Interview With Molly Ostertag

Molly Ostertag is an Igntaz and Prism Award winning graphic novelist and author of the Witch Boy series from Scholastic. She also writes and designs for TV animation. She lives in Los Angeles with her wife and pets, where her hobbies include cooking, camping, and thinking about hobbits. I had the chance to interview her, which you can read below.

When or how did you first realize you wanted to create and draw cartoons and comics for a living?

I started out wanting to write novels, because I was the kind of kid who read everything I could get my hands on and spent most of my childhood acting out stories I made up. But I loved to draw (like every kid does, honestly) and got enough encouragement that I just never stopped drawing. In high school a friend introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series, and I realized comics didn’t have to be about superheroes – they could be a way to merge my love of storytelling and of drawing. I feel really lucky that I entered the industry during a huge boom in kids’ comics (thanks, Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey!) and that I could make an actual career out of drawing graphic novels!

What were some of the first stories that inspired you as an artist growing up and what stories inspire you now or continue to inspire you today?

There were a ton of (mostly young adult) novels that really shaped me as a storyteller – authors like Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, Diane Duane, Susanna Clarke, and Ursula K. Le Guin were huge for me. More recently, I’ve been enjoying Tasmyn Muir, N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Jeff Vandermeer, and Madeline Miller. I’ve also been doing a sort-of embarrassing deep dive into my preteen love of Lord of the Rings, and finding a lot of new inspiration and interest in that classic story (did you know that it’s like, SUPER gay?). 

Previously, you had paneled for an event at Flame Con, a queer comic con sponsored by Geeks OUT, on “Telling All-Ages Queer Stories.” Can you talk about your work and personal motivation creating inclusive stories for young queer kids, like Witch Boy?

It’s really important to me! I came out at the ripe old age of 24 (I’m kidding! But it felt old at the time). I grew up in a liberal environment, but the 90s and early 00s were still deeply lacking in gay representation in film and books. Gay men were usually a joke, lesbians existed entirely for the male gaze, and any other identity was barely mentioned. I just didn’t know it was a real option for myself. Each piece of work I make for kids that features queer themes is a way to push back against that – to show young people that there’s a huge world of queerness out there, and to show how exciting and wonderful it is to be yourself. ‘Being yourself’ and ‘listening to your heart’ are very over-used morals in children’s media, but when you put them in the context of queer stories they gain new power.

Relating to such, as a writer for Dana Terrance’s hit show, The Owl House, you had the opportunity to write some pretty major episodes, including “Enchanting Grom Night” and “Wing It like Witches.” What was that experience like, writing canonical LGBTQ+ representation on Disney into existence?

It was very exciting! I had worked for Disney TVA in various capacities and had always tried to push for better queer representation (‘better’ here meaning ‘literally anything’), but this was my first job as a writer. Dana had a vision for these characters and when I expressed how much I love writing romance, she assigned me the Grom Night script. It’s been heartening to see Disney realize that there’s no reason a story featuring a same-sex crush shouldn’t be on their network. That’s thanks to a lot of hard work from people behind the scenes, as well as all the other shows that made strides in this area (Steven Universe, Adventure Time, She-Ra, Korra – we build on what came before). 

By the time I was writing the episode, the process went really smoothly. It was a dream to get to tell the story of a nerve-wracking high school crush (in the context of battling an ancient fear demon) and the reaction to that episode and to Wing It Like Witches was awesome.

Your partner, Noelle Stevenson, also a former panelist at Flame Con, is a creative influence in comics in her/his/their own right. How did you two first meet and would you say your creativity as artists sometimes bounce off each other?

The one time we tabled together at Flame Con (2018, I think?) was SO fun, because we initially met at conventions and so they’ll always have a special place in our relationship. We knew each other from cons, and Tumblr, and from both being in art school and making webcomics at the time. It wasn’t until I moved across the country that we started actually dating (after a lot of coming out drama, some of which Noelle wrote about in their gorgeous memoir The Fire Never Goes Out) and now we’re married and very happy! 

It’s truly amazing to be with someone so brilliant and creative. I feel like I’m always scrambling to keep up with Noelle’s giant brain (in a good way; I hope the feeling is mutual) and we bounce ideas off each other constantly. There’s some of me in She-Ra, and some of Noelle in the Witch Boy series, but being in constant conversation means that our voices have been able to diverge and grow and be strengthened by one another. Noelle is incredible with characters and humor; I’m good at world building and story structure; and we’ve both learned a lot from each other in the last five years. I feel lucky every day.

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?

I talk about this incessantly, but I would LOVE to travel to Middle-Earth and hang out with some hobbits. Hopefully in this scenario I would also be a hobbit, or else the height difference would be a problem when they inevitably invited me over for elevenses, followed by luncheon.

As a creator, what are some tips you can give to people regarding how to break into the industries (comic books/animation) you occupy? What advice would you give for those who are struggling with inspiration or figuring out how to keep going?

For me, becoming a good artist is about pursuing the stories and art you love. It’s about honing in on what makes your voice unique, feeding your interests, and learning the craft of how best to communicate your story to others – whether that means studying writing, or story structure, or drawing, or anything other form of art. 

Being a good artist with a distinct voice is important to break into these industries, but I always have to note that systemic privilege plays a big, frustrating role. The world of comics and animation are slowly getting better at bringing in underrepresented voices, but there are many issues. 

Generally, here are some practices that have helped me most in my career: forming connections with my peers, elevating and celebrating their successes, and sharing information with them. Being vocal about what jobs I want, and being ready to leave when I outgrew them. And finally: consistently making work I’m passionate about and sharing it, even when it isn’t perfect, and even when I have to self-publish and self-distribute. 

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

I’m really excited about my upcoming graphic novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SEA (Scholastic, June 2021). Morgan, a 15-year-old lesbian who lives in Nova Scotia, has a plan to stay closeted until she can go to college; that is, until she meets Keltie, a selkie girl from the sea with some secrets of her own. It’s a very personal story – it explores the transformative power of queer love, and the fear of coming out and being known, in a way that’s really close to my heart. From the setting, to the fashion, to the sweet romance scenes, it was an absolute joy to draw and I hope people enjoy it!

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

Here are some books I’ve loved recently!

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – an aching retelling of the romance between Patrocles and Achilles.

The Locked Tomb Trilogy by Tasmyn Muir – truly insane, extremely fun books about dirtbag lesbian necromancers in space.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki – a gorgeous graphic novel about high school love and heartbreak.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata – a searing, vulnerable graphic memoir about sexuality and mental health.


Header Photo Credit: Noelle Stevenson, 2020

Interview With Graphic Novelist Blue Delliquanti

Blue Delliquanti is a comic artist and writer based in Minneapolis. They are the creator of the science fiction comic O Human Star, which ran online from 2012 to 2020 at ohumanstar.com. Blue is also the co-creator of the graphic novel Meal (with Soleil Ho), and their next book Across a Field of Starlight will be published by Random House Graphic in 2022. I got the chance to talk with Blue, which you can read below.

How would you describe the premise of O Human Star to first time readers?

O Human Star is about an inventor named Alastair Sterling who wakes up one morning to discover that he is in a robot body and sixteen years have passed since his untimely death. When he seeks out his former business partner (and lover) for answers, Al has to confront the consequences of a lot of painful memories between them – and he must face a world whose technology had advanced significantly due to innovations he made in life, and is therefore fixated on his legacy and identity.

What were some of the first comics/book/stories that inspired or influenced you as an artist?

I read comics omnivorously as a middle schooler in the early 00s, so that ranged from superhero comics, manga, webcomics, even Jhonen Vasquez’s alt comics. In terms of stuff whose influence you can trace to O Human Star, I think Mike Mignola’s Hellboy was an early case of a comic whose protagonist I found incredibly appealing. Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist was also a huge early influence on my art and the kind of stories I like to tell. But EK Weaver’s The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal was a roadmap for me – as a webcomic, a queer comic, and a comic about love.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from? What references from real-life or fiction have inspired you since its inception?

I like to tell this story because I can still hardly believe it happened, but the basic premise came to me almost fully formed in a dream. I wrote it down in a journal at the time, but the implied characters and conflict intrigued me, and I kept sketching them out until I had an outline for something much bigger. I researched the science behind the story’s technology, but I was really interested in evoking the melancholy tone from “softer” sci fi with similar themes that I love – like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris or Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto.

At previous conventions, including the 2018 panel hosted by Flame Con, Robots and Ro-Butts: How We Learned to Love Robots, you touched upon the connection between robots and LGBTQ+ narratives? Could you expand on this?

Absolutely. Queer audiences are attracted to stories about characters who are “othered” all the time, and that definitely extends to science fiction about aliens, monsters and robots. Robot narratives are often about transformation and augmentation – improving ourselves in ways that are often seen as strange by other people.

But I also believe, as we spend a significant amount of our lives developing our identity online, that we often find artifacts of our earlier selves that look very different from how we are now. Accepting that continuum as part of our identity is a universally human experience, but it’s especially impactful as a queer person.

Lucille Villas Santos, who in my opinion one of the best characters of O Human Star, is an accomplished prosthetist as well as a congenital amputee. What kind of research did you do in creating this character, and incorporating disability into sci-fi?

I think of all the technological fields that have advanced in the time I worked on OHS, prosthetics might have changed the most! Much of it comes down to the fact that prosthetic limbs were intricate and important to fine-tune for the user, and therefore very expensive – but technology like 3D printing have made it easier to fabricate and customize parts as needed, especially for children. There’s also been a cultural shift in how users discuss their prostheses and their identity – people will often choose limbs that are vibrant colors or interesting designs instead of one that is the closest to their skin tone and limb shape as they can get. Prostheses can be fashion statements or art pieces. Acceptance of disability can mean an opportunity for augmentation, and that idea informed Lucille’s motivations as a scientist and a person.

Body modification and transformation are strong themes within this story, both in terms of queer/trans narratives and technology. Was that exploration of dissonance/unification between appearance and self always present within the story?

Yes, although I expanded upon it much more as the story developed organically over the years. Al’s struggles with identity and legacy were always at the core of the story, but Lucille’s role developed over time as I realize just what a valuable foil she was in terms of perspective on this subject. Personal transformation – especially of the queer varieties – is tinged with this fear of loss. If you radically change yourself, will you lose your family or community? Your identity you spent years, if not decades, building? The specter of loss is at the center of Al and Brendan’s relationship. At one point in the story, meanwhile, Lucille says, “I can’t lose what I never had,” and I think that reflects a radical shift in how you perceive yourself and how you allow others to perceive you, no matter how you change.

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

Pacing. A comic artist has control over the way readers perceive the passage of time in a comic in a way that is really exciting to recognize when an artist does it well. I love experimenting with ways to make a quiet moment seem to stretch for ages, or to make a fight scene seem fast-paced and exciting. I also really enjoy stories that are wordless or dialogue-free, but still communicate loads of information.

What’s a question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked?

I always like sharing a weird or interesting fact like I learned while researching something for a comic – maybe it wasn’t useful for the purposes of the comic, but I’m never going to forget it. Once I had to look up what was the safest way to fall into water from a great height, and that’s how I learned that clenching your butt was essential unless you want rushing water to destroy all of your internal organs. Unrelatedly, I also have a new worst fear!

What advice would you give to those who may want to create their own stories or are already in the process?

Make sure you’re making time for hobbies that aren’t art or writing related! Over the last couple years I got into urban foraging and playing mahjong, and they make for immensely satisfying breaks from my daily comics routine. The perspectives you gain from those pastimes or those communities can also keep you from being in the same bubble in terms of creative problem solving.

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

I’m currently finishing a YA graphic novel for Random House Graphic called Across a Field of Starlight that’s also very sci fi and queer. Keep an eye out for it in 2022!

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

Two queer prose books I’ve read recently that I really liked were The Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman and Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang. Displacement by Kiku Hughes is an absolutely gorgeous graphic novel that came out last year. I’ve also adored Pseudonym Jones’ online comics – she’s got an incredible aesthetic and sense of humor and I look forward to every update in her characters’ lives.

Interview with Peter Wartman and Xanthe Bouma

Peter Wartman has been drawing monsters, robots, and spaceships since he figured out how to hold a pencil. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works as a designer by day and a comic artist the rest of the time. Xanthe Bouma is an illustrator based in Southern California. Their work includes picture books, such as Little Sid, fashion illustration, and comics.

I had the opportunity to interview to both Peter and Xanthe on their latest project at Scholastic, The Dragon Prince: Through the Moon, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you get assigned to work on this comic? How aware were you of the show prior to working on Through the Moon?

PW: I was already a fan of the show! It’s absolutely the kind of story I love, and I hopped on it as soon as it was available on Netflix.

I honestly have no idea how I got the project – I just got an email one day asking if I’d like to work on it. I assume they found me through my work on the Avatar comics or my creator owned work (Over the Wall and Stonebreaker).

XB: One of the senior designers at Scholastic approached me, having known my work. She thought I might be a good match for the book, and since I got really into the show around the season 2 premiere and made a bunch of Dragon Prince fanart, I was, of course, stoked.

You’ve been a writer and an artist for quite a few fandoms before, including Avatar the Last Airbender, What was the process like working on a story with an already established universe? What’s it like balancing keeping consistent with the story’s original voice while including your own elements? Would you describe it as writing professional fan-fiction?

PW: The great thing about starting with an established universe – especially a fantasy universe – is that you can skip all the setup. No need to introduce the characters or magic systems or anything else; the readers will already be familiar with what’s going on, and you can jump right into the story. I was lucky in that Through the Moon touched on a lot of themes I’m already interested in (although I can’t really get into specifics without spoilers), so I didn’t find it too hard to work that in. My biggest goal was just to keep true to the characters – if they feel right everything else should fall into place.

The biggest difference from fan-fiction is that I was working closely with the show runners. It was based on a story outline they provided and we went through a lot of revisions and edits to make sure everything fit. Otherwise, yeah, the experience is probably pretty close.

As an artist who has drawn their own original works and collaborated with other writers and artists on their property, how would you say the artistic process varies? What stays the same?

XB: When I’m working on something alone, it’s a lot of hats to wear and they don’t always fit… so I try to trust my sensibilities while still being self-critical. Collaborators will take some of that load off. They notice and do things I can’t, so what stays the same is having trust, I guess – relinquishing some artistic control and trusting them with their strengths as part of the process. What those strengths are and how other artists, writers and editors play to them is the different part. I get to learn other people’s creative language and hope they’ll be willing to learn mine, which is very different from being in my own head. That and I’m a little neater when I share sketches with other people…!

In terms of The Dragon Prince timeline, Through the Moon, takes place between the end of season 3 and the unreleased season 4. How would you say the events that take place in the graphic novel affect future storylines?

PW: I have no idea! I’m excited to find out.

XB: It seems especially emotionally affecting, particularly for Rayla and Callum. The whole team composition changes going forward in the show now, right? Things can’t really go back to how they were before. I was excited when I finished reading the script because I was like “WHAT does this mean for them next?!”

What were your favorite characters to write/ draw and why?

PW: Rayla is my favorite character in the Dragon Prince – I think her struggles trying to figure out where she belongs / where she comes from resonate the most with me. 

That, and she can parkour everywhere, which is neat.

XB: Indulging in the Rayla/Callum interactions, because I’m a sap. Absolute favorite was drawing sad Soren, that was truly fulfilling. Peter wrote such an emotionally complex moment for him!

What drew you to the comics medium? Do you remember the stories that first inspired you as creatives?

PW: I honestly think the biggest thing about comics for me is that its the only visual storytelling medium that you can conceivably do on your own or as part of a small team. I’m also fascinated by some of the weird things in the language of comics – the way time passes in panels on a page, for example, is very strange, and it’s kind of magic that it all works.

The first comic I can think of that really opened my eyes to what was possible in the medium was Hellboy. Otomo’s Akira was also mind-blowing. Neither of those were the first comics I read, but they were what made me fall in love with the medium.

XB: Garfield and CLAMP… which maybe explains everything. Basically, Sunday strips like Calvin and Hobbes got me interested, then discovering shoujo manga, BL, and webcomics kept that going. When I was 9, I read this punk pamphlet about how anyone can make a zine so then I was like “okay… time to self-insert me and my friends in an original Digimon comic and distribute it at school.”

What advice do you have to give for people working on their own projects/ wanting to enter the comic book industry?

PW: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It took me seven years from graduating college until I started making enough money to live off comics full time. What’s more, every path in comics is different, and the industry is always changing, which makes giving advice hard. That said, you can’t go too wrong making work that you love, and I think it’s essential to reach out to your peers and stay connected.

Also: never sign a contract without getting a someone to look over it first.

XB: Comics take long and often don’t pay well, so make the art/stories you earnestly enjoy making for whatever reasons feel right to you and share with the communities you want to speak to. That said, not everything that comes along will be a dream job. That’s fine – even in art, sometimes work is just work. Choose your battles, know your value, read your contracts, take care of yourself!

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

PW: I’m currently working on drawing more Avatar: The Last Airbender books with Faith Erin Hicks!  

XB: I’ve been working on the sci-fi adventure series 5 Worlds for the last six years… and we are about to finish the final book, The Emerald Gate! So that’s a huge conclusion. Can’t report much beyond that, but I can say I’m working on developing my own stories next. Yeehaw!

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

PW: A comic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is Miyazaki’s Nausicaa (which the film is partially based on). It goes in a lot of cool and weird places that I think fans of the Dragon Prince will enjoy, and it’s only two volumes long.

XB: I revisited SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki recently! The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is an amazing book. This Is Not Fiction by Nicole Mannino is a fun rom-com that’s free to read online. A favorite contemporary manga: Dungeon Meshi by Ryōko Kui; and, finally, a favorite classic manga: Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda.


Follow Peter on Twitter @Peter_Wartman, and Instagram @peterwartman

Follow Xanthe on Tumblr @yumbles, Twitter @xoxobouma, and Instagram @xoxoboh

Interview with Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston is the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue, as well as a pie enthusiast. She writes books about smart people with bad manners falling in love. Born and raised in southern Louisiana, she now lives in New York City with her poodle mix and personal assistant, Pepper.  I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

How did you know you wanted to be an author? 

Honest, I can’t remember not wanting to be an author, so it’s hard to answer this. I’ve always gravitated to storytelling and books, as far back as preschool, and I always dreamed of writing my own one day. I started and abandoned a dozen novels throughout my teens, and eventually tried to find a job that seemed more practical, but I could always tell I wouldn’t really be fulfilled until I gave it a real try. I’m so glad I did, because five-year-old me was right: writing books is what makes me happiest. 

What books inspired you growing up and inspire you now? 

Growing up, I loved fantasy novels and voice-y, contemporary comedies. I was into all the big escapist blockbuster series like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and things that made me laugh like Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson series, plus whatever raunchy supermarket romances I could steal from my older sister. Now, I read across all genres, looking for anybody doing something cool with voice or craft. Some of my favorites lately have been The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir, Hanif Abdurraqib’s backlist, basically any romance novels by Alyssa Cole or Talia Hibbert, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, and good old fashioned Jane Austen. 

Your debut novel, Red, White, and Royal Blue, can be described as a very contemporary book entranced in the here and now. What was it like writing in such a precarious time while creating a novel filled with so much joy and hope? 

It was hard, but at the same time, it was easier than it would have been if I tried to write the same book right now. I conceived the idea in early 2016 and wrote it in 2016 and 2017, while I was still relatively close to the feelings of hope and optimism I felt when I voted in my first election and helped re-elect Obama. I think the reason it works is because I was still able to access that. I wanted to create something that could be a small amount of sustenance for readers who wanted a momentary escape, and that was the motivation that kept me reaching for joy when I was writing. 

Could you tell us any trivia about the main characters of Red, White, and Royal Blue, Alex and Henry that we might not know yet? 

For Alex, his favorite Whataburger order is a patty melt with bacon. For Henry, his moon is in virgo. 

As one can tell by your writing, you seem to be a fan of tropes. What are some of your favorite tropes, and what are some tropes we can expect from your writing in the future?

Obviously, one of my all-time favorites is enemies or rivals to lovers—so much banter and tension, plus the idea I think many of us covet, which is that someone could see the very worst of us first and fall in love with us anyway. I also love gratuitous karaoke scenes, forced proximity, star-crossed lovers, and a grumpy character falling for a sunshine character. One trope I haven’t explored yet in a main romance pairing is best friends to lovers, so I definitely have that one at the top of my to-do list. 

To quote a friend, where do you get all your amazing dad shirts? 

Haha, thank you for asking! I’m so proud of my collection, so I’m happy they seem to be something people associate with me. I get them from all over! Some are thrifted or vintage, some are from the men’s section of Forever 21 or Target, some are from Ragstock, some are from Madewell, and I have one that a friend brought back from the Philippines for me. 

What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, One Last Stop? Any minor spoilers you can give to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

I can tell you that I love this book so much. The jacket copy covers the basics: it’s about a struggling waitress/student who falls for a girl on her subway commute who turns out to be displaced in time from the 1970s. What there wasn’t room to mention is that it’s also very much about finding family and community. It’s a love letters two weird roommates who saved your life in your early twenties, dive bars, 24-hour diners, drag shows, and queer history. I can also tell you that it will make you very hungry. Food plays a major role in the book—especially fried chicken and dumplings. 

What’s a question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked more? 

I feel like you already nailed it when you asked about my dad shirts! They’re my pride and joy, so I could talk about them all the time. But also more people should ask me what my favorite cocktail is (it’s a paloma). 

What advice would you give to those who may want to create their own stories or are struggling in the process? 

Write for yourself and for your characters. Say what you mean, and say it for no other reason then because it is what you want to say. The purpose of writing is not to have your point of view validated by others—it is to have a point of view and write it. 

Finally, what queer books would you recommend to others?

A lot of my recommendations are up there under what books inspire me! To add a few, I’d definitely like to shout out all of Danez Smith’s poetry, anything by Akwaeke Emezi, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, and The Locked Tomb series (again).

Interview with Sounds Fake But Okay

Sounds Fake But Okay is a casual, occasionally chaotic podcast by best friends Sarah and Kayla. Each week, this aromantic/asexual girl and demisexual girl discuss relationships, sexuality, queer issues, and society from an asexual and aromantic lens. Started in 2017, Sounds Fake But Okay releases new episodes every Sunday. I had the opportunity to interview Sarah and Kayla, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come to know each other and what do you think of the chances of both of you discovering you were on the asexual spectrum and creating a podcast revolving around that topic?

We were randomly placed as roommates at the University of Michigan and hit it off incredibly fast — during our first few weeks of college people would constantly ask if we had been friends in high school because we seemed to know each other so well. It’s kind of scary to think about how many little things had to go right in order for us to end up where we are. If I (Kayla) had never met Sarah, I’m not sure that I would have ever discovered my sexuality, and we obviously would have never made the podcast. It makes you want to believe in fate a bit when you think about how low the chances of all of this are.

How did you come up with the title Sounds Fake But Okay?

Once I (Sarah) came out, I found myself asking Kayla a lot of questions about romance, dating, and sex — the sorts of things that people were just expected to intuitively know, but as an aro ace person, I didn’t. When Kayla attempted to give me answers to questions like “what’s the appeal of dick pics?” and “how long is sex supposed to last?”, her responses often sounded fake to me, like they were just things that society was making up and people pretended to understand. Hence, Sounds Fake But Okay was born. 

You two have featured a number of asexual writers and activists on your show before, including Yasmin Benoit, Angela Chen, Gentle Giant Ace, and more. In a way, I feel this helps to illustrate the diversity of the ace community, showing that asexual comes in many shapes and sizes? Was this your intention?

We definitely try to make the show and our guests as diverse as possible. We always say that our experiences are only our own and that they don’t necessarily map onto the community as a whole or speak to every asexual or aromantic person’s experience — we are two cis white women, and it would be harmful to pretend that we understand or represent the experience of all aspecs. Having guests of different sexualities, genders, races, ages, professions, etc. helps us get a broader look at the community.

As an asexual person myself, it often feels like the A is pretty silent in LGBTQIA+. What are your thoughts on the erasure/ gatekeeping of asexual people within the queer community? How do you think the overall queer community can do better?

As aspecs, we’re unfortunately used to getting a lot of criticism or “hate” because of our identities. A lot of the time it comes from straight people or internet trolls. While of course it hurts to see comments from people in those groups, it’s even harder to get hate from fellow queer folks. The queer community is supposed to be about coming together to fight against the norm — it shouldn’t be a contest about who’s the most oppressed or struggles the most. 

We need people of other identities and people who are more “accepted” by the queer community to stand up for us. If we have to keep battling for our place in the community alone, it will take a lot longer.

Both of you occupy different identities within the ace spectrum, with you (Sarah) as a person who identifies as asexual and aromantic and you (Kayla) as a self-described demisexual straight girl. How do you feel your own respective identities play off each other when talking about asexuality?

When we first started the podcast it was supposed to be a straight girl explaining love and sex to an aro ace girl. After I (Kayla) discovered I was demi, the dynamic of the show changed a bit. While I do still explain what dating is like or talk from the perspective of someone who’s had sex, been in love, etc, I also talk from the perspective of an aspec person. I’m in kind of a weird situation where I have one foot in the allo or straight work and one in the aspec or queer world. Since Sarah happens to be an aro ace person who doesn’t date and have sex, I’m kind of able to provide the information she is missing and she is able to do the same for many aro and ace issues.

What are some basic truths for someone who is still new to asexuality you would want people to take away from this interview?

It’s okay if you’re not that happy with your identity or if you’re feeling a bit freaked out. We grow up being told it’s normal to have sex, that everyone does it, everyone wants it, etc. When you eventually find out that this isn’t true or that you just don’t feel the same attraction that others do, it can be a bit of a shock. Take your time and don’t feel bad if you don’t love being ace for a while.

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

Don’t start a podcast if you’re just in it to get famous or make money, because the vast majority of podcasts don’t reach that level. Pick a topic that you’re passionate about, that you could see yourself recording hundreds of episodes about. 

We also always tell people to find their niche. Honestly, one of the main reasons our podcast has become successful is because there were no other shows consistently talking about our topic. This won’t be the case for every topic, so you really have to work to make sure you’re talking about a subject in a new or personal way.

And finally, listeners come for your content but they stay for you. How much of yourself you share on any given podcast is your decision (as it should be!), but once you’ve gained your listeners’ trust, they’ll probably be a bit more accepting if you want to go off topic sometimes or experiment with new things.

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

I (Kayla) wish we were asked about the joys of asexuality and aromanticism more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly important to focus on the struggles we face and to help each other through that, but there are some amazing things that come with being aspec as well. As aspec people, we have good experiences and bad experiences and I wish they were shown more equally.

For me (Sarah), it isn’t even a question but just a topic: I wish people talked about aromanticism more. As a person who is both aro and ace, I often feel as though my aromanticism impacts my life more than my aceness does — people don’t necessarily know if you’re not having sex, but they will ask questions if you’re not dating and have no intention to be. However, so much of the focus both inside aspec spaces and out is on asexuality specifically. Part of this is because the vast majority of the population doesn’t have a grasp on the split model of attraction (the idea that romantic attraction, sexual attraction, etc. are not necessarily the same thing), but it’s also just because there seem to be fewer aros than aces. That said, I think more discussion of aromanticism and how the aro lens can help you reframe and prioritize relationships of all types can benefit everyone, and I wish it were more prevalent. 

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

Interview with Author Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She graduated from Durham University and is the author of YA contemporaries Solitaire, Radio Silence, and I Was Born for This. Learn more about Alice at aliceoseman.com. I had the opportunity to interview Alice, which you can read below.

First off, how would you describe your evolution as a writer? At what point did you
realize you could write professionally?

Well, definitely Digimon and Pokémon! Digimon – in the first three seasons, anyway – had a high level of complex character development and compelling relationship dynamics that has informed every single story I have ever written, which sounds a little silly, given it was just an anime about monsters for kids, but I think it’s true. It made me fall in love with ‘character writing’ and made me realise how much I loved seeing characters grow as people and become stronger and wiser over a long period of time. That’s probably why another of my big inspirations was the Artemis Fowl series, which is a story about an evil, conniving child genius learning to be a good person.

As for today, all sorts of things inspire me – books and movies and music and more. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing in particular.

How would you describe your writing process?

Different every single time. When I was younger, I imagined that I’d find writing books easier as time went on, because I’d had more practice. But the opposite was true. Every story I’ve written has presented new challenges that I’ve had to tackle in a completely different way. But generally I like to plan my stories very carefully before I start them, and then I write them chronologically.

It all began with your novel Solitaire, which has since expanded into a world occupied by your following novel Radio Silence and Heartstopper graphic novel series? How would you describe/ define your evolution as an artist/writer since then?

I like to think I’ve grown a lot as a writer and a human being since then. This year, I decided I wanted to edit Solitaire to make it more consistent with my work now. I wrote it when I was seventeen and was very much still developing as a writer and a human being, and while there are lots of things I love about it, there are lots of things that now make me very uncomfortable to read back. People are still discovering it for the first time due to its connection with Heartstopper, so I decided it needed to be updated a little. The edited version hasn’t been released yet, but I’m excited to be able to share and talk about that book with pride once again.

In an interview with The Guardian, you had stated “romance is not the center of your world.” One of the things I most admire about your work is your commitment to writing love stories that aren’t always necessarily romantic. Could you expand on your feelings about romance and love in the YA genre?

That is a very old interview now, I think! I have nothing against romances at all – I often love reading them, and Heartstopper is very much a romance with an array of romantic relationships in it. But I also think friendship can be just as powerful, or sometimes more so, than romance, and stories about that are sometimes not given the attention or celebration that romances are. That’s the theme of my most recent YA novel, Loveless.

Your most recent novel Loveless, centers an aromantic-asexual protagonist. In some ways this story seems to relate personally to your own identity as a person on the aro-ace spectrum. How was working on this story different from your previous writing experiences and what challenges did you face?

Loveless was the hardest book I’ve ever written for a variety of reasons. It is a very personal story, but no more so than Radio Silence was, and it’s definitely not autobiographical. But Radio Silence was hard to write too! Writing about something that has directly affected you requires you to dig up a lot of personal emotional stuff – stuff you usually like to keep buried inside. I was also constantly anxious about how people would receive the book, given that there is so much intense discourse surrounding aro-ace identities, both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. And my audience was bigger than ever – which is amazing, and I’m so lucky to have a big readership, but I was terrified of disappointing people. To add to all that, I found the plot incredibly difficult to figure out. I restarted the book many times and missed almost every single deadline I was set. I worked through Christmases, skipped gatherings with friends, and felt anxious every second that I wasn’t working on the book. By the final six months of working on Loveless, I wasn’t able to enjoy any aspect of my life until the book was done. Honestly, writing Loveless affected my mental health in a very negative way, and I still haven’t quite recovered from the experience. I don’t regret it, because I know it’s helped some people out there, and I’m so genuinely proud of how the book turned out. But I think I need a break from writing books for a while.

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?

The only fanfiction I have ever written was a crossover between Solitaire and Artemis Fowl. Artemis Fowl is just such a fun character, I’d love to see any of my characters interacting with him and his weird magical world.

Can you give us some trivia about the characters from your books?

People often ask me what careers Nick and Charlie go into when they’re older! I imagine Nick plays semi-professional rugby for a few years before becoming a primary school teacher. Charlie likes books, so I always imagined he might go into publishing.

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

Anything about webcomics. I just love talking about webcomics. Ask me anything about webcomics and I’ll be happy!

What are some of your favorite webcomics?

Some of my faves include: 

Long Exposure by Mars – A teenage nerd and his bully gain supernatural powers after coming across a strange government facility. Romance and chaos ensues! https://longexposurecomic.com/

Charity Case by Malacandrax – An aspiring musician begins to develop feelings for both his new housemates. This is a beautifully drawn slow-burn polyamorous romance! https://tapas.io/series/Charity-Case

Rock and Riot by Chelsey Furedi – Light-hearted LGBTQ+ romance and high school shenanigans in the 1950s! https://tapas.io/series/Rock-and-Riot

What advice would you give to people who wish to make their own webcomic, be they writers, artists, or both?

Plan carefully! Going into a webcomic without a plan will almost certainly lead to either boredom or burnout. Whether you are the writer, artist, or both, plan your webcomic thoroughly. This might include a plan of the plot, developing the characters before you begin writing, practising drawing pages to find a style that’s comfortable, or anything else that expands your vision of the project. Webcomics usually take a very, very long time to make. You have to be sure you won’t get bored six months in!

What advice would you give to writers who are learning how to write and learning how to finish their own stories?

Have fun. Don’t worry about getting published or what anyone else might think of your work. Just focus on writing something that brings you joy. And write whatever you want! Horror, contemporary, poetry, fanfic, whatever you like. Just have fun.

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

I’d recommend the webcomic Long Exposure by Mars (https://longexposurecomic.com/), which follows two teenagers who acquire superpowers, use them very poorly, and fall in love in the process. I’d also recommend the manga series Given by Natsuki Kizu, which is a gorgeous YA story that explores queer romance and grief.

Interview With Author K. Ancrum

K. Ancrum is the author of  the award winning thriller THE WICKER KING,  a lesbian romance THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS and the upcoming Peter Pan thriller DARLING. K. is a Chicago native passionate about diversity and representation in young adult fiction. She currently writes most of her work in the lush gardens of the Chicago Art Institute. I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

First, how did you come to realize you wanted to be an author

 I’ve written books since I was 13, but I never really considered it to be a viable professional option until I was around 19. At the time I was writing on tumblr at lot and had started to write a web-book on there that was gaining a surprising amount of popularity. An agent who predominantly represented non-fiction began following the story and eventually reached out to me and encouraged me to consider submitting my work to agents who represent fiction. I think if she hadn’t approached me I probably would have continued writing just as much as I do today, but it would probably just be for my own satisfaction, instead of as a career

Who or what stories inspired your own personal realization as a writer?

A WRINKLE IN TIME was extremely influential and was the reason I started writing in the first place. I read it when I was 12 and I remember thinking “I want to make something that makes other people feel the way this book made me feel.”. I’ve mentioned this one quite a lot in interviews, but HOLES was also massively influential to me in regards to understanding that writing can be an intensely technical skill, from a very young age. 

A large theme in your books, especially in The Wicker King, is on negligent adults who either refuse to recognize teens in need or are oblivious to it? Could you expand on this topic?

There are so many ways that parents can be “not there” for their children and I think that a lot of the time only a few ways are discussed. 

The Wicker King was unique in that it showed many kids without present adults and how that impacted them, rather than orphaning the main characters for convenience. August had a mother who was physically there but emotionally unavailable in a way that wasn’t really her fault. Jack’s parents were physically absent and emotionally absent, but provided for him financially. Roger and Peter’s parents absence was more periodic but they formed a bond between each other that didn’t allow for outsiders very similar to Jack and August’s but less destructive. Rina’s parents straight up moved away to England and left her living in squalor as a barely-adult teenager.  She’s perilously lonely and friendless and pushes people away.  This book is filled with isolated children trying to make a house into a home: Rina letting August and Jack into her apartment and integrating them into her routine. August and Jack playing house and clawing each other to the bone searching for warmth. Peter and Roger letting August into their world and slowly forming a bond of trust with him. 

I had a lot of friends in similar situations and a lot of them didn’t make it out okay in the end. It was a bit of a relief to have this make believe space to pretend that there could have been a world where they were okay.

Your books, while all grounded in the real world, seem to contain otherworldly elements, relating to magical realism like in The Wicker King, literally being out of this world in The Weight of the Stars, or even fairy tale elements like in Darling. Did you intentionally set out for this or did the style organically evolve this way?

Its intentional. I like fabulism and I feel more comfortable there than in strictly fantasy or contemporary. A lot of real life seems to straddle the ordinary and extraordinary and I enjoy playing with that in my own work. 

Your upcoming book, Darling, is said to be a modern twist on the classic Peter Pan story. In what ways will the story touch upon the original tale and what ways are you planning to invert it? Also, fellow queer author, Aiden Thomas, is also coming out with a Peter Pan based novel, Lost in the Never Woods. Any theories for why this story seems to be resurging all of a sudden?

This is going to sound strangely straight forward, but it’s because the Peter Pan book copyright expires January of next year. There’s going to be an explosion of Peter Pan content for probably a year after. I plotted DARLING in 2013 and have been waiting for this to happen to release it. 

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

This is less characters and more about the fictional universe but, I’m very enamoured with Narnia and the melancholy freshness of the worlds in that IP. The concept of life-supporting worlds/universes at different life stages: Some barely budding with small creatures in the light of a weak young sun and some in desolation and burdened under the weight of time cast red in the light of dying stars. The newness of creatures trying to find a home in these places, living their own individual creation myths. There is a lot about the books that is worth giving one disapproving pause. But I think I would like to be that place in the magician’s nephew where the world was so new that anything you plant becomes a kind of tree.

Within your writing and work in general, what messages do you want to give to your readers? What do you wish you had received from books as a young reader yourself growing up?

I wish there had been more LGBT  content. I actually went into this in a paper I recently wrote about fanfiction and I want to include an excerpt: 

We are in an interesting age of resurgence of mass produced LGBTQIAP+ media. As you all know, progress isn’t linear and its a bit too early to boast that “Things have permanently changed”, but currently we’re doing a lot better than we were just ten years ago. It’s recent enough for me and many other LGBTQIAP+ YA authors to vividly remember the time before these changes. It has also existed briefly enough that we can dubiously envision a time in our future without it. The maintenance of a place where marginalized communities can create and share artwork is vital, and has always been a part of LGBTQIAP+ culture. Fan fiction, small indie publishers and self publishing communities have been supporting marginalized writing for almost a century and show very little sign of being eroded by the shifting tides of public moral opinion or whims of mass production. Fan fiction in particular, is the cheapest and lowest risk form of community building within this art form. It is not a mistake or coincidence that nearly all of the mainstream published authors who admit to their past participation in fan fiction culture are women, people of color and LGBTQIAP+ people. Groups that have been historically underserved by mainstream media. Fan fiction isn’t a stepping stone to “real writing” or a place where people write weird NSFW. It’s a hurricane shelter: A place we can play in on an average day, and the most important place for our survival when the weather begins to look dangerous.

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

Yes! I’m working on an UNTITLED  Train Heist Novel. A cool UNTITLED cult novel for Scholastic and an adult novel about immortality called  WE STOOD ALONE, that hasn’t been purchased yet but my fingers are crossed!

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

Please please please buy Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. They are both stunning and written with so much love.

Interview With Maia Kobabe

Maia Kobabe is a nonbinary, queer author and illustrator from the Bay Area, California. Eir first full length book, GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR, was published in May 2019. Maia’s short comics have been published by The Nib and in many anthologies including THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS, FASTER THAN LIGHT Y’ALL, GOTHIC TALES OF HAUNTED LOVE, SHOUT OUT, ADVANCED DEATH SAVES and BE GAY, DO COMICS. Before setting out to work freelance full-time, e worked for over ten years in libraries.

When did you first realize you could tell stories through words and images? What drew you to the graphic novel art form?

I think I internalized the combination of words and images at a very young age, from children’s picture books, which remain one of my favorite forms of media. I started reading graphic novels (specifically, Japanese manga) when I was in junior high, when they started to trickle onto my local library’s shelves. I love both writing and drawing, so graphics novels seemed like the perfect merger of my two loves. 

Your book, Genderqueer, features one of the first discussions of asexuality I’ve seen in comics. If you feel comfortable, can you expand on your relationship to your asexual identity and what the process was like in depicting it?

Asexuality can be very hard to define or explain to people who haven’t spent time thinking about it, since it’s the lack of something, rather than the presence of something. I’m actually aromantic as well, which I think is maybe an even more important factor in how my life has developed. I received so much passive messaging from basically every single book and movie that eventually I would both fall in love with someone and also want to have sex with them. Though I did get crushes as a teen, I never had any desire to act on them. I think I kind of just kept waiting, thinking, well, is this romantic urge going to just hit me out of the blue at some point like I’ve been taught to expect? But it never did. By age 30 I felt confident saying “okay, enough time has passed that I think I can firmly say that romantic partnership is just something I don’t care about at all, and sex is interesting only at the level of curiosity.” I tried to depict this partly through trial and error experiences that helped me fumble towards greater clarity. 

Within the course of your graphic novel, you discuss how your identity has changed and evolved over the years, showcasing the beautiful and often frustrating reality of gender/sexuality identity exploration. Can you expand on that?

I spent a lot of time not knowing what I was, not having a label for how I felt. I can’t tell you how many countless pages of journal entries I wrote asking, “Am I gay, am I bi, am I a lesbian, am I a boy, am I a girl, am I neither, am I half and half” etc. This questioning took up a huge amount of my mental space, and I definitely wanted to hold the readers in that period of uncertainty, in that undefined grey area. 

In Genderqueer, pop culture plays a very big role, whether being mentioned within the form of comics/manga, figure skating, fantasy literature, etc. How as queer individuals do we respond and relate to the pop culture around us in terms of conceiving and understanding our own identities?

As a young queer person who only knew two or three out queer adults, and was uninterested in dating and sex, consuming queer media was my main form of exploration and discovery of queer identities. I think lots of young queer feel this need to research who we are, especially if we don’t see any role modes in our family or community. Many of the queer books I read as a teen remain my very favorites to this day because of how intensely intimate and emotional it felt to read them.

What’s a question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked more?

I wish more people asked me, “Should I write my own memoir?” so I could tell them yes!

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

One element I love is called a non-adjacent sequence. It’s a series of panels or even pages which are repeated, with a new twist, two or more times in a book. The idea is that the reader will either consciously notice this call back and flip back in the book to find the first example, or else be unconsciously influenced by the repetition and better understand that the two scenes are linked. In “Gender Queer” I used the same panel layout for pages 125 and 219. I also repeated the same plant motif on pages 66, 67 and 191.

Aside from Melanie Gilman, the queer/ non-binary mentor stated within your book, who are some of your other creative/artistic influences?

I am influenced by a lot of other cartoonists, especially ones who draw from their own lives: Mari Naomi, Lucy Knisley, Lucy Bellwood, Erika Moen, Raina Telgemeier, Alison Bechdel, Dylan Edwards, Ajuan Mance, Thi Bui, Sarah Mirk and Shing Yin Khor immediately come to mind. The comics journalism website The Nib has also impacted me a lot- I am both a reader of and a contributor to their site, and their latest anthology “Be Gay, Do Comics.” Many of my very first nonfiction comics were published by The Nib and I benefited greatly from working with their all-star editorial team. 

As a creative person, what advice would you give to other aspiring artists/writers?

Go forth! Be recklessly honest, be gentle, be bold, be strong, be soft. If you tell your own darkest secrets with a spirit of compassion towards your younger self, you will help readers heal their own wounds.

What are some things you wish to say to your trans/non-binary readers?

I love you, and we are family. 

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

I illustrated a YA prose novel called “We Are The Ashes, We Are The Fire” by Joy McCullough which is due out from Penguin Random House in Feb 2021. It’s got some very heavy themes, but also a renaissance-fair obsessed nonbinary teen character who I love very much. I am also developing my next full length graphic novel in collaboration with the nonbinary cartoonist Lucky Srikumar.

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

Buckle your seatbelt, I have a lot of recommendations. I post 100 book reviews per year on Goodreads, so feel free to follow me on there if you want even more! But here are some comics with trans and nonbinary characters which I really loved: Grease Bats by Archie Bongiovanni (a slice of life comic – nonbinary main character) (author is also nonbinary)  

Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy edited by Joamette Gil (anthology of short comics, all with nonbinary authors)

The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin and Noah Hayes (an ongoing comic series, one nonbinary character, one trans character)

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell  (a slice of life comic – a nonbinary secondary character)

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (fantasy YA comic – a nonbinary main character)

Snapdragon by Kay Leyh (a trans secondary character)

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (trans character, nonbinary author)

As The Crow Flies  by Melanie Gillman (trans character, nonbinary author)

The Deep and Dark Blue by Niki Smith (trans main character)

O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti (trans secondary, nonbinary author)

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura (a manga series, multiple trans characters)

Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa  (a manga series, one  trans character)

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (sci-fi comic – a nonbinary secondary character)

Happy reading 🙂


You can follow Maia Kobabe @redgoldsparks on instagram and tumblr

Interview With Author Angela Chen

Angela Chen is a journalist and the author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. Her reporting and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Paris Review, and more. I had the opportunity to interview Angela, which you can read below.

Where did the impetus for Ace come from? Has this project been something you’ve been ruminating on for a while?

The short answer is that I wanted to write about asexuality because I am ace and didn’t realize it until I was 24. More specifically, it was frustrating to me that the existence of asexuality and the ace lens felt so hidden—like something that I had to go searching for in order to find, instead of a perspective integrated into the way that we already think about sexuality and relationships. There were other books about asexuality out there, like The Invisible Orientation, but not many. I really wanted to write a reported book that included detailed narratives from people’s lives and, because I am a professional journalist, thought that I’d be able to do that. 

In previous interviews, such as the one with the podcasters of Sounds Fake But Okay, you noted a difference between talking to ace interviewers versus non-ace interviewers. Could you elaborate on this?

Absolutely. When talking to non-ace interviewers, or for publications that primarily have a non-ace audience, I receive a lot of questions asking me to define asexuality or to debunk misconceptions. It’s very ace 101. I really appreciate all the interest from non-aces and think it’s so important that we show that the ace lens can be valuable for everyone, but the questions necessarily are more basic.

When talking to ace interviewers, we can skip all the questions about what asexuality is and isn’t, and talk more about what it means and explore more nuances instead of focusing on definition. I also feel like I can be more critical of the ace community when speaking with ace interviewers. The community isn’t perfect—no community is—but when speaking to allos, I feel more pressure to emphasize the best parts of the community and that people are ace and happy. 

When talking to ace interviewers or an ace audience, I feel more okay talking about what I think the ace community could be doing better, or saying that sometimes I don’t feel great about being ace, and that should be okay too. 

In the book you provide a parallel between the term “Gold Star Lesbian” with the inspired term “Gold Star Asexual,” and the ways in which the asexual identity is being gatekept by this unattainable ideal. Could you expand on these qualifications and how in your words the “Gold Star Asexual” is a “fantasy and a false promise” (p.99)?

There’s still so much questioning about whether asexuality is valid. Doubters really want to explain asexuality away by saying that someone isn’t asexual, they’re just shy, or haven’t found the right person, or maybe it’s because of childhood trauma, or repression, or whatnot. Basically every ace person that I know has questioned whether they’re “really” ace, which can be exhausting and drain energy that could be better used elsewhere. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to ask questions and explore and of course there’s nothing wrong with deciding that you’re not ace. But it’s telling that people really want aces to question until they discover they’re allo, whereas allos are not really encouraged to question whether they’re ace. It’s a double standard, because it’s okay to be allo but many people think it’s not okay to be ace. Instead of exploration being a valuable and good thing that you do to understand yourself, aces feel like we have to keep questioning ourselves because we might be deluded. 

Allos aren’t the only people who gatekeep either. Because aces are doubted by others, which is painful, it can be tempting to become gatekeepers ourselves. Especially in the early years of the community, there was talk about how people couldn’t be truly ace if they were disabled or if they were victims of sexual trauma, because that would “delegitimize” asexuality.

To my mind, that view is wrong. Very few people are gold-star aces, and we shouldn’t focus on that anyway. The purpose of the ace community is to be accepting and inclusive and help people find each other and share resources. Playing into ace respectability politics will make us turn on each other and exclude those who must be included and it doesn’t help us help each other and organize to change society. The way I see it, you can be ace for whatever reason and that’s fine, and it’s also fine if later you decide you’re not ace. (In general, I think it’s good to think of sexualities as fluid.) I think it’s important that aces fight compulsory sexuality and make it clear that you can have a happy life if you’re asexual, no matter why you’re asexual or for how long—and none of that relies on someone being a gold-star ace. 

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is one the first asexual non-fiction books to be published by a “mainstream” publisher. Was there a lot of pressure riding on this book? What challenges did you experience in trying to publish it?

I think a lot of publishers thought that the book would be too niche—essentially, that because the ace population isn’t huge, there wouldn’t be a big audience for the book and it wouldn’t sell. Others thought that maybe it’d be too academic. I disagree with both assumptions. The book is a bit academic, but it’s also reported and has a lot of stories of people’s lives. And even if the ace population isn’t huge, it’s still valuable to have this book exist. Not to mention that, as I keep saying, the ace lens is valuable for allos too. 

I did feel like there was a lot of pressure riding on it, though I felt that from myself, rather than from my publisher. There’s such a void of ace representation and discussion in mainstream nonfiction books, which means that any new book on the topic is going to be expected to do so much and capture every sub-experience, even though that’s never possible for any book. I tried hard to make the book diverse in a lot of ways and cover topics like race, disability, and gender, as well as different types of ace and aro experience. But of course no book could cover all of ace experience. I said that right at the beginning, in the authors’ note. I tried to say what my limitations were, because I think that’s far more honest than not showing the limitations and pretending one book is representative. It’s not. There is so much more to say. There needs to be a rich ace canon. 

Considering one book can’t cover everything about asexuality, are their subjects you wish you to expand upon? Would you be open to writing a follow-up to Ace?

At least right now, I don’t think I’ll be writing a follow-up to Ace. I’m primarily a science and technology journalist and think my work in the immediate future will go back to focusing on that. But there are so many other subjects that I wish other aces would write books about. There should be books just about sex-repulsed aces, and books focusing only on aros, books about aroallos (who often get overlooked), more books about demisexuality and queerplatonic relationships. I feel like every chapter of my book could have been its own book! Plus, there definitely need to be books about aces outside of the Western world—there’s so much to say about the aspec experience and many who are more qualified than I to write about these experiences. 

While much of the book discusses the challenges and prejudices facing the asexual community, you also highlight some of the positive elements about this identity. Could you talk about that here?


Absolutely. Being ace can give you such a rich and valuable perspective on the world. Sometimes, it can feel like a superpower, like it makes you see things that other people don’t, like it makes you more perceptive. It can make you question so much about relationships (of all kinds) and sexuality that people take for granted. I think that, often, it can help you have richer and closer and more intimate relationships. Ace are some of the most emotionally and socially intelligent people I know. Like many other experiences that deviate from the norm, it makes you see the norm for what it is—and then it can bring more freedom by having you question it. 

What asexual resources/pop culture references would you recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?

In terms of general ace resources, I would recommend Julie Sondra Decker’s book The Invisible Orientation, as well as The Asexual Agenda, which is a wonderful group blog. 


To be honest, I have never been the best at pop culture references—there’s a reason I’m primarily a science and tech journalist! (And writing the pop culture parts of the book was difficult for me.) There’s a lot of wonderful ace YA out there, which I think is super important. Alice Oseman’s Loveless comes to mind, for example, as does Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love. This Goodreads list might be useful too

And finally, are there any projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currently developing and are at liberty to speak about?

Not right now! Still trying to recover from 2020.


You can follow Angela Chen on Twitter @chengla

Interview With A. J. Sass, Author of Ana on the Edge

A. J. Sass is a writer, editor, and occasional mentor. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. When he’s not exploring the world as much as possible, A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel. I had the chance to have a Q & A with A. J., which you can read below.

Recently, you wrote an article for TIME regarding the recent controversial statements J.K. Rowling had made about the trans community. As an admitted fan of her Harry Potter works, but not her real-life opinions, how does a queer fan reconcile their love for the series and feelings for the creator?

This has been on my mind ever since I caught wind of Rowling’s tweets, and it’s taken time for me to assess my feelings, in all honesty. The Harry Potter series helped me embrace my own identity, and I met so many wonderful friends as an active member of the fandom community. As I mentioned in the article, I even made the series an integral part of my international travel itineraries by hunting for foreign language editions to bring home with me. But it’s not as simple as divorcing the author from her creative work, at least for me. While I will always cherish what the series meant to me when I was younger, I’m branching out now and reading stories by queer authors and those who vocally support queer folks. There are so many wonderful, inclusive fictional worlds to explore.

Your debut novel, Ana on the Edge, features a non-binary Chinese-Jewish American protagonist. As a writer who is Jewish and non-binary how much of your experiences are reflected in Ana’s? Were there any concerns in portraying a character not from your own ethnic background, and what steps were taken towards creating authenticity?

Just as a note, I refer to my main character, Ana, with female pronouns because Ana hasn’t chosen a new set by the end of the story. Nonbinary people use a variety of pronouns, including male and female pronouns in some instances. In Ana’s case, she’s still exploring what feels right.

The process of figuring out my identity and the anxiety I felt when deciding how to come out to my friends and family are absolutely reflected in Ana’s story. For example, when Ana’s new friend, Hayden, mistakes her for a boy and Ana decides not to correct him, I pulled from a time in my life when I didn’t know what nonbinary meant, just inherently knew I was trans. I chose a traditionally male name and asked people to refer to me with male pronouns. Just like Ana, being seen as a boy initially didn’t feel 100 percent right, but I decided it was good enough for the time being since it was closer to correct than people referring to me as a woman. 

Once I discovered what it meant to be nonbinary, everything felt like it fell into place, in terms of how I internally saw myself. Ana’s life is different than mine in many ways, but her path to embracing her authentic self is quite similar to my own in that respect. In terms of Judaism, the longstanding friendships I’ve made at various temples I’ve attended throughout my life are encompassed in Ana’s relationship with her best friend, Tamar, as are her concerns for how her religious community will react to her nonbinary gender identity. 

My goal when developing Ana’s Jewish-Chinese heritage was to reflect the diversity I see in the Bay Area rinks I skate at myself. I chose not to focus on how the San Francisco Chinese-American community might view gender identity since that has always felt like another person’s story to tell. Instead, my focus was on how the gendered aspects of figure skating might impact a nonbinary athlete. At the same time, I don’t believe characters of color should or even can be divorced from their cultural heritage. I was fortunate to work with authenticity readers to ensure a sensitive and culturally accurate portrayal of the part of Ana’s heritage that differs from my own. 

As a figure-skater yourself, how have you incorporated your own experiences into Ana’s story? What hopes do you have for Ana’s figure-skating generation and for the generations ahead?

Ana is definitely more talented and confident on the ice than I ever was, that’s for sure! But as a competitive skater myself, I understand pre-competition nerves on an intimate level, not to mention the sensation of unfamiliar ice at a rink you’re skating at for the first time and the pressure to perform well and justify years of money spent on training. These were all elements from my skating background that made its way into Ana’s story. 

My hope for kids Ana’s age is simple: I want every skater to feel safe and comfortable being themselves, on the ice and off. It’s already starting to happen, thanks to brave trailblazers who’ve come out during their Olympic-eligible careers, like Eric Radford, Adam Rippon, Timothy LeDuc, Karina Manta, Joe Johnson, and Amber Glenn. These skaters and others are paving the way for a new generation of skaters.

How would you describe your writing process? What elements and techniques would you say you incorporate into your craft?

My writing process is honestly something I’m still trying to pin down since it seems like I approach each book I write differently. Ana on the Edge came out in a flood of words during the spring of 2018. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but Ana’s story felt like a natural extension of myself that my wonderful agent and the fantastic editorial team at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers helped make even better. 

Outlining was one strategy I used for Ana that I hadn’t tried with previous manuscripts. I also learned about Save the Cat! beat sheets. Traditionally a screenwriting technique for honing plot and pacing within the context of the three-act structure, I found it helpful in laying out my already-written scenes and seeing where they might fit if Ana were a movie.

Queer figure-skating and ice-sports related media has increased in the past few years from Tillie Walden’s Spinning to Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please! to Sayo Yamamoto and Mitsurou Kubo’s Yuri!!! On Ice. Is there any figure-skating media you admire and/or relate to?

I love Spinning and Yuri!!! On Ice (and definitely want to take a look at Check, Please! now that you’ve tipped me off to it). I admire what the wonderful people at Skate Proud (website | Instagram) are doing in featuring queer athletes around the world in both figure and roller skating. In addition, it’s always a treat for me to sit down and watch the videos produced by On Ice Perspectives (website | Instagram). The founder films skaters up close and personal, in skates and on the ice himself. It makes for an incredible viewing experience.

Aside from figure-skating and writing, what activities do you enjoy doing in your life?

This probably comes as no surprise, but I’m an avid reader. I’ve always loved middle grade and YA, plus memoirs and biographies of historical figures, and I’ve recently fallen in love with picture books. Additionally, my boyfriend and I are avid travelers (or were, in pre-pandemic times). One of our favorite things to do is decide on our next vacation destination, then figure out the most affordable way to get there so we can experience all the location has to offer. Since our travel plans are postponed for the foreseeable future, I’ve doubled down on my attempts at language learning. Mandarin is my latest challenge. I studied a handful of languages in high school and college, so I’ve also been trying to refresh my memory on some of them, specifically Arabic, Hebrew, and French.

As a writer, what advice would you give to others, especially other queer writers, who are just starting out on their journey?

When I first thought about becoming a writer over a decade ago, there weren’t many queer authors or stories I could look to for inspiration. The landscape is quite different for queer writers today. Everyone from my agent to the team at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has welcomed me (and Ana) with open arms and boundless enthusiasm. 

But before Ana sold, and before I connected with my agent, it was the online writing community that encouraged me and kept me going. Twitter is a great place to find support and critique partners, especially if you’re writing in the kidlit space (which encompasses picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and YA). 

It was on Twitter that I also first learned about mentorship opportunities, programs where an agented or published author works with a pre-agented author to revise their manuscript in preparation to query agents. I was a #WriteMentor mentee in 2018, and the friendships I made with some of the other mentees and mentee-hopefuls remain strong to this day. My biggest piece of advice is to find your community, whether it’s online or off. Let your fellow writers cheer you on and give back to others as much as possible.

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

Oh gosh, do you have a free afternoon? There’s so much great LGBTQ+ content out there, I could talk about it for hours.

One online comic that I dearly loved and related to when I was figuring out my identity is Tab Kimpton’s Khaos Comix series. Tom’s and Alex’s stories were the first portrayal I’d seen of a relationship between a transgender boy and a cisgender boy, and it meant so much to me, as someone who is transmasculine/nonbinary and gay. 

Other queer graphic novels I’ve read and enjoyed recently are Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (a YA Fantasy that also has great Jewish and disability rep!) and The Deep and Dark Blue by Niki Smith (a middle grade fantasy featuring a trans girl and her supportive twin brother).

2020 has been rough on the whole, but one bright spot is how many fabulous LGBTQ+ books have recently released. Here are a few of my favorites that Geeks OUT readers may enjoy:

Middle Grade:

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit Rosewater: roller derby and queer characters, plus fabulous illustrations by Sophie Escabasse

Young Adult:

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: speculative fiction at its best, featuring a trans girl main character as an organic part of the narrative

Adult:

The Deep by Rivers Solomon: a lyrical fantasy novella (I also highly recommend Solomon’s SFF debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts).


Follow A. J. Sass on Twitter and Instagram @matokah