that you are a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Program from Mills College. Could you tell us about some of your grad school experiences for those out there considering a supplementary education?

Grad school was really difficult! It was a great way to produce writing. I wrote five short stories that were published in literary journals during my grad school studies, which was fantastic. However, I’m also a firm believer that you don’t need to go to college or grad school to be a good writer! There’s so many free or cheap resources to help you learn craft that you don’t need to drop thousands of dollars on. One of my favorite resources is Jessica Brody’s “Save the Cat Writes a Novel” series! She has some Udemy.com courses that I take every time I start a new project and it’s honestly been life changing! 

Speaking of MFA programs, your second upcoming book, Lost in the Never Woods, was your thesis project, correct? What drew you to the story of Peter Pan, aside from the fact that the book copyright expires very soon? Are there any other fairy tales or myths you might be interested in exploring in the future?

That’s true! Honestly, the inspiration for “Lost in the Never Woods” was definitely the slow and creeping kind! I loved the Disney film as a kid (I’ve recently learned kinship with Peter is a very common experience among trans masculine folks!) and had the BIGGEST crush on Jeremy Sumpter in the 2003 adaptation. There’s also some incredible lines in that movie, but the one that really stuck out to me was when Peter says, “I want always to be a boy, and have fun.” And Wendy replies, “You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.”

That concept that Peter was trapped in Neverland, that he had some sort of duty to the Lost Boys when he was clearly so drawn to Wendy, stuck in brain. I wanted to know why he was in Neverland, what it meant for him to be afraid of his feelings, and what this concept of growing up really meant to him. I read the original “Peter Pan” quickly after that and learned how really dark the canon is how, and how deeply troubled and traumatized Peter was. I was really interested in his mental and emotional turmoil, which led me to wondering, “What happened to Wendy after Neverland?” and that was the real beginning of “Lost in the Never Woods”.

There are TONS of stories I’d love to do retellings of! There are some Greek myths I’d love to put a contemporary twist on, like Hercules and Icarus. I also love fairytale retellings and have been toying with a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling in my head

Besides the Day of the Dead festival, what other holidays do you think the characters of Cemetery Boys would gravitate towards and in what ways would they celebrate?

Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, is a HUGE holiday in my family! There’s always huge parties that go late into the night so kids can open presents at midnight, and just SO much food! It’s my second favorite holiday after Dia de Muertos. Both Yadriel and Julian’s families would definitely celebrate and go all out. I think they’d start the night with Yadriel’s family at the cemetery to do all the official pomp and circumstance but close out the night at Julian’s apartment. Yadriel and Maritza would be crowded into the tiny living room with Julian, Rio, Flaca, Rocky, Omar and Luca opening presents and eating lots of Rio’s famous chocolate box cake.

As a writer, what advice would you give to other writers who are stepping into their own creativity? And advice to those interested in representing their own backgrounds/cultures?

FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT! I feel like writers always ask for advice when it comes to improving their story, but you have to get that rough draft down before you can make it better. The hardest part is finishing that manuscript, and you can query or get published until you have a completed draft to work on! When it comes to representation, I think creating stories and writing about your lived experiences is really powerful, especially when you’re marginalized. There’s young adults out there who haven’t seen themselves in a book, and you can make that happen.

One of the lovely things about your book is multilingual inclusion of different languages? Can you talk about how you incorporate them, and is the significance of this inclusion to you?

There’s a real push and pull when you have multiple marginalized identities. Being trans and part of the Latinx community can be very complicated for a lot of different reasons, a large one being that the Spanish language is gendered. Because of that, there’s much more instances of being mis-gendered within the Spanish language as opposed to English. The family and cultural dynamics can also be incredibly complicated. For “Cemetery Boys” it was important to me to show that and to also use Spanish casually and without translations, as it should be.

As a self-proclaimed geek, are there any anime/manga/cartoons you are drawn to at the moment?

Oh my gosh, I’m fully obsessed with “Haikyuu!” and “Given”! I haven’t been able to watch much since I’m on deadline right now, but as soon as I get a break, I’m really looking forward to binge watching “My Hero Academia”.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

I’m currently working on the next book in my upcoming duology that’s due April 1st! It’s a young adult fantasy series that’s Percy Jackson meets “The Hunger Games”. I came up with a Latinx-inspired pantheon (like a goddess of Pan Dulce and a music god named Mariachi) and creation myth which was a lot of fun. It’s about demigods in a life-or-death competition and I am SO excited to share more about the story when I can.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

She’s too Pretty to Burn” by Wendy Heard is coming out in March 2021, which is a YA thriller I absolutely fell in love with. Also be on the lookout for “Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun” by Jonny Garza Villa (my new ultimate favorite queer romance!) and “Meet Cute Diary” by Emery Lee (if you like romance tropes, you’re going to LOVE this book!).

Interview with Kat Leyh

Kat Leyh is a Chicago-based writer and artist. She’s best known as the current co-writer and cover artist for the Eisner and GLAAD Award–winning series Lumberjanes, and for her critically acclaimed YA graphic novel Snapdragon. She’s also worked as a cover artist, back-up writer, and artist for several BOOM! Studios series. I had the chance to interview Kat which you can read below.

How did you come to find yourself working in comics? What attracted you to the medium in the first place?

I got into comics in sort of a roundabout way because I didn’t even read them until high school. I went to college for illustration because I loved to draw and tell stories. I was also interested in animation and storyboarding, but what got me into drawing comics was the fact that I could tell a complete story on my own. 

I started making my own short comics and found that I loved the medium. I got my first paid gigs after posting my comics online.

What were some of the stories you loved as a kid? What kind of stories are you drawn to now?

I was a voracious reader as a kid. I loved stories with supernatural elements and I still do. I remember being really shook by His Dark Materials. I read everything by Lois Duncan (usually stories about girls with ESP and murder) .

My favorite author since high school til now has been Sir Terry Pratchett. And I’m always a sucker for the found family trope. 

In your comics you’ve covered superheroes, taxidermist witches, and drunken mermaids. Where do you get your inspiration from?

It’s easy to write about my own interests! I start with that and go from there.

Growing up a fan of action movies and other traditionally misogynist, heteronormative genres left me with an ache to write to fill the void of stories I wish existed.

Much of your work seems to consist of LGBTQ+ media generated for younger audiences. Can you tell us about your motivation for creating queer content for kids and the relevance of it today?

This is a question that I love to dig into.

I think many writers who come from marginalized spaces like to write the stories they wish they had when they were kids. I certainly do. Even now, so many people equate queer stories with sex, because they don’t understand queer adults were once queer kids. 

Queer folk are also a unique group in that they don’t get taught their history and culture as they grow, because we’re usually not born into queer families. Many of us find our queer community as adults. Acknowledging that queer youth have unique experiences much less that they EXIST is essential to healthier and happier future generations.

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

Question things.

In your newest book, Thirsty Mermaids, you feature a number of references to mermaid centered pop culture including The Thirteenth Year, Splash, and so forth. What are some of your personal merfolk inspired fiction/narratives?

Who didn’t love Little Mermaid? Some of Glen Keane’s best animation.

I am not especially into mermaids, but they are so familiar a concept that I really wanted to do my own version. The kind of merfolk that I would like to exist. 

As a writer and an artist, what advice would you give to creatives who are tackling one or both skills professionally?

I suppose…take inspiration from everywhere. Not just comics. 

If you’re just starting out, try completing shorter stories and go from there. 

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?

Mmmm… I’m currently thinking a lot about werewolves and bicycles. 

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

I love a lot of the books being published by First Second right now. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’connell are a couple of my faves — and all those creators’ other works are worth checking out as well. 

Tiger Tiger by Petra Erika Nordlund is my favorite webcomic right now. And everything Otava Heikkilä makes is really cool.

Interview with Author Liselle Sambury

Liselle Sambury is a Toronto-based Trinidadian Canadian author. Her brand of writing can be described as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” She works in social media and spends her free time embroiled in reality tv because when you write messy characters you tend to enjoy that sort of drama. She also shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author. I had the chance to interview Liselle, which you can read below.

Congratulations on your debut! Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, Blood Like Magic?

Blood Like Magic is about a family of Black witches living in a near future Toronto, and in particular, sixteen-year-old Voya Thomas who is given the horrifying task of either killing her first love or losing her family’s magic forever.

What drew you to writing? Do you remember the first stories/authors that inspired you to write or simply strengthen your love of reading?

There wasn’t anything specific that drew me to writing, I just wanted a way to vent my feelings and tell stories that distracted me when I was having a hard time, and writing ended up being that medium. I honestly didn’t even read much. I volunteered in the library in elementary school because I wanted to be indoors during recess. I was that kind of kid. But I did love to go to the public library, and I would basically pick out anything that interested me. I was a big fan of the Saga of Darren Shan which was a gruesome vampire series. I devoured those books so it’s not surprising that I hopped right on the Twilight train when it came around. 

As a writer, where do you find your sense of inspiration and what sources do you draw on to refresh your creativity?

I find that books, TV shows, and movies are fantastic fuel for my inspiration. Books so often make me think ‘wow I wish I could write something like this’ and spur me on that way because I’m so invested in trying to create an experience like that, or, like in the case of Blood Like Magic, trying to add to an experience I didn’t get when I was younger. With TV Shows and movies though, it’s often that there’s an aspect unexplored that nags at me, and I have to write that unexplored premise. Anime is usually where I discover a lot of different ways of telling a story that I’ve never seen or heard of. Some anime just blows my mind with the sorts of narratives they weave, and that’s also incredibly inspiring.

Your debut book is said to feature a magic system with strong New Orleans roots. Could you tell us something about that?

The magic in the book doesn’t draw from anything existing in New Orleans purposely because I truly don’t know enough about those cultures and that history. Those practices that have real ties and significance in that region, and I don’t know enough to write it into my work. However, I was familiar with some of the historical events during the period of slavery that happened in New Orleans when it was the U.S. Territory of Orleans. The particular event that stuck out was the revolt that occurred nearby, led by slaves in sugar plantations. With the combination of the history within slavery and of African folk magic in that area, it just felt like the right place for the Thomas witches have ancestors from.

I actually tried to dig into my ancestral history to see if I could pinpoint where my ancestors were from when they were slaves in the U.S. to use that location, but due to the nature of colonialism and records, I unfortunately wasn’t able to find anything.

Your protagonist, Voya Thomas, comes from a Trinidadian-Canadian background like yourself, correct? Was it always your intention to have this aspect mirrored in your fiction, and what are your thoughts on Caribbean representation in the YA world today?

I had always intended to write Voya as Trinidadian-Canadian because I really wanted to put that experience into a story. Prior to Blood Like Magic, I hadn’t explored that in my fiction and thought it would be fun to show that experience. I was truly putting a lot of myself into the story and that’s such a huge part of me.

I think we’re starting to see more Caribbean rep in YA now which is really exciting like Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart and Where The Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass, which are both coming out this year. I haven’t read a lot of stories with Caribbean rep in YA so I’m really happy to add my voice. Especially within a Canadian context because I find that to be less common in YA as well.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book, including the main character’s love interest who is a trans man?

Of course! Luc, the love interest is trans man and he’s my snarky genius. Voya’s cousin Alex is a trans woman, and she’s the fashionista of the family with a talent for sewing and design. Voya’s other cousin Keisha is lesbian and demiromantic, does modelling part-time, and never holds back her opinion. Johan is the head of a family with close ties to the Thomases and he’s gay. One of his sons, Topaz, is also gay, but it’s not explicitly said until the second book.

Aside from witches, are there other magical/mythological/ spiritual backgrounds you are drawn to?

I am a big fan of ghosts which is hilarious because I’m actually really fearful of death and have no desire to ever experience a ghost sighting. But I think there’s something super intriguing about the idea of unfinished businesses and the world beyond death that can be explored in really interesting ways. I loved Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour because she took the idea of ghosts and created a completely unexpected story that was so beautiful.

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

I don’t actually think that I’ve asked who the easiest and hardest character to write were, but I love that question. I have found that Voya is the hardest for me to write because I frequently struggle with getting her motivation as a character just perfect, and it’s hard to make a character who has difficulty with decisions active in the narrative. I’m so dedicated to telling her story right that I tend to spend a lot of extra time with her. On the flip side, I find her cousin Keisha the easiest and the most fun to write. I have no idea why. I think she just asserted herself as a character with a really strong voice and so it just flows. I absolutely love her.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

Right now, I’m working on my first novel-length adult project which is currently uncontracted. It’s going to be a horror, but no ghosts this time. It’ll edge on thriller and include discussions about toxic workplace environments and culture.

What advice would you give for writers who are exploring their own creativity and looking to step up their game?

I would highly recommend reading and writing craft books. That’s something that I do a lot even now and there’s so much you can learn from them. And I would say to read a variety because you may find some you agree with that work for you and some you don’t. They also often have exercises that you can do to experiment with your writing and find what works best for you. I just find that guidance to be so helpful. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I would definitely recommend Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas which is about a trans brujo who accidentally summons a ghost who won’t leave. A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth about four queer fae teens solving a murder mystery (also set in Toronto!). Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley which is a fantasy about a girl cursed to live without love and a girl trying to save her father who makes a bargain. And finally, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass which is about teens escaping from a conversion camp and has such an amazing use of atmosphere and dread.

Interview with Spirits Podcast Co-Hosts Amanda McLoughlin and Julia Schifini

Amanda McLoughlin is the creator and CEO of Multitude, an independent podcast collective and production studio based in New York City. Multitude produces original shows, publishes free resources for podcasters, and helps clients of all sizes create, market, and grow great shows. A YouTuber and small business advisor before starting Multitude, her career is dedicated to helping other creators make a living by making great stuff online.

Twitter: @shessomickey

Website: amandamcloughlin.com

Podcasts: Join the Party, Spirits, NEXT STOP (EP)

Julia Schifini is a historian, voice actor, sound designer, and lover of all fancy foods. She is a co-host and producer of Spirits, a co-host of Join the Party, and the Community Manager of Multitude. She loves world-building, professional wrestling, fancy cheese, and all things creepy and cool. You can hear her sound design on podcasts like Janus Descending and Valence, and voice acting on Tides and What’s the Frequency.

Headshot Credit: Danielle Salerno Photography

Twitter: @juliaschifini

Website: juliaschifini.com

Podcast: Spirits, Join the Party, NEXT STOP (AD)

I had the chance to talk with Amanda and Julia about Spirits, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come to know each other and how did you come to decide to work on a podcast together?

JS: We jokingly refer to ourselves as “companions from the cradle”, but we met in elementary school. Our weirdness just jived since the beginning and we stayed friends all through school and past college. After we both entered the workforce, we would meet up at bars and lament how draining our jobs could be. We realized that we needed a way to make time to see each other and talk about things that we normally would talk about anyway. So naturally, having drinks and talking about death and mythology seemed like the perfect excuse. 

Can you explain your thought process behind the title Spirits?

AM: Fittingly enough, it came to us in a bar! The double entendre of ghost spirits and alcohol spirits was too good to pass up. It’s easy to say, spell, and search for, and coupled with our cover art by Allyson Wakeman, tells people they can expect a lot of both on our show.

Where did your interest in folklore and mythology come from? What were some early stories you were drawn to growing up and why do you think it resonates with so many people?

JS: I picked up a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology arguably WAY too young, and it really struck a chord with me. The stories of Athena, Artemis, and Persephone felt empowering before I realized that was something that was missing from the books I was reading and the shows I was watching. But nowadays it is the universality of the stories of mythology from around the world that keep me interested – seeing how human beings explain the world around them, no matter where they are on the globe.  

AM: I mainly learned my Greek myths from Julia reading library books on the playground, so not a lot has changed! Since starting the show, I’ve gotten even more interested in all things mythology. I try to read really widely about both historical and contemporary cosmologies and folkloric traditions from around the world.

Listen Up Portland podcast festival in Portland, Or. (photo by Casey Campbell Photography)

A large component of your podcast includes discussing LGTBQIA+ topics in fiction and mythology, bringing a queer lens to otherwise straight narratives? Can you expand on this?

AM: It’s been a priority from the beginning to center the stories of queer people, women, survivors, and other people whose stories have been erased, minimized, or villainized in the retelling. But at the same time, as queer people we can’t help but bring a queer lens to the stories we share. Julia does a great job selecting stories that I’ll find a way to connect with, and we try to create an environment where both of us and our guests can bring our whole selves to that connection. 

What are some topics you haven’t covered yet but that you would love to cover in the future?

JS: We are working on bringing on some more Indigenous and African guests to talk more about their respective traditions and folklore! 

As someone who has just admittedly gotten into podcasts this year, what do you think draws you in about this medium? What are some of your favorite examples?

AM: People celebrating niche interests is my favorite genre of podcast—and the whole mission of Multitude, the podcast collective of which Spirits is a founding member. Podcasting really lends itself to unexpected intersections of people, topics, and styles, resulting in shows like Exolore (astrophysicist/folklorist Moiya McTier examines worldbuilding in all kinds of fictional universes), One to Grow On (agriculture is political and fascinating), and Advice for/from the Future (what to do if your partner wants to go to Mars, and other advice for futuristic problems).

What advice would you have to give for people who are interested in creating and promoting their own podcast?

JS: Find something that makes you unique, and something that you will be passionate about. There are a lot of podcasts out there (I think a recent study said that in 2020, there were 885,000 new podcasts, which is two new podcasts every minute), so you need to figure out what you are bringing to audiences that they haven’t heard before. 

AM: Check out the dozens of free resources Multitude publishes! Everything you need to get started is at http://multitude.productions/resources

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet or wish you were asked?

AM: I’m always really interested in how other creators make a living. I write and talk a lot about the business of podcasting, from how we depend on audience support via Patreon to the intricacies of sponsorship booking for podcasts. I wish money wasn’t such a fraught topic to discuss openly, but in the meantime, if anyone out there wants advice or support setting rates or negotiating with a company, hit me up

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ media (i.e books/ comics/ podcasts/etc.) you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

JS: Here’s my top LGBTQ+ books from the past year: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey. 

AM: I’ve gotten really into romance novels over the last year, and my favorite LGBTQ+ books in that genre so far include Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole, the Feminine Pursuits series by Olivia Waite, and Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. I also love the podcasts Friendshipping, Queery, Gender Reveal, and Bad Queers! Finally, gotta plug the other fantastic members of the Multitude collective. Head over to multitude.productions to learn about them!

Interview with KaiJu

Jen Xu and K. Rhodes, also known as KaiJu, are a couple of comic artists working together to create projects close to their hearts. They are SVA graduates and debuted with Chromatic Press in 2014 with The Ring of Saturn. Their next work, Mahou Josei Chimaka, won a DINKy award in March of 2016. Their short comic Inhabitant of Another Planet, was also nominated for a DINKy the following year. The two-headed monster is currently working on their webcomic, Novae, and their middle-grade graphic novel duology HAVEN and the Fallen Giants. I had the chance to interview KaiJu, which you can read below.

What does the title, Novae, mean? What drew you to this word, and did the story evolve from the title or vice versa?

KaiJu: When we were first starting to write Novae, we didn’t have a particular title in mind. We were calling it the very wordy “The Necromancer and the Astronomer’s Apprentice” for the longest time before deciding on Novae. 

Novae means a nova within a binary star system. It’s a phenomenon where one star becomes bright due to an explosion of energy taken from another star. We thought it was a fitting title for our story—as it revolves around two characters that become “locked in each other’s orbit”, and bring brightness into each other’s lives.

Your name, KaiJu, is both a play on Japanese mythology and your names, correct? How did KaiJu come to be and how would you describe your collaboration process together?

KaiJu: Yes! Though the word kaiju is more associated with the Japanese film phenomenon nowadays than mythology. The word carries the meaning of strange beasts, sometimes used to describe dinosaurs in the early 1900s.  We were trying to combine our names into something coherent and we kept landing on KaiJu. It just seemed like a cute idea. We like to think of ourselves as a two headed creature that creates worlds, instead of destroying them.

As far as how our collaboration process goes. We write the script together. We each take on the persona of different characters in the dialogue. It’s a really fun way to write since we never know how the characters might react to each other during the drafting process. We also each storyboard different pages, and pencil our own set of characters. Kate does backgrounds and color, while Jen inks. We get a lot of help from our assistant color flatters as well. It’s very much a collaborative project from start to finish.

In a field like historical fiction, which has been noted for its absence of people of color (as well as LGBTQ+ characters in an era where queer language hasn’t evolved the way it has today), how did you develop the diversity as seen in Novae? What resources did you consult for historical/cultural accuracy?

KaiJu: We borrowed quite a lot of books from the library when we were first writing the script for Novae, and it’s prequel Inhabitant of Another Planet. A particularly useful title was In the land of the Christians, which is a collection of Arabic travel writings from the 17th century. However, the information on people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals was very limited from what we could gather. We try to be as accurate as we can, but in the end the character’s experience is very reliant on their individual circumstances. 

As you mentioned, queer language had not evolved the way it has today, so it’s hard to make a direct linguistic correlation between a persons identity and our modern terminology. But of course, LGBTQ+ folks still existed and felt the same way many individuals do today.

Novae leans towards alternative history, so we don’t intend for it to be a perfectly accurate representation of historical figures or events. Though, we do try to incorporate some historical events in a way that suits the narrative of Novae.

We hope that Novae reflects the diversity that has always been present in history. In truth the lack of diversity in historical fiction is an inaccurate representation limited by narrow perspectives. Though ultimately, the idea of “accuracy” should not limit representation. No one should feel like they have to justify the inclusion of LGBTQ+ and POC characters.

Within the comic, one of the main characters is revealed as mute and shown to communicate nonverbally using a combination of Tactile fingerspelling and sign language. What kind of research do you implement in creating a character with this type of disability in this time period?

Jen: For Sulvain’s character, I looked up articles about non-verbal individuals and how they communicated with their loved ones before established sign language. I found that personalized sign language, writing and fingerspelling were a common way to communicate during the 17th century. For Sulvain’s sign language I watched a lot of Instructional videos on ASL and other world sign languages. Then I mixed and matched to make something representative of Sulvain’s experience. I plan on finding an ASL adviser as Sulvain uses more sign language.

What are some of your favorite elements of webcomics/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

Jen: I love how the visual elements of webcomics/graphic novels convey emotions and freeze moments. It’s different from film and other forms of visual media, that it allows the readers to absorb these moments in their own time. For example, a contemplative scene in a film plays for five seconds— and the scene changes. But with comics, I can choose to dwell on a panel, on a page, or on a scene for as long as I like and really experience the content at my own pace. 

I think comics give you the ability to inhibit space and the minds of the characters, allowing emotions to brew.

Kate: I love the drama that can be conveyed in comics. I also love that the nature of the medium, the ability to create without a big budget, allows you to pursue big ideas with a smaller audience. I love to see the unbridled creativity that comes purely from an individual’s brain.

Techniques that really stand out to me are paneling and framing, and the ability to draw an emotion out of a reader through expressions. I love it when I can immediately feel something just by looking at a few panels. 

Are there any other stories (whether already published or upcoming) fans of Novae could check out from you? 

KaiJu: Yes! We have the prequel for Novae called Inhabitant of Another Planet as well as some other short stories you can find on the Novae website’s about page

As far as upcoming work, we have a middle-grade graphic novel called HAVEN and the Fallen Giants slated to come out with Viking Children’s in 2022. It’s a silk road inspired fantasy adventure with a good mix of fun world building and confronting important social issues. 

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

KaiJu: Oh gosh, we read quite a lot of LGBTQ+ comics that are really great but we’ll highlight just a few here.

We really love the energy in Sammy Montoya’s comics. Sammy does a lot of shorter comics and they’re very addicting. They’re great at pulling the reader in right away and making the characters and conflict very engaging.

You can find some of Sammy’s comics here

Cunning Fire by Kaz Rowe is a great example of a LGTBQ+ webcomic that focuses both on character relationships, as well a complex urban fantasy plot. Kaz uses a lot of great cinematic techniques that are really fun to read. You’ll definitely find yourself rooting for the characters.

Castle Swimmer by Wendy Lain Martin has great world building, characters and spot on humor. If you’re not reading it already you have to check it out.

Tiger Tiger by Petra Erika Nordlund is a super creative and intriguing fantasy comic set on the high seas. Every visual detail in Petra’s comic is a delight.

If you’re looking for a really sweet comic with a healthy relationship that also features a partially nonverbal character, you should definitely check out #Muted by kandismon. 

You can read it here

My Broken Mariko by Waka Hirako is a incredibly well done and heartbreaking manga that just came out recently. I’m not sure if this one is considered LGBTQ+ but I think it can certainly be read that way. It’s worth checking out just to marvel at the emotional power of Hirako’s work. 

There are many more we would love to talk about but these are the ones we’re currently reading.