Interview with Author Kacen Callender

Kacen Callender is the bestselling and award-winning author of multiple novels for children, teens, and adults, including the Stonewall Honor Book Felix Ever After and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature King and the Dragonflies. Callender enjoys playing RPG video games, practicing their art, and focusing on healing and growth in their free time.

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

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

Thanks for having me—and yes! I’m a writer, and aspiring illustrator, and love to game in my free time. ☺

What can you tell us about your latest book, Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution? What inspired the story?

Lark & Kasim is about seventeen-year-old nonbinary Lark who is an aspiring author and thinks that the only way they can be published is to gain over 50K followers on Twitter. They’re well on their way, until their former best friend and now number one enemy, Kasim, accidentally posts on Lark’s Twitter page about Kas’s unrequited love. The post goes viral, and Lark is pulled into a spiral of lies where they need to learn authenticity and accountability, and self-love.

The story was originally inspired by response to another of my YA novels, Felix Ever After—though I was so happy to see the overwhelming amount of love that Felix received, I also saw a backlash to his mistakes as a learning, growing human, and realized that there is a double standard in both books and real life: that the more marginalized a person is, the less space we have to make mistakes and learn and grow before we’re deemed as unlikeable. This sparked Lark, a character who desperately wants to be liked so that they will feel safe in a world that so often does not accept them.

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly young adult and middle-grade fiction? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I loved fanfiction when I was young—my first fanfic was a Card Captor Sakura retelling of The King and I (I’m not sure how it makes sense, either). Storytelling was always an important form of escape, so I was lucky to have books like the Animorphs series.

How would you describe your writing process? 

The only constant in my writing process is that with every book I write, I have to sit down and figure out what the process is going to be. It changes from book to book, with some stories requiring a strict outline, and others needing more of a flow. My favorite process is when there’s a perfect balance of an outline that allows for flow and surprising new storylines in between every planned plot beat.

For Lark & Kasim, the process was very different because, originally, the story was meant to be set during the year 2020, following the timeline of the year. I realized as I wrote that the book was becoming much more about the year 2020 than it was about the characters, so I gave space to the setting and allowed it to be in a vaguer timeline that has been still affected by the pandemic. The original first draft became a very detailed outline where the characters were able to experience more conflict and scene together because they weren’t in quarantine.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

My favorite element of writing is dialogue—getting so into character and scene as I’m writing that I catch myself saying the lines with my characters and acting out their gestures and facial expressions. That’s when I know a scene is particularly working.

The most challenging is making sure that readers are seeing the world and characters as fully as they are in my head. I feel the emotional attachment to my characters and story because they’re already inside of me, but sometimes language, scene, character development, etc. isn’t enough to transfer that same energy that’s inside of me into the reader, because we just haven’t had the same lived experiences and will always view the same story and sentence through a different lens.

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

I don’t think I’ve been asked “What was your favorite part about writing Lark & Kasim?” yet. My answer: I had a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall by playing with the parallels of Lark being a character who is at times aware that they’re a character in a book, and wonders what it means to be an unlikeable character, or an unlikeable person, as someone who will make mistakes. Breaking the fourth wall wasn’t planned, so those are the best moments when a spark of the unexpected makes its way past the outline and into the story.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

Lark & Kasim would be a great novel to check out for advice because I also enjoyed including a lot of thoughts on craft for young writers and teens or advice I wish I’d had when I first started out. But, it all mostly boils down to suggesting that writers follow their joy, instead of writing what it is they think others want to read.

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

I held out for a while, but I’ve finally started watching JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

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

There are projects that I’m excited about but unfortunately can’t speak on yet.

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

I recently started Mariama Lockington’s In the Key of Us—she’s a magician with language.

Header photo credit Bella Porter

Interview with Author Ryan La Sala

Ryan La Sala resides in New York City, but only physically. Escapist to the core, he spends most of his time in the astral planes and only takes up corporeal form for special occasions, like brunch and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral planes).

Ryan is the author behind the bestselling cottagecore horror, The Honeys, the riotously imaginative Reverie, and the brilliantly constructed Be Dazzled. He has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR,, and one-time Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race called him cute. Right in the middle of the road downtown! So. Pretty big deal all around, yes?

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

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

Thanks for having me! I’m Ryan, and I’m best known for writing queer books and wearing short shorts. Thus far, my career as a writer has been all about centering queer characters in stories only they can tell. I’m crafting a new mythology around queerness, one that finds depth, power, and complexity in queer identities. This mission has gotten my books put on many ban lists in the past year, but I’m unfettered. More often than the bans, I see my books showing up on lists created by allies and queer readers and bookclubs to promote books that tell the truth about LGBTQIA+ people, namely that we exist and have our own adventures.  

How would you describe your upcoming book, The Honeys? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

Everyone wants to be a Honey. They’re the popular girls at the Aspen Summer Academy, and they wield an enchanting power over adults and campers alike. All except Mars Matthias, a geeky, rebellious teen who shows up at the Summer Academy for one reason: to prove the connection between the Honeys and his sister’s recent, horrific death after her brief time as one of them. Mars is genderfluid and therefore exists beyond the traditions of summer camps, specifically their binary structures (Boys and Girls cabins, Battle of the Sexes, etc). But, because of this, Mars is able to slip through the dark in between, closer and closer to the bright, terrifying truth that shines at the center of the Aspen Summer Academy.

The Honeys takes inspiration from the genre of dark academia, but rendered in the bright, lovely pastels of cottagecore, because for queer people it is not just the darkness we must fear, but the monsters that are allowed to hunt us in broad daylight. Inspiration from the natural world also shaped this book, such as the minute ritual of bees. Studying bees, I learned a lot about humanity and found a lens through which to process grief, horror, and revenge. 

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

To be completely candid, I started writing out of spite. As a queer teen, I was perplexed that popular YA novels like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter were devoid of queer people. All the best imaginations of our time, and they couldn’t imagine someone like me? Noting this clear flaw, and driven by spite, I started writing my own stories, and I filled them with queerness. Not just with characters who happened to be gay, but with plots, adventures, and victories that are inherently queer.

That story became my first book, REVERIE, about a queer kid battling a drag queen sorceress for the fate of reality. It’s a dreamy, ambitious book, but beneath the glitz is a serious question: why would you fight to save a reality that marginalizes you? Why not destroy it, and try again? This is the conversation between Kane, a young gay kid discovering his terrifying power, and Poesy, a drag queen who has had to stifle her power too long. Could a straight kid have this adventure? Probably not. Bless the straight kids, really, but they don’t have the range I need to tell the stories I needed as a kid.

I still feel the spite of my youth, but I’ve realized something. Spite is just undressed justice. Justice without her corset on, if you will. My stories might be fantastical, but the impact on our reality is real. My books have been celebrated and banned. I’m doing what I set out to do. I’m using queer magic to revise reality into something that doesn’t just tolerate queer kids but embraces them.

How would you describe your writing process? Would you say it’s changed since you first started as a writer versus now?

You know when you are crossing a busy street in the city, at night, with vehicles parked along it, and before you can even see an oncoming car you first see its reflection sliding towards you? Or the shadows flee from approaching headlights? Or the things seem to glow until suddenly the car bursts from the periphery into your reality? That’s what my process feels like. I know something is coming, and I catch glimpses of it reflected in the world around me, and then suddenly it’s honking at me, and I’m writing as quickly as I can, and before I know it I’m on the other side of the street. The book is written.

I don’t like this process. It’s inconvenient to be arrested like this for however long it takes. And I find it never takes long enough. Reverie took about ten years to actually get published. My second book took a summer to write. The Honeys took a month. My most recent book took 25 days. The car, to extend my earlier metaphor, keeps cutting it closer and closer, so I’m trying to get better at looking around the corners of my mind in anticipation of what’ll try to run me over next. 

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on? Were there any stories or authors that inspired you as a writer coming into your own?

I adore contrast. The Honeys, for example, exists in the tradition of the Dark Academia novel–it takes place at an institution for the elite, which appears to harbor sinister secrets for the initiated few–but the book is neither dark nor academic. It’s bright and summery, and it’s actually set at a summer camp. The horror is still there, but the reader is forced to face these horrors without any darkness to hide within. That’s on purpose.

Sailor Moon taught me this contrast. Sailor Moon’s beauty and femininity never costs her power; it’s often the source of it. It never saves her from devastation, either. That’s true for a lot of media made for girls, that the gays declare iconic, and it’s had a profound effect on my approach to horror and fantasy. In my books, I love to use lush, lovely writing to explore serious, scary topics. It’s the brightest colors in nature that are often poisonous, after all. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer pop culture website, how would you describe your own queer and geeky interests? What draws you to fandom and what are some of your favorite fandoms?

I’m a total weeb. I grew up hoarding manga and anime. I loved Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and anything that was magical, dark, and flamboyant. I’m a gamer, too. I love the high-concept JRPGs of late, along with classics like Kingdom Hearts and Zelda.

That said, I kept fandoms at a distance until just recently. Growing up, ‘fandom’ was synonymous with pompous white guys who wanted to quiz me on Star Wars trivia and The Foundation trilogy. Barf. I’m so glad it’s so much more welcoming and diverse now!

My way back into fandom was actually cosplay. Cosplayers are my favorite people in any fandom. They’re the ones who are literally doing the work to participate in the stories we adore, and I love how open-source the community is when it comes to crafting these incredible costumes. My second book, BE DAZZLED, is all about cosplay culture. After writing it, I started to compete in cosplay competitions myself, and actually won Best in Show with a design from the book! I was dressed as HIM from Powerpuff Girls. An iconic sissy villain. 

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

Writing is just an extension of my lifelong obsession with creating stuff. I love to craft costumes and cosplays, I love making gifts for people, and half the stuff in my very cluttered apartment is covered in hot glue, paint, or rhinestones. You know Howl’s bedroom in Howl’s Moving Castle?  aspire to that level of elaborate, eccentric theatricality.

Speaking of theatricality! I come from a musical theater background, and still love to put on shows. I want people to know that I don’t just exist in the backflap of my books. I spend an inordinate amount of time creating content for Twitter, TikTok, Youtube, and live writer events because I love to put on a show and entertain. I hope people search for me after finishing my books!

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

Question: Why honey?

Answer: Because it’s fascinating stuff. The closest thing to actual ambrosia I can think of. Did you know that a teaspoon of honey represents the life’s work of 12 bees? And a jar of honey is created by bees visiting millions of flowers in flights that, if added up, could circumvent the earth? When you taste honey, you’re tasting the concentrated essence of an entire ecosystem, and that to me is a paradox ripe for writing about. You have these tiny, cute insects working to create this miraculous substance that never, ever goes bad, and the act of creating it is what allows all these cycles of life, death, and regeneration.

In short, I think the bee has a lot to teach us humans, who often operate as adamantly individualistic, often until it destroys us. That describes Mars at the start of the book. I wanted him to face something greater than him, something that would force him to connect with the world after the isolating loss of his sister. That something is The Honeys. 

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

If you’re going to say yes to making your dreams a reality, you’re going to have to say no to reality. Reality is not designed to let you write books. Books aren’t obligatory, like jobs or chores or karaoke. For most of us, no one asked. It’s a selfish, intriguing impulse that often gets us started with writing, and it’s usually at odds with a reality that would rather us leave it undisturbed with our dreaming. But I’m telling you to say no to that sense of complacency, and to dream, and to disturb the status quo with your made-up worlds.

What I also mean is: if you’re going to say yes to writing, you’re going to have to say no to something else. The harsh truth is that writing costs time. A lot of it. And no one is going to make that time but you. So, as quickly as you can, learn to say no. Get used to the discomfort of missing out. It sounds grim but it isn’t. It takes bravery to believe in yourself enough to make space and time for your dreams.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I recently wrote a book in 24 days and recorded a diary on TikTok that I may or may not need to take down, because I think it’ll be the next book I publish. Here’s what I can share about it: it’s supernatural, it’s horrific, and it takes place in the most beautiful, private homes of New York City. While it’s not a sequel to The Honeys, it feels like a sibling to Mars’s story. It’s darker and hungrier, and the monster within is the kind I know people will have a hard time unseeing if they manage to see it at all before it gets them.

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

Increasingly, I’m talking about the LGBTQ+ books and authors I adore via Twitter and TikTok, so I recommend people follow me if they’re curious! Right now I’m reading and loving THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS by Adam Sass. I am also eagerly awaiting books by Aiden Thomas and Julian Winters. My favorite recent read is PET by Aweake Emezi, and I just acquired the prequel, BITTER.

Interview with Author Alex Temblador

Alex Temblador is the Mixed Latine award-winning author of Half Outlaw and Secrets of the Casa Rosada, which received numerous industry accolades including Kirkus Reviews’ Best of YA Books 2018 and the 2019 NACCS Tejas Foco Young Adult Fiction Award. She is a contributor to Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America and Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, and a travel, arts, and culture writer with pieces appearing in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic, among many other publications. She lives near Dallas, Texas.

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

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

Thank you – I’m so glad to chat with Geeks Out. My name is Alex and I’m the award-winning author of Secrets of the Casa Rosada and a brand-new novel called Half Outlaw. I grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, but after moving between three other states, I made my way back to the Lone Star state and currently live and write in a 102-year-old haunted house that I bought in Dallas in 2020. Other fun fact: I’m half Mexican, half white, but I identify as Mixed or Mixed Latine. 

What can you tell us about your book, Half Outlaw? Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

Back in 2013, I was sitting between my uncle and my grandfather on the couch at a Thanksgiving celebration. My uncle turned to me and said, “You know I’m an outlaw, right?” I said, “Sure.” He then replied, “That makes you half outlaw.” It was the coolest phrase I’d ever heard, even if it didn’t really make much sense as to why he was saying it or what he meant. But it reminded me of how people always ask, “What are you?” when they’re trying to inquire about my ethnicity. Growing up, I used to say, “half Mexican” or “half Mexican, half white.” The phrase “half outlaw” reminded me of that and I thought – what makes someone a half outlaw? A story about a Mixed woman and her outlaw family unfolded from there. 

In terms of what Half Outlaw is about… it’s a road trip novel with magical realism elements and a structure that jumps between the 1970s and 1990. It follows Raqi (pronounced like ‘Rocky’), a half-Mexican, half white lawyer who must go on a cross-country motorcycle ride in honor of the white uncle, Dodge, who raised her after her parents died. Dodge had a substance abuse problem and raised Raqi within the community of his one-percenter motorcycle club called the Lawless. (Only one-percent of motorcycle clubs are involved in illegal activities, according to the FBI. Hence the term, ‘one-percenter.’ The fictional club in the novel, the Lawless, sell drugs and guns.) Raqi hadn’t talked to Dodge in 10 years, but she agrees to go on the motorcycle ride in exchange for the contact information of her Mexican grandfather, whom she didn’t know existed. 

As readers follow Raqi on this road trip where she meets some interesting people, I introduce chapters from Raqi’s past, so you get the full sense of what it was like for her to be raised in a violent, abusive, racist, and neglectful environment and how this trip affects her perspective of her past and person. Half Outlaw is a thrilling ride, but it can get pretty dark at times. Although the idea for Half Outlaw sparked in 2013, I wrote the full draft in 2017 when I was trying to deal with how the white side of my family behaved when Trump was elected and how that impacted me as a Mixed person of color. 

Readers might find themselves uncomfortable at times, or even pulled in different emotional directions while reading the book. This was intentional. I tried to take feelings that I’ve had as a Mixed woman in different situations – whether it’s been among my family, friends, school, or career – and put them in the story. 

What drew you to writing, particularly fiction and travel writing, which seems to be major elements of your writing journey?

I’ve always loved fiction. As a child, I read voraciously, especially books that let me explore different parts of my personality that I wasn’t sure how to express outwardly. I loved going on adventures as a woman warrior, a queen, a witch, or a historical figure who had insurmountable obstacles in their way. 

When I decided to pursue writing, I always had the intention to become a full-time novelist one day. After receiving my MFA in Creative Writing, I lived in Los Angeles writing subtitles and captions for TV and film, and then moved to Dallas a year later to become a freelance writer. One of my first gigs was with a TripAdvisor-owned outlet that doesn’t exist anymore. Within this job, my love for traveling expanded and I discovered that I could specialize in travel writing – so that’s what I did. My travel writing career has taken me to so many beautiful places like Thailand, Japan, Serbia, Bonaire, Mexico, Belize, Switzerland, Germany, and many more. 

I think it’s pretty awesome that I’ve been able to marry my travel and fiction writing into Half Outlaw, which is, in a way, a fictional travel narrative as Raqi travels between California and Arkansas throughout the book. 

How would you describe your general writing process?

When I’m working on a new novel, I typically write for 20 minutes as soon as I wake up. If I want to write more later in the day, then I’ll write more. However, it’s not something I make myself do. Once the first draft is complete, I let it sit for a few weeks and then pick it back up and start editing on the computer. When that’s complete, I edit it by hand, and then again on the computer before sharing it with a beta reader or my literary agent. 

For me, the most important part of the writing process is the editing phase. Writing the first draft is necessary but it’s in the shaping of the story through editing that I find the most joy and excitement.  

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

Although I write some non-fiction, I’ve found that writing fiction has allowed me to process my emotions and my experiences in a way that feels safe to me. That’s ultimately what drew me to writing. It was a safe space to ask questions, work through my trauma, and tell stories that I hope will benefit the people who read them.  

I would say that I was influenced by a wide range of women of color writers like Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, Isabel Allende, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Louise Erdrich. However, it was Ana Castillo and her novel, So Far From God, that impacted me in a significant way as a writer. I can recall reading the first page of the book and having this connective moment between my heart and mind that said, “This is it. This is what I’ve been trying to write.” I hadn’t realized that I was looking for a writing language until I recognized it in Ana Castillo’s style of magical realism. If you compare our work, I think our writing styles differ greatly, but her novel was the catalyst to me exploring the magical realism genre and learning about how it’s connected to my Mexican identity. Everything came full circle when Ana Castillo blurbed Half Outlaw. I was beyond honored. 

Half Outlaw is a magical realism novel, and it’s something you’ll notice in the first sentence of the book. It may be a little jarring if you don’t read a lot of magical realism, but you grow used to it very quickly and find that it plays a role in Raqi’s perspective of the world and the trauma she’s endured. 

What advice would you have to give to any aspiring writers?

Write the story that you want to write, rather than the story you think is going to be sold or something that is ‘highbrow’ with flowery language and winding sentences. Trends in the publishing industry are so fickle and you can’t really predict what will be “hot” next. For instance, books that you read today were bought two years ago, so those trends have already come and gone. Don’t waste your time trying to write to a trend. 

Even more importantly, don’t try to write in a style that doesn’t come to you naturally. I think that’s the biggest mistake that writers make when they first start writing. They try to write like their favorite authors or writers and when it isn’t the same, they get disappointed, spiral out, and quit writing. Write what comes naturally. You’ll find more success and joy in this approach. 

On a last note: put most of your effort toward editing. Half Outlaw has gone through a countless number of edits, thanks to feedback I received from two beta readers, my literary agent, my publishing editor, and an in-house publishing editor. No book is well written in the first draft. Editing is the key. 

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)?

Your main character, Raqi Warren, is Mixed, and it’s something that you discuss in the Acknowledgements. How does her identity play into the story and why is it important?

Raqi is half-Mexican, half white, just as I am, and like me, she identifies as “Mixed.” People who are Mixed may identify as biracial, multiracial, or as “half-x and half-x.” It’s entirely up to the Mixed person to choose their personal identifier and this should be respected by others. 

I like to explain what it means to be Mixed, because despite this identity being one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S., we still don’t see a lot of fiction that features main characters who are Mixed. I didn’t grow up reading books where the characters were Mixed like me. It wasn’t until graduate school that I read short stories and books by Mixed authors with Mixed characters – and only because I went searching for it (these stories weren’t assigned to me to read). Today, I’m sorry to say, that Mixed representation in fiction is still considerably low, and most books with Mixed characters aren’t even written by Mixed authors. 

I wrote this book to work through the experiences that I’ve had as a Mixed woman in a world that was designed for monoracial (single race) and monoethnic (single ethnicity) peoples. For Half Outlaw specifically, I wanted to focus on the impact that monoracial family members have on Mixed family members. 

In Half Outlaw, you’ll see how Raqi navigated growing up in an all-white community as a Mixed girl with brown skin. While her “family” loved her, they also caused her harm in a variety of ways from using slurs in reference to people of color to speaking negatively about Mexicans and Mexican Americans. This is something I’ve experienced in my own life and with my own family, and I hoped that by writing this book, more Mixed people feel seen and understood. I also hope that family and friends of Mixed people can gain some insight into their relationships and behavior through Raqi’s story. 

Are there any other projects you are currently working on that you feel free to speak about?

I have two books in the works – another adult fiction novel that examines themes of sexism in mythology, motherhood, and loneliness, and a non-fiction book that I hope will be beneficial to creative writers. I’m trying to conceptualize a new novel idea but it’s in the very beginning stages of the outline and free writing process. I don’t know if it’ll end up being the next novel I write. I tend to write out a few ideas that come to me and then put half of them aside when I discover that the story doesn’t have legs. However, this idea has been brewing for well over a year in my mind and a few things have recently come together that make me think it’s the next story I need to tell. All I’ll say about this new novel idea is that it’ll have a cemetery, a slight love story, and examine the politics of women’s bodies. 

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

I could suggest book titles or authors, but I’d rather persuade you to read authors who have a different identity than you – whether that differing identity be in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, religion, culture, class, etc. As readers, I think we get too comfortable reading books where we feel ‘at home’ or ‘seen’ or books that let us escape from our day-to-day life. While those books are necessary and may be good for our mental health, I think the best things we can do for ourselves is to read stories from perspectives that don’t align with our own. 

In reading books by authors who have different identities than us, we may feel uncomfortable at times, however, that’s a small thing in comparison to the benefits we receive. In learning about a different identity, perspective, or life experience, we develop empathy and understanding for people who have different life experiences than us – and that is something that can go a long way in our society and personal lives. 

Header Photo Credit Shelbie Monkres