Interview with Author Lin Thompson

Lin Thompson (they/them) is a Lambda Literary Fellow of 2018. An earlier version of this novel was workshopped in Pitch Wars and it also received the Travis Parker Rushing Memorial Writing Award at Emerson College. Lin grew up in Kentucky but now lives in Iowa with their wife and cat.

I had the opportunity to talk to Lin, which you can read below.

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

Hi! I’m a queer middle-grade author of The Best Liars in Riverview. I grew up in Kentucky and now live in Iowa with my wife and our cat. The pronouns I’m currently most comfortable with are they/them, and I identify as a trans nonbinary person.

What can you tell us about your debut book, The Best Liars in Riverview ? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? Did you draw any inspiration from other author or books while writing it?

The Best Liars in Riverview is about twelve-year-old Aubrey’s journey to find their best friend Joel after Joel has run away from their hometown on a raft the two of them built together. Along the way, Aubrey is piecing together everything that’s led up to Joel running away, and they’re also finding the space to really question their own gender for the first time.

The book grew out of a short story I wrote in college about two kids who want to run away on a raft. I’d been writing lots of stories before that about people wanting to run away from home and start over someplace new, away from the expectations and assumptions of everyone they knew—but it took me a long time to realize why I was so pulled to that idea. It wasn’t until I was starting my own queer journey that I started understanding the discomfort I’d been feeling when the people around me were assuming a gender for me that wasn’t right. The story about the kids and the raft was the one I kept coming back to as I was figuring out these huge pieces of my identity.

On your website, you described this book as “the story of my heart,” writing that “it’s grown and changed as I’ve grown and changed.” Could you tell us what you mean by that?

When I first started working with these characters, I was very early in my own queer journey—just barely even beyond “I want to be supportive of my queer friends” and moving into exploring my own identity. As I started realizing I wasn’t straight, and then later realizing I wasn’t cis, this was the story I kept coming back to and using to work through some of those feelings. I worked on this book on and off for about seven years before I ever started trying to get it published, and when I look back through the older drafts now, I can definitely see each step of my queer journey. In that original short story, the character who eventually became Aubrey was really just trying to figure out how to be a good ally, and then the story shifted with Aubrey having a first crush on a girl, until eventually, it became the version it is now, with Aubrey realizing that they aren’t a girl.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to middle-grade fiction?

I’ve been interested in writing for as long as I can remember. My parents read to me a lot when I was little, and then I read a lot on my own, and I was telling everyone I wanted to be an author when I grew up from at least kindergarten onward. Middle-grade has always been really special to me, because the time in my life when I probably read the most was in middle school, and the books I read during that time have stuck with me in a way no others can. Middle school is such a confusing, transitional, formative time. I don’t remember reading about any openly queer characters back then, but I’ve thought a lot since about how much of a difference it might have made for me if I’d had access to the wide range of queer MG titles available now.

While I was writing Best Liars, I was also working as a children’s librarian, so I was seeing every single day just how important it is for kids to have queer stories available to them. The kids I was working with were always looking for recommendations, and it was so exciting to see the genre keep growing and to keep having more stories to offer them.

How would you describe your writing process?

Honestly, my process is pretty chaotic. On the plotter vs. pantser scale, I’m probably a chaotic plotter—I always want to be organized, and I have to know the story pretty thoroughly before I can really start writing, but I also jump around constantly as I’m writing and very rarely write chronologically or follow the plans I made. I love making outlines, but I also love changing the outline constantly as I go. I spend a lot of time feeling like my brain is trying to hold onto too many pieces of the story while I frantically try to get them into place before I forget them. I was diagnosed with ADHD fairly recently (as I think a lot of us have been—the pandemic really messed with the coping strategies a lot of us had in place before!), and I’ve also been realizing that my process for writing one book doesn’t necessarily work for writing the next one, so I’ve been trying to embrace the chaos and to find strategies that work for me.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters/themes featured in your books?

The main character, Aubrey, is questioning their gender and over the course of the story admitting to themselves for the first time that they’re not a girl. It was important to me that we leave Aubrey in a place of questioning without finding a clear, perfect label for themselves by the end of the book—I like to describe the story as less about finding an answer and more about learning to ask the question. I was definitely in that questioning stage of my queer journey as I was writing—in some ways, I still am in that questioning stage—and I wanted to get to show a character becoming more okay with not knowing exactly the right way to describe themselves, but still being able to accept themselves and find support.

And while Aubrey is looking for Joel, Joel is also doing his own questioning and (minor spoiler, I guess) realizing he’s gay. The characters live in a fictional town in Kentucky, and while Joel has been facing a lot of overt homophobia at school, Aubrey is also picking up on the ways people in their community signal their disapproval of queerness by just never talking about it. I wanted to explore how both those loud and quiet kinds of queerphobia can be damaging in different ways.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What would you say are some of the hardest or most surprising for you?

I really enjoy the early stages of a story, when I’m still mulling over all the different parts of it and haven’t put many words down on paper yet. I love how malleable it all feels, and I love the excitement as I figure out each new piece and see how the story can come together. I think that sometimes as I get farther into a story, it’s really easy for me to get stuck on one way of writing it and forget that there are so many possibilities, so I really love the moment when I realize how I can change the pieces to make something work—when I remember that, at the end of the day, the whole story is made up, and I can change whatever I need to make it into the book I want it to be.

The field of LGBTQ+ Middle-Grade literature is slowly, but steadily growing? What are your thoughts on the genre, and can you name any titles that stand out to you?

I’m so excited about how many more queer MG books are coming out every year! I think it’s so important to have LGBTQ+ stories for kids, because again, the middle-grade years can be such a formative time—it’s so important for kids who are figuring out who they are to have a wide range of queer stories to potentially see themselves in. I think Kacen Callender has been truly pushing open the doors for what’s “allowed” in queer middle-grade stories, and I’m so excited for their upcoming Moonflower. Kyle Lukoff’s Too Bright to See had me crying within the first fifty pages because the way the main character experienced gender made me feel seen in a way I’d never been before, even as an adult. Other titles I’ve loved recently are The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy, Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow, Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas, and This Is Our Rainbow, an amazing anthology put together by Nicole Melleby and Katherine Locke!

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

Experiment and figure out what works for you! I definitely used to get discouraged by people saying you needed to write every day or that you need to have a certain routine or whatever, because the thing I’m most consistent at is being inconsistent. It turns out everyone’s process is going to be different, and the best thing you can do is figure out how your brain works and how you can best make stories.

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

I love baking, embroidery, making music, playing video games, gardening…I tend to cycle through hobbies, picking up new things and doing them obsessively for a month or two before I get bored and move on to the next interest. I also absolutely love being in the woods, and I have a very special place in my heart for the Kentucky woods I grew up around.

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

Honestly, I’m very new to being interviewed and these questions have been great! I’ll say that I’m always excited to be asked if I have any pets, because then I get to talk about my cat Nasa who’s allergic to everything and who I absolutely adore.

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

I just turned in my revisions for my second middle-grade book, which is about a trans boy and his siblings investigating their grandmother’s possibly haunted house. The main character, Simon, is much more secure with his gender internally than Aubrey is in Best Liars, and I’ve really enjoyed writing about him and his family and exploring the gender euphoria Simon gets from this new name that he’s chosen.

I’m also working on a YA historical fantasy about three queer teenagers in the 1840s who find their way aboard a sailing ship with a majority-queer crew. It’s obviously a very different age group and genre, but with a lot of similar themes around self-discovery and found family. I’ve been really enjoying figuring out how to write in a time period when the language we use now to describe queerness didn’t exist yet, and when even the framework of queerness as an identity hadn’t really come about yet—it’s been challenging but also a lot of fun!

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

In addition to the MG titles mentioned above, I’m so excited for these books for YA readers coming out this year and next: When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb, We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, and If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come by Jen St. Jude. Sacha, Jas, and Jen were all Lambda Literary fellows with me, and their writing and characters are all absolutely stunning, so definitely keep an eye out for these queer books in 2022 and 2023!


Header Photo Credit Katherine Ouellette

Interview with Author Zoe Hana Mikuta

Zoe Hana Mikuta currently attends the University of Washington in Seattle, studying English with a creative writing focus. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where she developed a deep love of Muay Thai kickboxing and nurtured a slow and steady infatuation for fictional worlds. When she is not writing, Zoe can be found embroidering runes onto her jean pockets, studying tarot or herbology, or curled up with a cup of caramel coffee and a good, bloody but heartwarming book. She is the author of the Gearbreakers duology (Gearbreakers and Godslayers).

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

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

Thank you for having me! My name is Zoe Hana Mikuta, and I’m a YA author. I’m 22 and finishing up my undergrad English degree at University of Washington. Gearbreakers and Godslayers make up my first series!

What could you tell us about your series, Gearbreakers? What inspired the story and the world you’ve created?

The Gearbreakers duology is about renegade kids taking down 200-foot mechas (worshiped as deities). It has found family, enemies to lovers, and a sapphic romantic subplot between the two main characters—I found both the Asian and LGBTQ representation within the sci-fi genre to be severely lacking growing up. I was definitely inspired by dystopian media, and the entire plot of Gearbreakers stemmed from the bare initial need to write giant mechas. I built all the characters and the world. 

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/most challenging parts for you?

My writing process involves a lot of self-talk—it really is a practice in focus. Putting my phone in the other room or getting off the internet helps a lot. One of the most challenging parts of drafting for me is embracing the idea of the messy first draft, rather than editing as I go, which I think makes me harsh with myself. But when I get in a good flow, there’s nothing else like it. I’ll look up and three hours have passed.

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

Shirley Jackson reigns queen in my head, of course. Alberto Mielgo, who directed Love, Death + Robot’s Jibaro and The Witness. Anyone and everyone who worked on Over the Garden Wall. 

As an author, when and where do you say you first found your interest in storytelling? And what specifically do you do with speculative fiction, especially mecha?

I think the earliest book I can remember reading that made me go “I want to do something like that” was Because Of Winn Dixie, which I read in the third grade. I was a big Percy Jackson and Spiderwick Chronicles kid, too, just a big reader in general. From very early on I knew that writing was the art I got the biggest kick out of. I think watching Pacific Rim in the theatre was a big turning point for me, too, into the sci-fi and mecha genre. Now I basically flip out whenever there’s giant robots in any of the media I consume. 

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

I have a big interest in religion as a sociological feat (runs in the same vein as the study of literature, in that regard!)—I’m a History of Religion minor, and really big into philosophy even though I absolutely despise it at the same time. I aim to make Kierkegaard roll in his grave. I also dream of having a house with a little front garden. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

I mentioned this earlier for myself, but embrace a messy first draft. Make it terrible, and then make it better, but not all at once. 

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

Rabbit & Sickle is my third book, my current work in progress. It’s a fantasy horror, Alice in Wonderland retelling meets Attack on Titan, super bloody, super sapphic (read: there’s feral Saints in Wonderland Forest!). 

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

The Malice duology by Heather Walter, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Scapegracers by H.A. Clarke. 

Interview with Author TJ Alexander

TJ Alexander is an amateur baker and author who writes about queer love. Originally from Florida, they received their MA in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. They live in New York City with their wife and various houseplants.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m TJ, I’m a writer who lives in New York, and I write queer romance books. Lately I have been keeping alive more houseplants than I’ve killed, so that’s going super well. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m told that makes a lot of sense once you get to know me. 

What could you tell us about your book, Chef’s Kiss? What inspired the story?

Chef’s Kiss is the story of an uptight pastry chef named Simone who is working at her dream job, writing recipes for an old-school cookbook publisher. Suddenly she’s expected to create online content, which she really sucks at. But her new enby kitchen manager, Ray, turns out to be a total natural, and they get stuck working together on video projects. They start out really antagonistic towards each other, being complete opposites, but gradually love starts to bloom. I wanted to write a story about food media, which I’m kind of obsessed with, and I really wanted there to be a nonbinary love interest, since I’d never seen that in a traditionally published romance.

What kind of tropes can we expect from Chef’s Kiss?

Role call! It’s got your grumpy/sunshine pairing, your enemies-to-lovers, your slow burn. If you’re into food as a metaphor for love, it’s got that in spades. Oh, and a smidge of found family!

What drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically to the realms of fiction and romance?

I was always making up weird stories as a kid. I think fiction was a safe escape, growing up queer. Love stories particularly drew me in because romantic love was this big, huge, fantastical thing. When I was young and really hungry for those types of stories, the romance genre was Not For Me. I would pick up a romance novel and there would be some very strict ideas about gender that did not appeal to me at all. Still hot, but not for me, haha! So for a long time, I actually avoided romance. I would come up with ideas on my own and think, well, I guess I can just tell myself the stories I want to hear. I’m glad I finally wrote one down and that other people are going to get a chance to read it.

Since Chef’s Kiss is very culinary in theme, I was wondering if you had any personal interest in cooking yourself, and if so if that helped in writing the book?

I’m KIND of obsessed with food? I’m a decent amateur cook, but I’m an expert watcher of culinary media. My favorite thing to do is eat my lunch while watching a YouTuber put together a bento box or bake a fancy cake. I actually have a photo of Ina Garten in my home, hanging on the wall. So yeah! Hopefully I’m bringing a little bit of that unhinged energy into Chef’s Kiss! It definitely helped when I was creating some of the recipes that are part of the plot.

How would you describe your writing process?

I would call it loosely structured. I discovered I write more productively in the mornings, which was a cruel twist. So I wake up early, same time every weekday, I sit down with my tea, I light my little candle that smells nice (non-negotiable), and I work until I reach that day’s word count goal. If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll go a little further than I have to. I usually follow an outline, but again, it’s very loose.

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

I don’t want to sound flip or dismissive but have you seen that meme that was going around awhile back? I think it was a tweet? Make a gay little man and give him a problem? Oh I found it! That about sums it up, I think.

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

My favorite part is hitting upon an answer that you didn’t know you were looking for, those lightbulb moments where you’re like, “Oh, THAT’S why they act this way/feel this way/etc.” Things get easier when that happens. The most challenging bit is probably writing what I call the “tent-pole scenes,” the parts of the story that everything else hinges on. They need to work because otherwise nothing works. That’s a lot of pressure, almost all of it self-made!

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

Gosh, I would actually love to not be perceived at all aside from my work, you know? Haha, I think I’m pretty shy even though I come off as a loud, talkative extrovert. I think those two halves of my personality got divided between my main characters in Chef’s Kiss, to be honest. But even though I’m a ball of anxiety most of the time, I am friendly! Just sweaty about it.

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

My deal with Atria is for two books, so I am working on that second one right now. I don’t know if I can say anything too spoilery about it, though, so I’ll just say it’s very queer and very tasty. There are other things happening too. Secret things. Extremely gay things.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Read whatever you can get your hands on that’s in the same wheelhouse as what you want to write. Even if it’s not an “exact match” for your project, it’s going to help you. As I was working on Chef’s Kiss, I read a ton of YA novels with trans and nonbinary characters because that’s where an amazing amount of that representation was being done. I also read romcoms of all stripes just to get a better feel for that genre. Nothing gets written in a vacuum, it all goes in the punchbowl.

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

OK! If you’re into giant mecha battles/historical retellings, I can’t recommend Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao enough. I still think about that book’s ending once a week or more. If a modern AU/behind-the-scenes story is your thing, my favorite read of last year was Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive. Anything by Malinda Lo–she literally never misses. Cemetery Boys by Adian Thomas was one of those YA books I mentioned reading as research, and it was an absolute joy. Oh, and you know what book would be perfect for those in the queer community committed to advocacy and pop culture? Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore.

Interview with Illustrator Keezy Young

Keezy Young (they/she) is a queer comic artist and illustrator from the Pacific Northwest, currently in Seattle, WA. Today, Keezy writes, draws, and designs their own young adult comics. Their stories are cute, eerie, and often dark, but almost always hopeful at their core. Their work is character-focused, and they use action, romance, and mystery to explore LGBTQIA characters and themes, since those are the stories they always looked for growing up, but could rarely find.

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

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

Hi, I’m Keezy! I’m a queer comic artist and writer from the Pacific Northwest who loves telling stories about eerie, creepy stuff in a loving and hopeful way. My first graphic novel was Taproot, originally published in 2017 (and re-released in July 2022!), and I’m currently working on Hello Sunshine, which comes out with Little, Brown in 2025. I also do short comics and artbooks between my big projects!

As a graphic novelist, what drew you to storytelling through comics, and why specifically Fantasy?

I’ve been drawing for my whole life, ever since I was running up and down the stairs and using crayons on the walls. I came to writing a lot later, but I was always having ideas that I couldn’t quite manifest through a single illustration, so when I found picture books and comics, I was immediately drawn (ha!) to them. 

And I always loved fantasy, too. I like being able to explore an idea through a different lens than usual, whether it’s me coming up with the idea or somebody else. It gets me thinking about the world in new ways.

As an artist, one of the comics you are best known for is your comic, Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost? Could you tell us what inspired the story? And would you say you have any particular experience or connection with gardening/nature itself?

I grew up in the forest and spent a lot of time with my mom in her garden, so I’ve always felt connected to the world that way. And when I was a kid, I felt ostracized and unloved by the world because I was queer, like my childhood was taken from me in a way, so I wanted to write something for myself in the past–putting those two things together, my happy memories of gardening, and queer love, was really cathartic for me. 

And like most of us, I’ve lost people. One of my very earliest experiences of death was my neighbor, a reclusive older man who I only really saw once. I was maybe 6, and had tripped and dropped my pea seedlings on the way home from the bus stop, was crying with scraped knees, and he came out to help me pick them up and put them back in my cup and make sure I was okay. He was kind and gentle, and that memory will always stick with me, even though it was a small thing. He died of suicide a couple of years later, but I will never forget that day, because it’s had ripple effects throughout my life. So I don’t necessarily want to say I’ve been inspired by death, but both his life and death, and those of all the friends who I’ve lost since then, have been with me for a very long time, and Taproot was partly a way of making peace with those losses. 

What are some of your favorite parts about this story?

I think it’s easy to only want to see life in nature and growing things, but death is just as important, and nothing ever truly ends with death, it just changes. I think Hamal using his necromancy to make things grow could be seen as a good guy thing to do, but it’s still upsetting the balance, because death is a part of life that you can’t deny or get rid of. 

I also really like drawing plants.

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

I try to find inspiration from everywhere, but music is a big one for me. I love wandering around listening to music and daydreaming, and it’s where a lot of my ideas come from. Of course, I also gather a lot of inspiration from other people’s creativity, as I think most of us do!

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

One of my favorite elements is when I’m coming up with ideas, losing myself in a different world with different characters, exploring my own feelings and experiences through someone else’s eyes. I also love finally getting to put those ideas on paper and see the things I love come to life so I can share them with others.

My biggest challenge is perfectionism. When I lose sight of what I want and believe in, and start worrying only about what other people want to see, or what other people will think of my work, that’s when things start to get really jammed up. I’ve gotten better at shoving those feelings away over time, but I still struggle with it sometimes!

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

A lot of people ask about my identity as a queer comic creator, and why I tell LGBTQ stories–there’s nothing wrong with this of course, but I would love to be asked about other aspects of my life and storytelling more often! It might be kind of simplistic, but one question I’m surprised I’ve never been asked is “why do you never draw cloudy, rainy days”: the answer is that I grew up in western Washington and we’ve got plenty of those as is haha. 

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

Imperfect is better than unfinished! (Or alternatively, ‘shitty is better than incomplete!’) The most important thing about your story is not how perfect it is, it’s that your story deserves to be told. Give people a chance to love it, and they will, no matter how amateur or unrefined you think it is. 

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

I’m currently working on a new graphic novel called Hello Sunshine (Little, Brown 2025) about a group of teenagers trying to find their missing friend. As time goes on, they realize something strange and supernatural is going on. It’s a story about mental illness and family, both found and blood, and most importantly, love of all kinds. And of course it still has queer characters and plenty of hijinks!

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

Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish is fantastic, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki is one of my favorites.

Interview with Marvel’s Voices : Pride (2022) #1 Editor Sarah Brunstad

Greetings and Happy Pride all! For this installment of the Geeks OUT! Queer Creator spotlight, I had the opportunity to speak with Marvel Editor, Sarah Brunstad. Sarah has worked on a plethora of titles for Marvel including, Aliens, X-Men, Captain Marvel, Black Widow and a number of the Marvel Pride Anthologies.

I spoke with Sarah about this year’s much anticipated, Marvel Voices: Pride issue, queer representation in mainstream comics and the awesomeness of working with all queer creators on Marvel’s queer characters.

Chris Allo: It’s that time of year for the Marvel’s Voices: Pride edition number 2! For the uninitiated can you just give us a little rundown on the Marvel’s Voices brand?

Angélique Roché

Sarah Brunstad: Marvel’s Voices came out of the podcast created and run by Angélique Roché, with the intention of uplifting and highlighting marginalized creators and creators. Angélique worked with former Marvel editor Chris Robinson to build the very first anthology, and the rest is history!

CA: I know you work on many books at Marvel (X-Men, Aliens,Marvel Voices, etc.) How did you come to be the editor on the various Marvel’s Voices books?

SB: I was an associate editor at the time, working very closely with senior editor Wil Moss. When the first anthology was so successful, Marvel decided to do more, and Wil and I had a strong interest in bringing in new, diverse talent. And we’re both crazy people who kind of love building complicated anthologies. So we got the opportunity to do Marvel’s Voices: Legacy, and then I pitched an Indigenous Voices issue that was really near to my own heart. After that, I got to continue editing the line as someone who’s just very passionate about what Voices is trying to do.

Marvel Voices Pride 2022 Variant Cover/Art by Stephen Byrne

CA: Can you give us a little bit of a run down on the characters and creators for this year’s installment?

SB: We have 7 awesome stories this year, and we introduce a ton of new characters. Charlie Jane Anders with artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt introduced Escapade, a new trans mutant who will go on to star in an upcoming arc of New Mutants. Grace Freud and Scott B. Henderson created a whole gang of new young mutants, a tight group with hilarious rapport. Andrew Wheeler and Brittney Williams—one of my personal favorite artists—did a great Hercules and Noh-Varr story. Chris Cantwell and Kei Zama leaned into some beautiful punk queer history with a wild Moondragon/Guardians of the Galaxy story. Alyssa Wong and Stephen Byrne made an absolutely perfect pairing for the return of the much-beloved Young Avengers. Ira Madison III and Lorenzo Susi brought Pride to Asgard in a super cute Runa the Valkyrie story. And Danny Lore and Lucas Werneck got to do something really special—revisiting Venomm and Taku from Don McGregor’s Jungle Action run and establishing their relationship as a couple on the page for the first time, as Don had always hoped and intended.

Valkyrie(Luna) Art by Lorenzo Susi

CA: What were you looking for in terms of pitches/stories for this book? Was there a set of characters Marvel wanted to spotlight or did that just come as part and parcel with what the creators wanted to do?

SB: I definitely went in with the intention of bringing more trans rep to the Marvel Universe, and was beyond thrilled when Charlie Jane agreed to it—it’s something I’ve wanted to do with her in particular for a long time. For Danny and Lucas’ story, that was something Angélique and I had talked about lot, this idea of bringing a previously coded character out of the closet, so to speak. Venomm and Taku were a perfect fit. And I knew I wanted a Young Avengers story in here, because we got a chance to spotlight Hulkling and Wiccan in big ways last year but the team itself hadn’t been together for a long time, and as the most queer-heavy team in Marvel history, I really wanted to reunite them. I was so excited Alyssa was in for that. But for the rest, I left things really open and just tried to have fun and spread joy.

CA: Obviously, it’s a really good thing to give queer creators the opportunity to tell more authentic and genuine stories through the queer characters inhabiting the Marvel Universe. What other aspirations does Marvel have for putting the book out annually?

Wiccan & Hulkling Art by Stephen Byrne/Marvel

SB: Well, we’re playing a slow game. Every year that we create new queer characters, our world gets bigger and more diverse, and eventually those characters will be as beloved as, say, Rogue and Gambit. And we are celebrating the sheer diversity of talent in comics in an explicit way for the first time. I’m extremely proud that so many of the people who got their start in a Voices comic have gone on to do more work for Marvel—Rebecca Roanhorse, David Cutler, Chris Allen, Maria Wolf, Eleonora Carlini (through the semi-related Women of Marvel anthologies)—I could keep going, seriously, we have made such a huge impact in just a couple of years. Our talent pool looks way different now. That’s the major outcome for me, personally.

CA: You’ve stated elsewhere that you didn’t read comics as a kid, so now that you’ve read, worked on and created quite a fantastic resume in comics, what is it about the medium that you love and why is it such a seemingly important art form in the LGBTQI+community?

Marvel Boy and Hercules art by Brittney L. Williams and Villarubia/MarVEL

SB: I love comics because they’re WEIRD. They’ve existed on the fridges of the publishing and artistic community for a long time. It’s only been 14 years since that first Marvel Studios Iron Man film, and it’s hard to remember now that before that, basically no one knew who Iron Man was. So there’s traditionally been a ton of freedom to do strange, creatively fulfilling things in comics that you couldn’t do anywhere else. We like to say that we have an unlimited budget in comics—you can crash cars, wreck whole planets, in a single page. That’s wild and so exciting. And even though it’s hard, I love the fast pace too, and the feeling that a creative team is a really tight-knit group, always in conversation, always holding each other’s hands. Making a comic is truly a labor of love. I think queer people have always made comics in our own little corners, but I’m really happy to see us taking the mainstream now too.

CA: As a queer person working in the industry, what are some of the things that have happened to help queer visibility that you are happy with and what are some things that you feel still need to come to pass?

SB: Well, we still need more characters and creators on the mainstream, big budget books. In some ways that work has just begun. But also, I’m very inspired by this younger generation of writers and artists coming up who don’t feel any need to hide themselves, who can put their pronouns in their bio and make queer themes a major part of their work without that nasty voice in the back of their head going “but is this marketable.” I’m not saying that doesn’t ever happen anymore, but there’s just a tremendous amount of freedom out there, and I think more people making comics than ever before.

CA: Won’t ask you to play favorites here, but what is something you’re excited for the fans to see coming out of this year’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride issue?

“Escapade’ Art by RO STIEN & TED BRANDT and BonVillian/Marvel

SB: Heh. I mean, yes, ALL of it! But I guess I have to say Escapade’s introduction is a big thrill—I am so thrilled for what we’re going to do with her in New Mutants. Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure this current run now represents the longest ever run on a Marvel series by trans creators (possibly also beating DC!). Vita Ayala has been writing it since issue #14, issue #29 is guest-written by Danny Lore, and #31-33 will be guest-written by Charlie Jane until Vita returns with #30. It’s a big deal, and we’re all very proud.

CA: Can you give us maybe a favorite sequence from one of the stories this year?

SB: Oof! So many! But okay—there’s a splash page in Chris Cantwell and Kei Zama’s story that I LOVE. It’s grimy and intense and so so good. You’ll know it when you see it. Kei and I had a lot of fun brainstorming the Easter Eggs embedded on that page.

CA: As an editor, what is some helpful advice you can offer to aspiring editors, writers and artists that hope to make a career in comics?

SB: Make friends with other people who are coming up. That could be through social media, whatever, or the more traditional way of going to conventions. Ask lots of questions when you get to talk to pros. Read everything. Draw/write every day. Artists—please, please have a professional portfolio that goes beyond your Instagram. And don’t be precious about your work, especially writers! Comics is a collaborative medium, and a considerable part of your job is just being good to your fellow creators. Breaking into comics is pretty hard, but that’s true of any creative industry, and I truly believe that those who put in the sweat eventually get the payoff. (Except, you know, the payoff is a small check and an immense feeling of self-satisfaction—nobody’s here to get rich, haha).

CA: Thanks so much, Sarah. Looking forward to this year’s addition as well as the next entry into the Marvel’s Voices initiative! Here is a rundown of the creators and stories in this years Marvel’s Voices: Pride Edition

es Marvel Voices Pride 2022 Cover Olivier Coipel/Mar vel

YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE (2022) #1!

New York, NY— May 12, 2022 — On June 22, Marvel Comics will celebrate Pride Month with a new giant-sized one-shot spotlighting LGBTQIA+ creators and characters! A queer-centered anthology brought together by an amazing lineup of writers and artists from all walks of life, MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE #1 will feature eight extraordinary adventures, an introduction by Vice President of Television at Bad Robot Productions Alex Phillips, and more!

From uplifting to thrilling, this diverse collection of stories take place all throughout the Marvel Universe and celebrate the themes and joy of Pride Month. And today, fans can get a first look at each one!

·       In last year’s MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE, Steve Orlando and Luciano Vecchio introduced the dreamy mutant hero SOMNUS,  who now stars in the ongoing X-Men series MARAUDERS! New York Times-bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders and artist duo and Eisner-nominated cartoonists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt continues this tradition with the debut of ESCAPADE! Readers will meet this all-new trans mutant super hero in a 20-page adventure that will introduce her career as a super thief and set the stage for her exciting future.

·       Valkyrie Rúna puts on the first ever Asgard Pride celebration in television writer and podcaster Ira Madison III and artist Lorenzo Susi Marvel Comics debut.

·       Shuster and Eisner-winning writer Andrew Wheeler makes his Marvel debut alongside PATSY WALKER artist Brittney L. Williams in an action-packed story about Marvel’s newest power couple-Hercules and Marvel Boy!

·       Rev up your engines for a heart-bending story across space and time in a Moondragon story by IRON MAN scribe and lauded TV showrunner Christopher Cantwell and artist Kei Zama.

·       Nebula, World Fantasy, and Locus-award winner Alyssa Wong and fan-favorite artist Stephen Byrne reunite the Young Avengers in a story guaranteed to please fans new and old! Byrne will also depict the team in one of the issue’s variant covers!

·       Comedy writer Grace Freud (Rick and Morty, the Eric Andre Show) brings her talents to Marvel with a story about the power of responsibility featuring the Marvel Universe’s favorite gay ginger, D-Man! She’s joined by Eisner-nominated artist Scott B. Henderson in his first work for Marvel!

·       And writer Danny Lore and artist Lucas Werneck revisit the legacy of Taku and Venom, two Black Panther characters long left in the closet, in a tale of love and redemption!

Check out all five stunning MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE #1 covers and interior artwork from each story now and celebrate Pride with Marvel Comics on June 22! For more information including a word from this year’s creators, visit Marvel.com.

MARVEL’S VOICES: PRIDE (2022) #1

Introduction by ALEX PHILLIPS

Cover by NICK ROBLES

Variant Cover by AMY REEDER
Variant Cover by JEN BARTEL
Variant Cover by STEPHEN BYRNE
Variant Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL

Story A  – Escapade in “Permanent Sleepover”

Written by CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Art by RO STIEN & TED BRANDT

Colors by TAMRA BONVILLAIN

Story B – Valkyrie(Rúna) in “Over the Rainbow”

Written by IRA MADISON III

Art by LORENZO SUSI

Colors by RACHELLE ROSENBERG

Story C – Hercules and Marvel Boy in “Ancient & Modern”

Written by ANDREW WHEELER

Art by BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS

Colors by JOSÉ VILLARRUBIA 

Story D – Moondragon in “Stay Outta My Mind Turf, Jack”

Written by CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL

Art by KEI ZAMA

Colors by RICO RENZI

Story E – The Young Avengers in “All My Exes in the Nexus”

Written by ALYSSA WONG

Art by STEPHEN BYRNE

Story F – D-Man in “LGBT-D”

Written by GRACE FREUD

Art by SCOTT B. HENDERSON

Inks by LEE TOWNSEND

Colors by BRITTANY PEER

Story G – Taku and Venomm in “Perfectly Scene”

Written by DANNY LORE

Art by LUCAS WERNECK

Colors by MICHAEL WIGGAM

Interview with Author Julian Winters

Julian Winters is a bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, and The Summer of Everything (Duet, 2018, 2019, 2020, respectively) received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta, where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow–volleyball and soccer.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been?

I’m great, thank you! Honestly, I’m geeking out at the opportunity to chat with you.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Right Where I Left You? What inspired you to write it?

Right Where I Left You is a geeky, sincere love letter to fandom, friendships, family, and queer teens deserving their happily ever afters. It follows nerdy Isaac, who’s out to spend every waking moment of summer with his gamer-best friend, Diego, before college starts. After an old crush reenters the picture, Isaac’s distracted chasing the love story he’s always wanted for himself, creating friction with Diego. Sometimes, the love we truly seek is right in front of our faces.

The inspiration came in 2018 after I’d seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I remember the overload of emotions (joy, triumph, love) I felt afterward as well as the awe in the younger viewers who’d just seen a hero that looked like them for the first time on the big screen. I wanted nothing more but for queer, geeky teens to experience that feeling in a book.

The cover is gorgeous by the way! What was your reaction to seeing two queer brown boys on the cover of a story you wrote?

Full disclosure: I cried. Happy tears, though! It wasn’t just that the cover had two queer Black/brown boys on the cover, it was that they’re smiling. Laughing. It’s the joy in their expressions. That means a lot to me—to show queer BIPOC readers they can have stories where their happiness is front and center. All the credit goes to the artist, Daniel Clarke, and the cover designers, Samira Iravani and Theresa Evangelista, for creating a cover bursting with love.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young-adult fiction and romance?

I was always a writer in some form. Short stories, song lyrics, really bad poetry. I hated reading the books assigned to me in high school. Every character that looked or identified like me had a storyline rooted in their pain, trauma, and eventual death. I needed a way to rewrite that narrative, so I turned to fanfiction. It allowed me to write the happy, impactful endings I craved for people like me.

I was drawn to young adult fiction (and romance) because I remember how difficult it was as a teen to repeatedly read those books. I want young readers, especially queer BIPOC readers, to know they’re more than their pain—they have power, deserve joy, and love shouldn’t be the thing that breaks them or ends tragically. They’re the hero of the story, not the lesson.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite or most challenging parts of writing?

I’m definitely a plotter—I need everything organized before I start. I’m also very big on playlists and Pinterest mood boards. My favorite part of writing is revising/editing. Once all the words are out of my head, it’s easier to piece together the puzzle and see the big picture. The most challenging part is drafting. It takes me so long because I tend to overthink or want things to be perfect instead of simply transferring all the ideas from my head onto the page, trusting I can fix it later.

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

If it’s queer, I’m there. I never had enough queer content growing up, so I instantly pick up anything I know centers queerness, especially if it focuses on queer people experiencing joy, empowerment, and all the other experiences I often saw for straight characters, but never anyone like me. Bonus points if it’s superhero-related or has a thoughtful romance element.

Who are your favorite superheroes?

Definitely Jackson Hyde/Kaldur’ahm. Seeing a queer, Black superhero is always exciting. I’m also a huge fan of Miles Morales, Jonathan Kent/Superman, Wiccan and Hulkling, Tim Drake, Shatterstar and Rictor, America Chavez, Northstar, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Panther, Dazzler.

And what are some of your current favorite fandoms?

Marvel Universe, Young Justice, My Hero Academia, the Untamed.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening to the right and left of you. Where you are versus someone else. But your journey as a writer is unique. It won’t ever look exactly like someone else’s, so take your time. Trust that there are readers who need the stories you want to tell. No one else will write them like you.

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

My next book comes out Spring 2023. It’s a fun tribute to the classic teen movies. Five teens all end up escaping to the same bedroom at a house party, trying to avoid issues from their past and present. There’s promposals-gone-wrong, dares, a lot of comedic moments along with explorations of toxic friendships, identity, queerness, and the weight of expectations.

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

I highly recommend anything by Adib Khorram, Leah Johnson, Kalynn Bayron, Kacen Callendar, Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Becky Albertalli, Alex London, Adam Silvera, Jonny Garza Villa, Jennifer Dugan.Some of my favorite must-read LGBTQIA+ books are: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, the Darius the Great series by Adib Khorram, and the forthcoming Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas.


Header Photo Credit Vanessa North

Interview with Roller Derby Player and Author Gabe Montesanti

Gabe Montesanti is a queer Midwestern roller derby player. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from Washington University in St. Louis. Her piece “The Worldwide Roller Derby Convention” was recognized as a notable essay in The Best American Essays. She lives in St. Louis with her wife.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! My name is Gabe Montesanti, (she/her) and my debut memoir Brace for Impact was released on May 24th, 2022 from The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House. I grew up mostly in Michigan and was a competitive swimmer for over twelve years. My BA is from Kalamazoo College, and I attended Washington University in St. Louis for my MFA in creative nonfiction. I am a roller derby player and live in St. Louis with my wife.  

What can you tell us about your book, Brace For Impact? Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

Brace for Impact uses roller derby as a lens through which to look at other big topics like body image, queerness, and healing from trauma. The book’s timeline is one year—my first year joining Arch Rival Roller Derby in St. Louis—and is punctuated by flashbacks from childhood and adolescence that give context to what’s happening in the present. 

Most of the inspiration for the book came from my team, Arch Rival. I’ve been in awe of them ever since I showed up at the St. Louis Skatium for roller derby recruit night. There was something so seductive and tantalizing about the world they were introducing me to: a space where queer people and misfits take center stage rather than our typical place in the margins. I’m also very inspired by Catholicism—I was raised in the Church—and by places that we make holy for ourselves. The roller derby track is very much that for me. 

How would you describe your general writing process?

I wrote most of Brace for Impact longhand on several green legal pads. (There’s just something about the color green.) Transcribing my work to the computer is the first of many rounds of editing. I’m very lucky in that I started my book in an MFA program, so I always had eyes on the material. After graduating, I developed a very loyal writing group with four other women. We would exchange work often and meet at each other’s houses for workshops.  

I’ve always heard that there are overwriters and there are underwriters. I definitely am an underwriter—which might be surprising, given that my book is on the long side. It takes me a lot of time and layers to really craft a quality piece of work. I wish I was the kind of writer who could just spew onto the page and then chisel away at it—that’s just not who I am. 

What drew you to writing? Were there any books or authors who you believe inspired you and/or influenced your own personal style?

Being a writer has been a part of my identity long before I started sports or knew I was gay. I have most everything I’ve ever written and look back on it often, sometimes to pillage it for details and other times to simply reminisce. I wasn’t allowed to buy books very often, since we practically lived at the public library, but one of the first books I called my own was Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The protagonist was my age, ten, and although the story was fiction, it spurred me to start drafting little vignettes about my own life. I guess I’ve been writing creative nonfiction longer than I’ve had a name for it. 

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Brace For Impact?

My goal with Brace for Impact has always been to reach people who don’t fit the mold and be at least one voice who’s telling them they’re not alone, and that there’s joy and beauty in our differences. More than anything, I hope the book inspires in readers a reawakening of the resiliency that already lives within them. I’ve always found power in bringing together seemingly opposite forces, in particular sadness and grief paired with humor and levity, and I hope readers will find that they, too, don’t need to try and outrun the difficult and painful parts of life, because there’s so much strength and freedom in turning around to face, and even embrace, that darkness.

What advice would you have to give to aspiring writers?

One thing I tell my students when they start sending work out is that rejection is inevitable and comes with the territory. At one point in time, I played a game with myself to see how many rejections I could rack up in a year. It was a fun way to twist the idea of “failure” and really reframe it. I had some huge successes that year, as a result of this practice. Just—persist. 

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

One of my biggest insecurities when I started graduate school was my youth. Right before my MFA, I read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and Karr takes a firm stance that writers should wait until they’re 35 before publishing a memoir. I was twenty-two when I started graduate school with the goal of publishing a book, and twenty-five when I sold my memoir. So, one question I haven’t been asked yet is, “What is it like to publish a book at a relatively young age, and soon after finishing graduate school?” My answer to that is that it’s been wild. I realize I’m so lucky to have found a path to publication relatively early, and that this book is just a snapshot of a time in my life, which is ever evolving. I love looking back at authors who have a body of work and tracking their progress over the years. I hope that Brace for Impact is the first of many books in my collection. 

Are there any other projects you are currently working on (professional or personal) that you feel free to speak about?

I still have a lot of work and development to do for my next project, but I intend to really turn my focus to that in the coming months. All I will say is that it looks more outward rather than inward, and involves more research, interviews, and observation. It’s also very gay.  

I also have a variety of in-progress essays that are in various states of completion. One that I finished recently is about my job at a correctional center and akathisia, a movement disorder that made it impossible for me to be still. I think there’s something really interesting about the way in which working in a prison asked me to think about freedom of movement—or the lack thereof—and how my akathisia gave me a unique perspective in that regard. 

What books/authors (LGBTQIA+ or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

One author I cannot live without is Lidia Yuknavitch—in particular, her book The Chronology of Water. People keep describing Brace for Impact as raw, but Chronology is the rawest piece of art I’ve ever encountered. That is not to say it’s not shaped beautifully by Yuknavitch, just that it’s so vulnerable and honest and real. It tackles themes of sports and abuse and grief so directly.  Other must reads: Know My Name by Chanel Miller, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and anything by Melissa Febos. 


Author Photo Credit, Dena Patterson

Interview with Authors Kathryn Ormsbee & Molly Brooks

Kathryn (K.E.) Ormsbee is the author of several Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. She was born and raised in the Bluegrass State and now lives in Salem, Oregon. Visit her online @kathsby.

Molly Brooks is the author and illustrator of the Sanity & Tallulah graphic novel series as well as the illustrator of Flying Machines and many other short comics. She grew up in Tennessee and now lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online @mollybrooks.

I had the opportunity to interview both Kathryn and Molly which you can read below.

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

Kathryn: Hey there! I’m the author of books for kids and young adults, including Tash Hearts Tolstoy and The House in Poplar Wood. I live in the PNW with my wife Alli and our dog Cleo. I also make candles with macabre themes and punny titles, which I sell locally, and I’ll be opening my online shop, The Ginger Cauldron, in August 2022. 

Molly: I’m an illustrator and graphic-novelist living in Brooklyn with my wife and three cats. I wrote and drew the Sanity & Tallulah book series, and a serialized novel-length wlw Webtoon called Power Ballad. When I’m not drawing, I knit a LOT, watch very old tv shows, and occasionally bake.

How would you describe your new graphic novel, Growing Pangs? What can readers expect from the characters?

Kathryn: Growing Pangs centers around sixth grader Katie’s experience with OCD and anxiety in the midst of her first year of middle school and her first major friendship breakup. The story is based on my own tweenhood in the early aughts and features lots of elements drawn from my life experience, including homeschooling, mental health struggles, a lingual frenectomy, suburban Kentucky life, summer camp adventures, and musical theatre nerdom. 

Molly: I love how real the friendships are in this book- the uncertainty and insecurity of the middle school years gets into the cracks of everything, and that comes through in a really authentic way.

How did the two of you become interested in comics?

Kathryn: I devoured graphics-heavy books and newspaper comics as a kid. In fact, I would consistently yank the comics out of our family’s paper before anyone else could and only begrudgingly relinquish them after breakfast, at which point they were usually stained with Toaster Strudel icing.

It wasn’t until college, when a fellow English major and I were gushing over favorite books, that my friend brought up Art Spiegelman’s Maus books and lent me their copies. That reading experience opened my eyes to the world of graphic novels, and from that moment on, I was obsessed with the medium. 

Molly: I’ve always been fascinated by the way words and pictures interact to tell a story. As a kid, picture books segued directly into X-Men trades, but finding series like Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2 in middle school really opened my eyes to the ways white space, panel shape, and other compositional tools could affect pacing and mood. It made me really excited to try making my own, and I haven’t stopped since.

Kathryn Ormsbee

For those curious about what goes into a graphic novel, how would you describe working on it together?

Kathryn: Growing Pangs began as a text-only proposal, complete with sample pages that I formatted in a way that made the most sense in my head: a color-coded, screenplay-esque system that included narration, dialogue, sound effects, panel descriptions, and panel sizes. Once the book was under contract, my editors at Random House approached Molly about illustrations, and I maaay have crossed my fingers for days as I waited to hear back on the news. (It was good news! Molly said yes!) 

During the early stages of edits, I continued to work on text-only revisions, and then, once the manuscript was sufficiently cleaned up, my editors sent it over to Molly. When I got the first draft that incorporated Molly’s drawings, I was over the moon. My favorite part of the later stage of the publishing process is seeing cover art for the first time, and this was that experience times 256 pages! Molly had taken all of my descriptions and brought them to life. She completely understood the heart and vibe of Katie’s story and translated that beautifully onto the page. 

From there on out, revisions took into account all the ways that the text and images intersected. Both Bex Glendining and Elise Schuenke did coloring, and I got the immense thrill of watching my story become more and more colorful with each subsequent revision. 

Molly: This is only the second graphic novel I’ve drawn from someone else’s script, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There isn’t really a standardized script format in comics, the way there is in film; every writer is different. Kathryn’s script was very clear and easy to work from! It was also apparent that she had really taken the images into account when writing.  Even when I’m drawing from my own scripts, I end up having to make lots of changes and adjustments as I go, because I get too excited about telling the story with words and forget what the imagery can bring to the table. It showed a lot of trust that Kathryn left so much space in her story for the art, and it made drawing the book really really fun.

How would you describe your individual writing/ illustrating processes?

Kathryn: Half of me craves order and scheduling, and the other half thrives on spontaneity. As a result, I don’t have any set writing schedule, and my approach to different writing projects can vary drastically. One thing that does stay pretty consistent is that when I’m first drafting a project, I go into what my wife and friends know as “Hermit Mode.” I close myself into an office, write all day, and emerge only for basic human needs. This usually lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month, and after that period, life gets way more normal and structured. Drafting is the most difficult stage of writing for me; I honestly prefer revisions, because I at least have raw material to work with. Those revisions—with myself, my agent, editor, critique partners, etc.—are where my story really takes shape.

Molly: I am very methodical in this ONE aspect of my life, so here it is, in far too much detail:

I always start by drawing rough thumbnail sketches of the entire book, to make sure there aren’t any obvious pacing issues. Then I create an InDesign document with all the margins and bleed ready for print and all text roughly set, and a separate ClipStudio file with all the panel borders drawn in. I export both versions of each spread as jpgs, and combine them into a multi-layer Photoshop file that I can place back into the InDesign document. I do all the pencils (a tight sketch version of the book) and speech bubbles in Photoshop. Once the pencils have been approved, I print them in light blue on smooth bristol board, and ink directly over them with a G-pen nib and Koh-i-Noor rapidograph ink. I scan the inks, clean them up digitally, and place them back into the photoshop files. 

It’s definitely not the most efficient way to work, but it’s the process I’ve gradually developed through trial and error that eventually gets me to a finished book. 

In most cases, I then color using fill layers in Photoshop, but on Growing Pangs I passed off the finished linework to Bex Glendining and Elise Schuenke to be transformed by their far superior coloring skills.

(For Kathryn Ormsbee) As a writer, how did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and middle grade fiction specifically?

Kathryn: I have an extremely boring author origin story. I’ve loved books from the time I learned to read, and the library and local indie bookstore were my two happy places growing up. I was determined to write the Next Great Epic Fantasy at the age of eleven. (And I got about six pages into my Lisa Frank spiral notebook before I gave up that dream. But not the dream to write!)

All that to say, I always loved writing, but I didn’t think it was possible to become a published author; I assumed that was just as attainable as the presidency. Then, when I was eighteen, I read an interview with Stephenie Meyer in which she mentioned cold querying agents. That put the fire under my butt to finish my first novel, query agents, and—very luckily!—sign with an agent when I was nineteen. Three years later, The Water and the Wild sold to Chronicle Books. That novel was inspired by some of my all-time favorite novels from childhood: Alice in Wonderland, The Gammage Cup, and the Chronicles of Narnia. I had been inspired, comforted, and validated by countless books as a kid and teen, so writing both MG and YA was the most natural decision in the world. I wanted to contribute to the body of literature that had profoundly impacted me as a kid. 

Molly Brooks

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

Molly: In terms of comics structure, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art were both transformative influences early on. In terms of illustration style, I adore the work of  Ralph Steadman, Aubrey Beardsley, Yuko Shimizu, John Hendrix, and the Hatch Showprint letterpress studio. In terms of storytelling, perennial favorites include P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Rumiko Takahashi, and N.K. Jemisin.

As queer creators, what does LGBTQ+ representation mean to you?

Kathryn: Oh man, LGBTQ+ rep means everything to me. I saw and read so little of it growing up, and I know that I would’ve been able to understand and love my own queerness much earlier in life if I’d seen my experience reflected on the page. That’s why incorporating that rep into my own books is so important now. 

Molly: It’s vital. Feeling seen and reflected back is obviously so important for kids who are struggling to build themselves, but having the reality of queer people’s existence acknowledged is important at any age, and for every reader, not just queer ones.

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

Kathryn: 

Question: What are some amazing independent bookstores?

Answer: Independent bookstores in general are amazing, and some indie bookstores that have made a massively positive impact on me are Brave and Kind Books (Decatur, GA), BookPeople (Austin, TX), Powell’s Books (Portland, OR), Joseph-Beth Booksellers (Lexington, KY), and Parnassus Books (Nashville, TN). 

Molly:

(Parnassus Books is near my parents’ house in Nashville, and I can confirm it’s amazing!)

Question: What sorts of projects do you hope to work on in the future?

Answer: I want to try my hand at prose SFF, nonfiction comics about knitting, and YA romance GNs involving time travel. I’d love to try writing a graphic novel for someone else to draw. 

Also, my brother is a really talented screenwriter, and I would love to collaborate with him on a comic someday!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and artists?

Kathryn: One of my biggest pieces of advice is that if you receive writing advice that doesn’t resonate with you? You can toss it! When I was younger, I would get caught up in advice that I heard about the best way to outline a novel or the optimal time of day to write or the only right way to map out a character’s arc. But every writer is unique. There are certainly some basic writing rules that you’ll want to follow and there are tools and approaches that can significantly help your growth as a creator, but in the end, you know what works for you. Some folks plot, some folk pants, some do a little of both. Some folks wake up at 5 AM every morning and write for two hours, and some folks go years between writing projects. In the end, you just have to find an approach that complements your life and personality. And once you do? Don’t let anyone—no matter their credentials or publishing history—shame or scare you out of your own unique creative process. 

Molly: Start with small projects. Don’t start with an epic eight book series; start with an eight page zine. Or an eight panel gag! Small projects prepare you for bigger ones, and they’re much easier to finish. Finishing things levels you up. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from getting things done, but also don’t be afraid to critique your finished product with an eye to doing better next time.

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

Kathryn: So many, but I will limit myself to seven: 

Hazel Bly’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender 

In the Role of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake 

The Best Liars in Riverview by Lin Thompson

And I am champing at the bit to read these two new releases this spring: 

Nothing Burns as Bright as You by Ashley Woodfolk

A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy

Molly: 

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria

Dread Nation (and sequel Deathless Divide) by Justina Ireland

Gideon the Ninth (and sequels) by Tamsin Muir

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and  Max Gladstone

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Chronin (Book 1 & 2) by Ben Wilgus

We Set the Dark on Fire (and sequel We Unleash the Merciless Storm) by Tehlor Kay Mejia

I’m also super stoked for Mattie Lubchansky’s upcoming book, BOYS’ WEEKEND, and will be nabbing it just as soon as it exists.

Flame Cast – E11 – Steenz

In a new episode of the Flame Cast, Kevin chats with Steenz the cartoonist, editor, and professor, about the importance of building up our community by providing opportunities for new artists/creators. They also talk about their inspirations, where and how they connect with their community, and what they’re getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture. You can find out more on their website: www.oheysteenz.com/

Interview with author Brian D. Kennedy

Brian D. Kennedy writes books for young adults. Born and raised in Minnesota, he now lives in New York City with his husband and their very photogenic dog. When he’s not writing, Brian can be found working at an LGBTQ non-profit. His slightly unhealthy obsessions include: seeing as many Broadway shows as possible, buying weird trinkets off eBay, and all things Dolly Parton. 

I had the opportunity to talk to Brian, which you can read below.

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

Thanks for having me! My name is Brian D. Kennedy, author of A Little Bit Country. When I’m not busy writing, my time is spent working at a LGBTQ non-profit, buying books faster than I can read them, and watching TV with my husband and our miniature schnauzer, Stanley.

How did you find yourself drawn to the art of storytelling? What drew you to young adult fiction specifically?

I’ve been drawn to storytelling for as long as I can remember. One summer when I was a kid, instead of setting up a lemonade stand, I set up a table to sell stories I wrote. Throughout the years I’ve also tried my hand at poetry, playwriting, improv and sketch comedy, and acting. I didn’t discover young adult fiction until I was in my mid-30s, though. I was taking a non-fiction personal essay class and the instructor said my writing read like “a young adult novel.” (I don’t think she meant it as a compliment.) That prompted me to pick up my first YA book. I instantly fell in love with the voice, and there was no turning back from there.

What could you tell us about your debut book, A Little Bit Country? What inspired the story?

A Little Bit Country is my love letter to country music and Dolly Parton. It’s about two boys who spend their summer working at a Dollywood-esque amusement park. Emmett, an aspiring musician from Chicago, wants to be country music’s biggest, gayest superstar. Luke, an aspiring chef from Tennessee, hates country music. So naturally, the two meet and fall in love. In my book, Wanda Jean Stubbs in the fictional country music icon that owns her own amusement park, Wanda World. It just seemed like a rich setting for a novel, and I knew that my love of country music would give me plenty to play off of.

How would you describe your writing process?

Full of procrastination and snacks. If I have all day to write, it will often take me a while to find my groove. It definitely helps if I know what I’m writing, which is why I’m a die-hard plotter. Even once I have a full outline, before I start each chapter, I like to go for a short run if I can. It gives me a chance to ruminate on the scenes I have to write without out the distraction of the internet or my phone. I also like to keep track of my daily word count in the notes app on my phone, because I’m a Virgo who’s fueled by constantly trying to one-up myself. (I usually fall short.)

A Little Bit Country definitely contains some strong music themes. What music would you say you’ve gravitated to while writing this book and in general? Do you have any personal experience singing/ playing an instrument?

Well, the obvious answer is Dolly Parton. The first thing I did when I sat down to start drafting this book was to treat myself to a box set of her music that had some previously unreleased tracks and spanned four decades of her career. But there were a lot of other country artists I listened to while writing A Little Bit Country as well. Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lori McKenna, Maren Morris, Hailey Whitters, Brandy Clark, the Highwomen…I could go on for a while.

I took piano lessons as a kid and played baritone all the way through high school. (Our marching band uniforms consisted of polyester shirts and black cowboy hats. Thankfully, the internet wasn’t around to document this.)

And for the record, I’m a terrible singer.

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

At the risk of repeating the same answer again…Dolly Parton. I’ve always been drawn to classic female country singers. Performers like Dolly and Loretta Lynn, who sang bold songs and defied expectations to find success in a male-dominated industry. That’s why I created the fictional icon of Wanda Jean for my book. I knew she would serve as a great inspiration for my main characters, two boys who are trying to follow their own dreams in a world that isn’t always ready to accept them.  

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

I am quite possibly the world’s slowest drafter. It’s hard for me to turn off the critiquing part of my brain and just get words down on the page. Editing seems to be a less excruciating part of the process for me. (Unless I just received an edit letter—then I reserve the right to change my answer.) When I’m editing, I feel like a sculptor who’s sitting with a giant block of clay. It might be a lumpy mess, but at least I have something to work with and (hopefully) make better. A book usually goes through many rounds of edits, and with each one, I can feel my story taking shape.  

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

Although I consider myself a New Yorker, I grew up in Minnesota and there’s no denying it shaped who I am. I love nature (especially bodies of water), and could tell you how to make a mean Tater Tot hotdish.

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

I love talking about the research I do for a book! For A Little Bit Country I read biographies by Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Tanya Tucker. I also watched Ken Burns’ eight-part docu-series, Country Music, which so informative and thoroughly enjoyable, and the documentary Bluebird, about the Bluebird Café in Nashville. While in the middle of drafting my book, I was also extremely fortunate enough to take a trip to Dollywood for the first time. (It was my 40th birthday present to myself.)

As of now, are you currently working on any other ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I have a second young adult rom-com coming out with my publisher in 2023. I’m not allowed to say much yet, but I can tell you that it’s a new story with new characters. It will still involve a setting with music, though not country music this time.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Writing can be a solitary profession. Finding other writer friends will help. It doesn’t even have to be in person. There’s a large community of writers online. (Probably procrastinating.) Good writer friends will talk you through your low points and help you celebrate your wins. Writers can also be extremely generous and there are a number of mentorship programs out there (Author Mentor Match / Diverse Voices, Inc.) that are worth seeking out.  

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

I would love to give a shoutout to some of my fellow #22debut authors who are releasing a book this year. Erik J. Brown wrote a post-apocalyptic love story between two boys that has the slowest of slow burns in the best possible way. It’s called All That’s Left in the World, and it’s almost impossible to read without shouting “Just kiss already!” at some point. I’m also very much looking forward to The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes and The Loophole by Naz Kutub.