Interview with Richard Ho and Lynn Scurfield, Creators of Two New Years

Richard Ho is Chinese, Jewish, and an author . . . in any order you wish! His previous books include The Lost Package, illustrated by Jessica Lanan, and Year of the Cat, illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand. He loves to craft stories about diverse cultures and the delightful ways they intertwine. He and his proudly multicultural family live in the melting pot of New Jersey.

Lynn Scurfield‘s work is defined by bright colors, fun textures, and strong emotions. In their spare time, Lynn enjoys knitting, watching tours of beautiful houses online, and going on hikes with Taro, her small (but barky) dog. Lynn resides in Toronto, Canada.

I had the opportunity to interview Richard and Lynn, which you can read below.

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

Richard Ho: Thank you so much for having us! I’m Richard, a Jewish-Chinese-American author of children’s books. I was born and raised in New York, and currently live in New Jersey. For my day job, I work as an editor for an educational website—and then I write in whatever free time I can wrangle! Two New Years is my fourth published picture book, and the first to explore my dual cultural identity.

Lynn Scurfield: Hello! My name is Lynn Scurfield and I’m a mixed media illustrator currently based in Toronto, Canada. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for about 7 years now and my clients include Google, Amazon, Macmillan, Chronicle Books, Puffin UK, Panda Express and the New York Times. When I’m not drawing I’m usually knitting or walking my very anxious, barky dog named Taro.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Two New Years? What was the inspiration for this project?

Richard Ho: My children are the inspiration for just about everything I do, but that’s especially true for this book! The idea for Two New Years came from the realization that our kids are growing up in a home in which two different cultures have been present from the start. Whereas I chose to convert to Judaism as an adult, my children were born Chinese and Jewish. When they look at the customs and traditions of both, they don’t focus on the differences—they see the similarities and how they intertwine. Some of the most compelling examples of this duality can be found in how both cultures celebrate the New Year, and that’s what I wanted to capture in this book!

Lynn Scurfield: Two New Years is a very heartwarming book about a Jewish-Chinese family who celebrates both Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year. It aims to highlight not only how those traditions are different but in the many ways they’re very much alike. 

There’s a couple of key inspirations for the art. The characters are loosely based on my own life. I’m an older sister and I have a younger brother so I had to include an older sister and younger brother in the family. 

As for the art –  my biggest inspiration was papercut art. I was really into making papercut art after working on my previous book, Friends are Friends, Forever (written by Dane Liu). It’s very common to hang up papercut art during Lunar New Year and I wanted to keep making that kind of work. While I was doing research for Two New Years I came across the fact that Jewish Marriage certificates (Ketubah) are not only marriage certificates but they’re pieces of art that have been traditionally made using papercut methods. It was the most wild, serendipitous research I came across and it ended up shaping the entire look of the book.

How did the two of you come together to work on this story?

Richard Ho: After Chronicle Books acquired the manuscript, editor Feather Flores sent me a shortlist of illustrators the publisher was considering. (Ultimately, the choice of illustrator is up to the publisher, but authors often get to chime in with their thoughts on the potential candidates.) Lynn’s breathtaking artwork stood out from the start—their style is so vibrant and colorful! And when I learned about Lynn’s Chinese and Jewish background, I knew this would be the perfect match. I’m so glad Lynn agreed! 

Lynn Scurfield: Feather Flores, our first editor for Two New Years, was the one who reached out to me seeing if I’d be interested in illustrating the manuscript. Typically the author and illustrator don’t talk to each until after the art has been finalized and the book is in the marketing phase so I didn’t meet Richard until much later in the process!

Can you give insight or advice into what goes into making a picture book?

Richard Ho: One thing most people don’t realize is that the author and illustrator (when they’re not the same person) generally don’t communicate directly during the illustration process. That doesn’t mean we don’t collaborate! The editor serves as a go-between, passing along any necessary feedback. And once the final illustrations are done, and it’s time to start promoting the book and planning for launch, the author and illustrator often get in touch and start doing that work together.

In general, my advice to any author is to not be so precious about “your vision” for the story, and recognize that the illustrator is an equal partner. The manuscript is merely a starting point—the illustrator brings their own creative vision that can take the story in surprising new directions, often elevating it beyond the author’s wildest dreams! That potential is what I find so exciting and invigorating about the collaborative process in picture books, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lynn Scurfield: My advice for illustrators is appreciate the research phase! Research for me is the most fun part of the process – I love spending hours reading articles, gathering images and/ or watching videos on my book topics. I learn so much from drawing these books. It’s also the part of the process where you can just go wild imagining what this book could be. What will it look like?! It can be anything! So really dive into the research, go down those rabbit holes and see what you learn from them.

Also keep a very good art/ time tracker so you hit all your deadlines! 

As creators who come from both Chinese and Jewish backgrounds, I imagine this story feels quite a bit personal. Could you tell to us about what it meant for you to work on Two New Years?

Lynn Scurfield: So my step-family is Jewish, I wasn’t born and raised with Judaism, but I feel extremely lucky to have been so warmly welcomed into my step-family. I’ve been very fortunate enough to be included in a lot of the holiday celebrations and they are the biggest supporters of my work. Really to draw this book is to give a big celebration and thank you to both sides.

Also, as an obligatory question, what are some of your favorite New Year (Chinese or Jewish) foods and traditions?

Richard Ho: On the Chinese side, I always associate Lunar New Year with tangerines. Tangerines are a symbol of prosperity because the Chinese words for tangerine and gold are phonetically similar. Many families have a custom to place tangerines around the house as decorations, in order to usher in success in the new year! On the Jewish side, one of my favorite Rosh Hashanah customs is dipping a piece of apple into honey on the first night of the holiday. The sweetness of this delicious combination of foods is a reflection of our sincere wish for a sweet year ahead!

Lynn Scurfield: For Rosh Hashanah the blowing of the Shofar is always a magical moment. Plus you really can’t go wrong with a nice warm bowl of matzo ball soup. As for Lunar New Year – it’s dumplings for me. Making dumplings, eating dumplings. It’s the best!

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

Richard Ho: I love storytelling in all formats, so when I’m feeling stuck creatively, I often turn to the examples of strong writing in picture books, novels, television, film—anything that makes me say, “Wow, I wish I wrote that!”

Lynn Scurfield: My longest and greatest creative influences are Alphonse Mucha and Kay Nielson. They’re classic art nouveau, decorative artists and I still love how beautiful their commercial work is. 

Recently I’ve been finding more inspiration in music – specifically artists such as Four Tet, Baths and Masakatsu Takagi’s Marginalia songs. I think there’s something about getting a bit older and listening to more instrumental work haha. But in all seriousness the layering of sounds, the sampling and the emotional quality of music is something I try to emulate and transform into a single image. 

As a writer/illustrator, what are some of your favorite elements of the creative process? What would you say are some of the most frustrating/difficult?

Richard Ho: One of the most satisfying parts of the creative process is seeing the impact of the final product. When a reader tells me that one of my books made them laugh, or brought them to tears, or introduced them to ideas they had never considered before, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. On the flipside: writing is hard work! As much as I enjoy the creative process, it requires discipline, time, and effort to see an idea through to completion—all of which can be in short supply when juggling the demands of a day job and family life. That said, it’s a privilege to have all those wonderful things to juggle! The challenge is figuring out how to prioritize writing without sacrificing in other areas.

Lynn Scurfield: I think I have a tie for my favourite part of the creative process. One is the “eureka!” moment of finding the tone/ the look of a long-term project (such as a book), and the other is getting into a flow state. When I’m in that flow state I can create for hours and it’s so immersive that you don’t feel time pass. 

The most difficult part for me is creating work I’m passionate about on a deadline. In my perfect world I would spend a month on every image I’m commissioned for. I love to sit with my projects and think about them. But commercial work isn’t like that, you have to create on a deadline and it can be tricky to create work you really enjoy or work that pushes your craft while trying to hit a deadline.

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

Richard Ho: I love sports, and when I graduated from college, I had every intention of becoming a sports journalist! As preparation, I had written for the school newspaper and even did an internship in the media relations department of a local professional sports team. But I never ended up covering sports, instead landing jobs writing about comic books, movies, and advertising before getting into education. It was during my first job at an educational company that a colleague suggested I try my hand at writing children’s books. I’m certainly glad they did!

Lynn Scurfield: I love to knit and I’m currently learning how to crochet. I’m only making granny squares right now but my next goal is to crochet a nice summer shirt with buttons and everything. I also want to get into sewing but I’m more intimidated by that. 

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

Richard Ho: People might wonder if the family in the book is my family. The answer is that it’s loosely based on mine—an Orthodox Jewish family with a Chinese father, a Caucasian mother, and adorable mixed-race kids. But there are some differences, too. For one thing, we have a bunch of boys, not one boy and one girl!

Lynn Scurfield: Oh man. I’m not sure if I have one! I am not that creative.

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

Richard Ho: I have several picture books coming out in 2024, starting with If Lin Can from Charlesbridge Publishing in April. It’s a biography of Asian American basketball star Jeremy Lin, illustrated by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huỳnh Kim Liên. That will be followed by A Taste of Home from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan in August. Illustrated by Sibu T.P., it follows a group of kids who explore the food of several cultural neighborhoods in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I can’t wait to share more about these and more as we get closer to publication!

Lynn Scurfield: Yes! I’m currently working on a book for Bloomsbury called Quest for a Tangram Dragon written by Christine Liu-Perkins. It’s coming out next year and so far it’s pretty cute! 

I’m also collaborating with an extremely talented illustrator, Allegra Lockstadt, on making some art for Panda Express.

What advice might you have to give to any aspiring picture book creators out there?

Richard Ho: Read widely! There is so much innovation and inspiration to be found in your local library or independent bookstore. Reading as many books as you can is a great way to learn craft and discover which types of stories resonate with you the most.

Lynn Scurfield: Illustration careers can take a while to get off the ground. If things are slow don’t beat yourself up over it. If being a kidlit artist is something you desperately want, be stubborn and try a lot of things. Put you and your art out there, and keep experimenting. One day something will stick and it’ll be easier.

For the illustrators who have made a couple of books and don’t have an agent: try looking for a lit agent. It’s worth it.

Finally, what books/authors, including any Jewish/Chinese titles, would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Richard Ho: Lynn would never recommend her own book, so I’ll go ahead and sing the praises of Friends are Friends, Forever, a lovely picture book written by Dane Liu and illustrated by Lynn! It’s about a girl from China who moves to the United States, leaving her best friend behind and starting a new life in a strange and unfamiliar country. As for Jewish titles, one recent favorite is Awe-some Days, a collection of poems about Jewish holidays throughout the year. Written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, it includes wonderful introductions to even the lesser-known holidays, and also beautifully showcases diversity within Judaism.

Lynn Scurfield: Oh jeez I am truly ashamed to admit how little I read. A couple of books that I think are really cool are:

  • Spork
    • Written by Kyo Maclear
    • Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Amazing Asian American and Pacific Islanders is a great intro into some really cool and inspiring AAPI people while Spork is a really cute book that talks about being mixed-race.

Interview with Artist Sabina Hahn

Sabina Hahn is a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator, and sculptor who loves stories and tall tales. Sabina has been drawing from before she was born; she is a master of capturing subtle fleeting expressions and the most elusive of gestures. She is a co-founder of Interval Studios. Pineapple Princess is her debut picture book.

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

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

My name is Sabina Hahn. I love words and pictures and clay. And cats. I moved to New York from Riga, Latvia when I was 17 and I have been here ever since.

What can you tell us about your most recent project, Pineapple Princess? What was the inspiration for this story?

Pineapple Princess first appeared as a drawing of a surly kid; then the title  “Pineapple Princess” dropped into my head like a gift. They kind of melted into one and soon I started to idly think of her and where she came from and what she liked to do. I kept drawing her and writing small snippets. Soon I felt curious enough about her to sit down and write her story. I wanted to know more about this kid who knows she is a princess and is also sticky and surly and sure of herself. 

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly picture books? What drew you to the medium?

I fell in love with books when I was 4 or 5, the first time I read “Alice in Wonderland”. The combination of earnestness and absurdity really spoke to me. For me, the best children’s books have that quality because kids tend to think in leaps and sometimes those leaps happen sideways or upside down. I like to stay in touch with my inner child and children’s books are the easiest way to do so. 

I personally started to write kid’s books when I decided to change my career from animation to something else. Books seemed like a logical place to go to. It appealed to me that I can make key frames and then the reader does all the in-between work inside their mind. 

How would you describe your creative process? 

Meandering. Very very meandering. I have a small notebook where I jot all of my ideas for stories, no matter how small or vague it might be. Generally, one or two stories are particularly interesting to me or close to my heart. And so I will start writing a little, sketching a bit and also – very important – “researching”. ‘Researching’ is what I call all the rabbit holes I jump into. It is a great joy to me. One of the best things about being a New Yorker is our library. I love working in the libraries – this year, my favorite has been the Main library with the lions. I go there and write, and when I need a break I pick up a random book to be inspired. 

I tend to alternate between drawing and writing. Then, when I have the bones of the story, I start doing both at once.  Afterwards,  I make a book dummy. It is a great way to see the flow of the story and to tighten it up where it is needed. I might have anywhere from 3 to about 7 book dummies of various degrees of sketchiness by the time I am finished with a story. 

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

Anything that makes me stop and wonder is the source of  inspiration. It is people sometimes, overheard conversations, misheard words, books, art – anything and everything.

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

I find writing challenging. I want to use all words and no words at once and have a hard time balancing that dichotomy in my books. When I get discouraged, I remind myself of these words by Felicity Beedles from “Thud” by Terry Pratchett : “‘… how hard can writing be?  After all, most of the words are going to be and, the and I and it, and so on, and there’s a huge number to choose from, so a lot of the work has already been done for you.’ ”

My favorite things about creating (be it words or images) are the moments of wonder. Every once in a while I am surprised by what I create. It is as if it has a life of its own and I am the lucky one who gets to spend time with it.. 

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

I love working with clay. It brings me joy and equilibrium. You should try it too. 

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

‘What is your favorite animal’ is a question people over a certain age (11 maybe) don’t get asked enough. At the moment my favorite animal is a hog nose snake who very dramatically pretends to be dead when it is scared. So much drama!

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

A lot of my stories I am working now are in their caterpillar cocoon form. I am afraid to disturb them while their existence is so precarious. But one of the characters that keeps showing up lately when I am daydreaming is a cat in a cat suit. What it is doing or what it wants is unclear, but it’s pretty persistent. 

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, to both those interested in making their own picture book? 

Read, read, read! When you get tired of reading, make, make, make. When you get tired of that, connect with other similarly minded people. And then show your work; be present in the world you want to inhabit. 

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

I tend to read pretty widely, so here are some of my favorites from the last few years. 

Paradise Sands by Levi Pinfold (picture book)

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (picture book)

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascot  (graphic novel)

Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto (graphic novel)

Wolf Doctors by Sara June Woods (poetry)
The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (because it’s one of my all time favorite books)

And all of Terry Pratchett too.

Nature of Oaks by Douglas Tallamy (non-fiction, one of the books I read for my research, so interesting!) 

Header Photo Credit Anna Campanelli

Interview with Author Keah Brown

Keah Brown is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. She is the creator of #DisabledAndCute, and her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire UK, and The New York Times, among other publications. Her debut essay collection The Pretty One (Atria Books) was published in 2019, and her writing has appeared in the anthologies Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong and You Are Your Best Thing, edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. 

I had the opportunity to interview Keah, 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 am a journalist, author, screenwriter, and studying actress. I love to tell stories, that’s the Throughline of the work that I do. I’m also a person who loves concerts, cheesecake, Drew Barrymore, and Paramore. 

I am also a person who thinks that joy is revolutionary and now more than ever we deserve things that make us want to get through each day.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Sam’s Super Seats? What was the inspiration for this story?

Sam’s Super Seats is one of my dreams come true. It tells the story of Sam, this adorable little girl with Cerebral palsy, who goes back to school shopping with her mom and her two best friends. While at the mall, she learns the importance of comfort and rest and listening to her body.

The inspiration for the story was me writing a story that I would’ve loved as a child. Growing up I didn’t see any books for children featuring stories of little black girls with any disability let alone mine, cerebral palsy.  So, in many ways, this book is my way of giving little Black girls and children of all races with disabilities a slice of representation I never had. The dream could only be a reality because of the fantastic work of the team at Kokila, penguin kids, and my amazing illustrator, Sharee Miller. 

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to children’s literature specifically? 

I have been storytelling in some way since I was a child. The stories were not always good because we have to start somewhere right?  For me, there is magic to Storytelling the ability to be lost in someone else’s world for a while, to give our sometimes racing brains a break. I was an early reader, I loved and still do love reading books and I knew from a very early age that if I ever had the chance to tell stories of my own, to potentially give readers a chance to give what was given to me, to share in the magic I was going to jump on it. I am very grateful that I get to do this for a living and hopefully people enjoy the magic that I create too.

 One of the most Virgo things about me is that I have a ten-year plan document on my computer. Writing a children’s book has always been on that list. When my editor from Kokila, Sydnee, reached out to me with The idea of creating a children’s book after she’d read and thankfully enjoyed The Pretty One, I leapt at the chance. As an early reader books were my Safe Haven and I wanted to be able to give that specifically to children one day I’m just so glad that that day is here. 

As the writer of The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me, what drew you to writing non-fiction?

The thing that is most interesting is that fiction is my first love, I will always have a soft spot for fiction. However, with The Pretty One, I had the opportunity to write about things that I didn’t really have the opportunity to write about in my one-off essays or interviews, or articles as a journalist. With The Pretty One, I was able to talk about things like music, grief, family, platonic love, my love for TV and film, and more in a more in-depth way because I had the page space. 

As a Black, disabled, queer author much of your writing has been highly personal in regards to describing your specific experiences and identities. How would you say you balance creative drive (and career needs) versus preserving your own vulnerability? 

Well, with each piece of writing I think about craft. What is the way that I want to tell the story, and why do I want to tell the story? and What lends itself to the story and what doesn’t? The way that I preserve my own vulnerability is with the recognition that I don’t have to share everything with everyone. In my work, especially in my nonfiction work, I share what serves the story and the things that are just for me are simply just for me. My non-fiction work is highly personal but it is not the whole of me. Early on in my career, I was sharing everything, letting it all hang out, and then after some advice from a few prominent writers that I deeply admire and trust, I learned that I didn’t have to give everything away in order to get a byline in the first place. Now I’m in a place in my career where if I do write something that’s non-fiction, like The Pretty One or an essay, I let craft also dictate when, how, and why I tell a personal story. Sometimes I think it’s easy for people to forget that even when we’re telling stories of our own lives that takes effort and it’s not just like a diary entry on the page. 

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

My general writing process depends on the thing I’m writing. If I am writing a book I outline first. Outlining is not my favorite thing but it is a necessary piece of the process, especially in writing longer works. If I am working on an essay or a story for an anthology, I usually skip the outline and just start writing. When I am co-writing something like the musical that I am currently cowriting, we outlined extensively for weeks because it is also a longer work. On the off chance that I’m writing something like a poem, that usually happens at like 3 AM so there’s no outlining involved in that process either. However, I cannot write at all without music. So, regardless of genre, Music has to be playing while I write and it has to be songs that I know.

My favorite part about writing is truly creating worlds and people that others can get lost in, that even if I need to I can get lost in. Sometimes we all need to step away from the real world for awhile. So, when I’m writing, my favorite part is knowing that I enjoy the story that I’m creating and letting the worry about if anyone else will fall away at least until it’s over.

The challenging part of the writing process is knowing that there are just going to be some days where nothing comes and to give myself grace on those days and to not feel like a failure because I didn’t write anything good that week or that day.

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

Music, movies, and TV is one of my greatest sources of inspiration. One of the coolest things about being creative is seeing different genres create and being inspired to create in your own because of it.

As far as people, Roxane Gay, Ashley C. Ford, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes, Andie J. Christopher, Jasmine Guillory, and Samantha Irby. 

Aside from your work as a writer, what would you want readers to know about you?

I want readers to know that I absolutely love getting to tell stories and then I want to tell stories via film and television as well. I want readers to know that I do not take them for granted and that I’m grateful that they exist at all. 

I am simply your average disabled black girl who loves love and a happy ending. 🙂

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

There will be days when it feels impossible to write and days where nothing good comes but try and remember that even your favorite writers have those days. Don’t give up on yourself or your story. Sometimes, will spend a day writing and none of it will make the final product but that’s also a part of the process. 

Let your first draft be bad, it’s supposed to be bad. First drafts are just about getting words on the page. It does not have to be perfect, rid yourself of the idea that everything has to be going perfectly well or that you have to write the next great thing in order to start writing. Just start writing

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

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I am co-writing a musical about two twin sisters who are out looking for adventure, I am dipping my toes into the film and TV space, and I’ve got a young adult book coming out next spring.  I also am continuing to take acting classes and I plan to draft out what will be book number four toward the end of the year.

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

Interview with Xiran Jay Zhao

Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Widow series. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.

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

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor? What inspired the story?

It’s a middle grade adventure I pitch as Chinese Percy Jackson meets Yugioh! It features a 12-year-old Chinese American boy who’s not really connected to his Chinese heritage, but is compelled to go on a journey across China to fight historical and mythical figures and heist real artifacts after the First Emperor of China possesses his AR gaming headset. I was inspired to write this story when my friend Rebecca Schaeffer, author of the Not Even Bones series, encouraged me to try my hand at writing MG, since I’d been hyper fixating on Chinese history and myth, and myth stories make for very good MG novels. Immediately I thought of doing a Chinese take on Yugioh, the most formative anime of my childhood, in which I would combine modern gaming tech with ancient myths and magic.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to speculative fiction and writing for young adult and middle grade audiences?

I’ve always had stories in my head inspired by the media I love. 7-year-old me would babble imaginary scenarios to my friends at recess—which I now recognize as basically Yugioh fanfiction. So in a way, I really came full circle on that with this book! I write kidlit because I’m drawn to coming of age stories, having had quite a tough time finding my identity while growing up. Writing kidlit allows me to share what I’ve learnt along the way to future generations, and I hope it can help them in some way. Not to mention that I can be as wacky as I want!

From the looks of the synopsis description, it looks like this book will explore the themes of diaspora and Chinese identity. As a member of a different diaspora myself, I’m curious what working on these subjects has meant to you as an author, exploring it within Zachary’s character and your writing in general?

Zachary Ying—both the book and character—pull deeply from the inner turmoil I struggled with when I was around his age (12). That was when I first immigrated from China to a small town in Canada and landed in a school where I was the only Asian kid. My experience there plummeted my self-esteem, and it took me years to unpack the shame I was made to feel about my heritage and identity. I’m incredibly grateful that I now get to write the books I wish I had when I was younger. Through my stories, I hope I can help the next generation of diaspora come to terms with their identity, so they will have a smoother adolescence than mine.

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

I figure out the character arc I want my protagonist to have, the specific goal they’re trying to achieve in the story, then how the antagonist(s) competes with them for that goal. I used to have a problem with my plots meandering, but I solved it by constantly keeping in mind what my antagonist is doing and building a push and pull between my protagonist and antagonist. Then I whine nonstop to my friends about how impossible it’ll be to finish the book until I finish the book. I love worldbuilding and imagining the exciting scenes I want to put in a book, but putting the actual story to words is an absolute chore for me.

Were there any author, books, or media influences you feel have helped shaped you as a writer?

As mentioned before, Yugioh is the biggest direct inspiration for this book. I’ve always loved how Yugioh blends ancient magic with sci-fi technology—they don’t have to be kept in separate genres! I’m also inspired by a lot of Yugioh-adajcent shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya, plus superhero comics on the Western side. For some reason, I seem really drawn toward media that’s meant to target teenage boys. As for books, Lemony Snicket, Laini Taylor, Marie Lu, Rick Riordan, and Wu Cheng’en are some authors who’ve had big influences on me!

In addition to being a writer, you are also known for your YouTube videos discussing Chinese history and representation (and for your amazing costume!) May I ask how you got into both?

I got really into Chinese history a few years ago when I was in a pretty dark place in my life. Finding the stories of defiance and resilience in the historical records inspired me like nothing else. While there’s “typical Chinese culture” that seems to make everything about Confucianism and obedience and sticking within your designated social roles, there has also always been a counterculture that rebelled against that, and that spirit is just as Chinese. I think there’s much misunderstanding about Chinese culture from Western points of view, so I’ve made it my life’s mission to demystify it by spreading the stories I love. I didn’t have serious thoughts about becoming a YouTuber until I accidentally blew up with my first video though. I just wanted to rant about how terrible I found the 2020 live action Mulan movie, and Twitter wasn’t enough to express all my feelings, so I recorded a 35 minute video on a shoddy camera and made a YouTube account to throw it up there. Next thing I knew, the video had hundreds of thousands of views and my brand new account had more than 80 thousand subscribers from the single upload. I knew I couldn’t waste that platform, so I committed to making more videos. The costumes and clothing are stuff I’ve accumulated in my closet in my years of cosplaying. Turns out, the editing and makeup skills I’ve picked up from being active in fandom spaces translate really well to YouTubing.

As a queer writer, you are known for including some pretty cool queer characters within your work (including polyamory within Iron Widow, which is still pretty rare in YA!) Would you mind discussing what queer representation means to you (and whether we might see any in Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor?)

Oh yes, Zachary Ying is a queer book! Let’s just say his Chineseness isn’t the only identity Zack has to come to terms with. I will never write a book without queer rep because I’ve experienced what it’s like to crawl and scavenge for crumbs of representation when I was younger (and mainly by hanging onto characters the official creators will never admit to being queer), and that’s not something I want the next generation to go through. I want them to have a selection so large that they can find exactly what delights them.

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

Who are my inspirations when it comes to pop history outreach? The answer is famous Chinese historians like Yuan Tengfei, Meng Man, and Yi Zhongtian! Indeed, Chinese media has famous historians and archeologists who constantly appear on TV. A big show that broke them out was Lecture Hall (百家讲堂), which aired every day around noon and featured a professor giving a lecture on a certain topic, often history. I used to catch it every day during lunch break when I went to school in China (did you know Chinese schools and work give like 2-hour lunch breaks because you’re supposed to take a noon nap?). I never would’ve become so interested and knowledgeable in Chinese history without exposure to these amazing lecturers. My YouTube style is very inspired by them—I sit there and talk for a long time while giving my own opinions freely instead of doing short animated videos like most HistoryTubers. I’m grateful this works for me because I have neither the talent to do animations like that nor the restraint to talk about a topic for just 5-10 minutes.

Aside from being an author, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I am honestly a huge mess of a person. My life is not glamorous as it may seem. It involves a lot of sleeping and waking up at improbable hours and stressing out over deadlines.

What advice would you give for aspiring authors?

When you’re on your first draft, stop constantly going back and editing. Power through the whole thing so you train yourself to actually finish books, THEN dive into the mess to edit. This way, you’ll avoid the trap of being one of those writers who starts a lot of stories but can’t finish them.

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

Linden A. Lewis’ THE FIRST SISTER is a mind blowing space opera, pitched as Red Rising meets The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s seriously SO GOOD and has amazing queer characters. Please read it! There’s a full review on my website if you wanna know more.

SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan, a genderbent retelling of the founding of the Ming dynasty, should appeal to those who enjoy the historical aspect of my books as well.

FRAGILE REMEDY by Maria Ingrande Mora, a YA sci-fi, gave me huge Yugioh 5D’s vibes, so I’d recommend it for fellow Yugioh fans.

CUTE MUTANTS by SJ Whitby is a delightfully chaotic and queer take on superheroes!

Interview with Author Kit Rosewater

Kit Rosewater has a master’s degree in children’s literature from Hollins University. The Derby Daredevils was her debut book series, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, with three volumes currently available. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your series, The Derby Daredevils?

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! I am a queer, cis children’s book author and I use she/her pronouns. I currently live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but a few years back I lived in Austin, Texas and got the idea to write a middle grade series about a quirky junior roller derby team based in downtown Austin. That idea eventually grew into THE DERBY DAREDEVILS!

Where did the inspiration for The Derby Daredevils come from? Do you yourself have any personal connections to the sport of roller derby?

When I first moved to Austin, I quickly dove into the roller derby scene. I loved the chaotic energy and open acceptance in that world. I attended a lot of bouts (official roller derby games) and then started to get into the sport as a referee. I trained as a referee with a New Mexico team when we moved, but had to drop out due to health issues before our league got into the main bout season. I will never stop being a humongous roller derby fan. 

What inspired you to get into writing for younger audiences? Were there any writers or books that made you think “I want to do this, too someday”?

Oh gosh! I’ve wanted to write for children for as long as I can remember… basically since I was a kid. The books I read when I was eight, nine, ten—those are the books that have stayed with me the rest of my life. I was obsessed with Louis Sachar’s HOLES and E.L. Konigsburg’s THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. Around that time, my mother quit her job as a paralegal to write a children’s book manuscript, and I thought that was super brave and inspiring. I knew I wanted to do that too someday. 

On your website page, it says you’ve had some education in Children’s Literature. Could you discuss that a bit in detail?

You know, I was vocal about loving children’s books from the get go, but for some reason when I was in high school and college I lost my nerve when it came to creative writing. I was afraid someone would come along and tell me my writing was bad and then my one major dream would go up in smoke. So when it came time to hop into graduate school, I decided to take a critical analysis track and study children’s books as a scholar. And honestly I am so glad I did! Investigating themes and trends in the canon of children’s literature has made me a better writer, but even more importantly, it helped me discover a long history of radical queer themes in children’s books. I feel very close to this category of literature as both a queer writer, but also as a young queer reader. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer website, could you talk a bit about the queer representation/themes we can see in your books?

Absolutely! One of my main objectives with THE DERBY DAREDEVILS has been to create a setting and cast of characters that normalize and celebrate queerness. The books feature queer role models—a funny and loving trans dad in one, a great non-binary friend and mentor in another. The books also feature a young queer relationship, or really more of a queer crush that at least one character develops. It was important to me to not have the queer aspect be a source of tension in the narrative, but to simply exist and be visible to the reader. I think in a lot of ways I’m writing stories I wish I had access to as a kid when I was trying to figure myself out.

What advice would you have to give for aspiring writers, particularly for writing sports and other physical activities? 

My advice to all writers is to keep learning and not give up. If you learn something new with each story you write, then no words are ever wasted. To sports or action writers in particular, my best writing advice is to tackle action scenes with lots of interiority. By this I mean that it’s important to really get into the heads of your characters, and allow the reader see and smell and taste and feel what it’s like to be in the middle of action rather than watching it from the side. Sometimes I’ll be working on stretching a two-minute long derby jam into four pages of text, and in order to keep things engaging for the reader, that means I need to get into the head space of what my characters are thinking and how they’re communicating and the way they’re interpreting the action going on around them.  

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

I’ve been really lucky over the past couple of years, as young readers in particular have asked me some stupendous questions. Once a student asked me if I tested out all the Daredevils’ moves myself before putting them in stories. The answer is complicated, because technically I’m not supposed to be on wheels body-checking people left and right at the roller rink. But nearly every Daredevils move or play is something I did with my friends and cousins as a kid. There’s a move where the Daredevils join hands around their team’s jammer and squawk like birds to ward off the other team. I actually did that move in a flag football game! Turns out it was completely illegal, but it’s one of my favorite memories. 

In addition to being a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I love reptiles, especially snakes! I had a pink albino corn snake when I was a teenager and I named her Dina after Alice’s cat in ALICE IN WONDERLAND. My hero when I was young was Steve Irwin, a nature conservationist based in Australia who would go out and catch animals and give them loving little pats while explaining their importance to the ecosystem. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d want to be snuggling sloths and helping animals and the environment. 

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

I am working on a couple of other projects, though I can’t talk about any in too much depth right now. I will say that I am definitely still writing books for young people and I am definitely still writing books that feature sports. ☺ 

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

There are so many great authors out there!!! For middle grade I highly recommend A.J. Sass’s ANA ON THE EDGE and Ash Van Otterloo’s CATTYWAMPUS. In the young adult world, Brian D. Kennedy has a hilarious and swoony queer debut coming out next summer titled A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY