Interview with Author Mark Oshiro

MARK OSHIRO is the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning Latinx queer author of Anger Is a Gift, Each of Us a Desert, and Into the Lightas well as their middle-grade books The InsidersYou Only Live Once, David Bravo, and Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena. They are the co-author (with Rick Riordan) of The Sun and the Star: A Nico Di Angelo Adventure. When not writing, they are trying to pet every dog in the world.

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

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

Hello, Geeks OUT! I’m Mark Oshiro. I’m a middle grade and young adult author based in Atlanta. And I really love dogs. And vinyl records!

What can you tell us about one of your upcoming books, Into the Light? What was the inspiration for this series?

Well, so far, this is still intended to be a standalone book! Some day, I’ll get an idea that will become a series. Into the Light is my foray into writing a thriller. It’s a very personal story because it is both inspired by and based on a lot of my experiences as a teenager, particularly my upbringing as an adoptee in a religious family. I wanted to write something that was frightening, emotional, and would also challenge me as a writer.

In addition to your own original stories, you’ve also been working on another, The Sun and The Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure? What was it been like focusing on a character with such as strong queer fandom and history? How would you describe your connection to the Rick Riordan fandom before signing on to this project, and what was your reaction afterward?

I’m a latecomer to the Percy Jackson series. I read the books when I was on tour for Anger is a Gift back in 2018 and immediately fell hard for them. To the surprise of NO ONE, once I met Nico in the third book, I instantly connected with him. So to get the opportunity to write from his point of view? It’s surreal. I create stories that often about kids dealing with trauma or difficult childhoods, and I know that’s why I was drawn to Nico. In many ways, I do feel uniquely qualified to contribute to bringing The Sun and The Star to life. Suffice to say, this journey the past couple of years has been one of the most rewarding and thrilling things I’ve ever done.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative and young adult fiction?

Well, I was drawn to storytelling mostly because it was the only thing I was both good at AND interested in when I was a kid. I’ve been creating stories since I was in the first grade. But it didn’t feel like a real possibility to me until I was a freshman in high school. My English teacher that year (shout out to Ms. Alford!) assigned us The House on Mango Street to read. It changed my life. It was my first real sense that Latinx folks could be authors and that we could write about our lives.

I’ve generally always loved the weird and the strange! It’s very natural for me to write in that space. The same goes for writing stories for a younger audience. I’m genuinely trying to capture the excitement and wonder I felt as a teenager who was a giant bookworm. So I’m absolutely writing the kind of stories I wanted back then.

As an author whose switched between young adult and middle grade, what is the appeal of writing between different age groups?

Right now, I tend towards wackier and funnier plots in my middle grade books, while my young adult work is far more intense, introspective, and complicated. From a creative standpoint, it helps me feel more free to write whatever kind of story I want. I also love how vastly different the two audiences are to interact with as well. You can ask any author writing for multiple age categories about this, but middle school and elementary visits/events are VERY different from young adult ones. Though don’t be fooled: kids will still shade you or rip your soul out of your body, no matter your age.

How would you describe your writing process?

Much better than it used to be, ha! These days, I’ve figured out what works best for me, so I do feel like it’s been streamlined in a sense. I take an idea and do freewriting until I feel like it’s fleshed out enough that I have a vague beginning, middle, and end. Then I write a detailed outline for all the scenes, and once that’s done, I start drafting! I am a fast drafter in general, but require a lot of time for re-writes and edits.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I mentioned The House On Mango Street earlier. I was a huge fan of Poe, Stephen King, Jane Austen… I devoured all the Goosebumps books in elementary school. That’s where my love of story, structure, and horror came from. It was a TV show, though, that actually made me see myself in the story: My So-Called Life. Wilson Cruz’s portrayal of Ricky Vasquez changed my whole life. He was the first queer Latinx person I had seen in any fictional medium ever.

That’s another purpose I imbue in my writing: I want to be someone else’s Ricky Vasquez. I am thankful that there’s a lot more of us—those of us excluded from so much of publishing or film or the TV industry—telling the stories that we want to tell.

I will say that the story that most resonated with me in the last few years? Probably Midnight Mass. And I have a bunch of recommendations for y’all at the end of this!

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

Every day life. My childhood. Really, really good works of art. Extremely cursed jokes in the group chat. 1am meals in diners.

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

I love a good framing device and a very voice-y first-person narrator. I’m also a sucker for a mind-trip of a structure. Unfortunately, those are all really challenging to pull off and I constantly keep using them. One day, I will write something that’s a lot easier to execute.

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

I’m a big lover of music; if I could be doing anything else, it would be writing and playing music. I can talk anyone’s ear off about music in a heartbeat. Into the Light is also based heavily on my experience as a transracial adoptee. I’m Latinx (as is my identical twin brother, who thankfully never got separated from me), but my adoptive parents are white and Japanese/Hawaiian. Hence the last name that often confuses people! Also, I love long distance running.

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)?

Oooh! The question would be: What are the three albums you’ve listened to the most while writing your books? And the answer would be: Sing the Sorrow by AFI; The Other Shore by Murder by Death; Gone Forever by God Forbid.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t throw away any old drafts. I’ve turned old drafts into novels. Twice! And if you struggle with perfectionism, the best thing I ever did for my process was to write what’s called a zero draft: a draft that I show to literally no one. Not friends, not my agent, not an editor. No one sees it. So I just write my trash draft that’s littered with errors and might not make any sense, but the story is on the page. I can do something with it. Give it a try!

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

I’m currently in the development stage of what will hopefully be my eighth book and third original middle grade novel. It’s a spooky and funny and will absolutely also punch you in the heart because it’s a Mark Oshiro book. I’m also thinking of branching out into adult horror, but that’s all I can say at the moment.

Also, I’m pretty sure I know what my next YA novel is going to be, and unfortunately for me, it is yet another speculative novel with a bizarre narrative structure. I’ll see myself out now.

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

Any and everything by Leah Johnson.

Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Any and everything by Sarah Gailey

Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Interview with Author Ivelisse Housman

Ivelisse Housman is the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press. Her work is inspired by her intersecting identities as a biracial autistic woman. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.

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

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

Thank you! My name is Ivelisse Housman, and I’m the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Unseelie? What was the inspiration for this story?

I was first inspired to write this story by the theory that changeling mythology was an early description of autistic children. As the story evolved, more elements from fiction and real life got pulled into the book—like my relationship with my own sister, my love of certain fantasy tropes, and the journey of self-acceptance I experienced after my autism diagnosis as a teenager.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult and speculative fiction?

I was always a precocious reader, and I probably started reading YA books a little too young, so it’s an age category I’ve loved for over half my life now. I was always drawn to the magical escape of second-world fantasies, so it was only natural that when I started writing, I’d create a little escape of my own. Aside from that, YA as a category is so diverse and interesting, and teen readers are so smart and fun to write for.

The protagonist of Unseelie, Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove, is a neurodivergent (autistic) changeling. While other disability scholars, such as Amanda Leduc have studied the connection between changeling stories and autism, I was wondering how you discovered the link and what made you decide to turn this into a story?

It’s something I randomly stumbled onto online and immediately connected with. I started writing it just for myself, and only did more research into the links between changeling mythology and autism/other disabilities when I realized it could be a whole book. I think a lot of autistic people grow up feeling like we’re from another world, and the idea of putting a positive spin on that feeling within a magical world like the ones I grew up reading was irresistible.

How would you describe your writing process?

It’s different every time! I’m currently trying to find my rhythm writing a book on contract for the sequel to UNSEELIE, which is totally different from how I drafted the first book just for fun. No matter the project, though, I have two rules for myself when writing. First, “You don’t have to write every day!” Especially as a disabled writer, it’s just not reasonable to expect constant output! My second rule is “done is better than perfect.” It’s so hard to ignore the fear of writing something that sucks, but you can fix something that sucks. You can’t fix a blank page!

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I have yet to read a book (besides my own) that represents the intersections of my identity, but I’ve always latched onto any story where I could find part of my experience. I was obsessed with Ella Enchanted (and truly, all of Gail Carson Levine’s books) as a kid. Looking back on it now, I feel like Ella’s internal struggle to best her curse reflected my difficulties to seem “normal,” to be good, not to let my sensory distress or social difficulties show, even when they caused physical pain. More recently, I sobbed reading Amaro Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games because it was so meaningful to see a biracial, diasporic Puerto Rican character fully claim her identity and be accepted by others.

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

I have to say Gail Carson Levine again, because her work taught me how to write with a distinctive, conversational voice. Margaret Rogerson’s books are so inspirational as super atmospheric fantasy featuring offbeat main characters. I’m constantly inspired by whatever my favorite book, movie, TV show, or game is at the moment—too many to count! When something is fun and exciting to me, I always want to find a way to incorporate it into my writing.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult? 

My favorite part of writing is when I forget I’m writing. I love the daydreaming stage, the moodboard stage, the drafting-so-smoothly-it’s-like-watching-a-movie-in-my-head stage. The most difficult (besides writer’s block, obviously) is when I’m trying to revise, and I know I have a problem, but I don’t have solutions for it yet.

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

I have a degree in graphic design, and I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for a stationery company for several years and loved it! I’m half Puerto Rican and half Virginian, and I think the two cultures have more similarities than people would expect.

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)?

I’m not sure how it would be worded as a question, but I’ll jump at any reason to talk more about the sisterhood, friendship, and found family aspects of UNSEELIE! It was so important to me that Seelie was accepted for who she is within this little group. She has to learn not only how to let other people in, which is difficult after a lifetime of rejection, but also how to balance advocating for her own needs with making sure she’s considerate of others. It’s difficult for her, but I hope every autistic reader gets the takeaway that they will find the people who love them unconditionally someday. It can be messy and awkward, especially when you’re seventeen, but acceptance is not impossible.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

I want to emphasize again the need for rest, partly because that’s a message I always need to hear. Work hard, but don’t be so hard on yourself you make yourself miserable. Find what is fun and interesting for you, and write it in the way only you can. Readers will be able to tell the difference.

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

Currently, I’m up to my ears in the sequel to UNSEELIE! I’m so excited to share what it’s called, what it’s about, and of course another stunningly gorgeous cover illustration by the talented Mona Finden. For now, I’ll say that I think readers will be surprised by the turn Seelie’s story takes, but I hope they hang on for the ride!

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

If you enjoy UNSEELIE, you’ll enjoy FLOWERHEART by Catherine Bakewell for its lovely prose and relatable main character! I’d also recommend THIS VICIOUS GRACE and its upcoming sequel by Emily Thiede. In terms of upcoming books, I can’t wait for Jackie Khalilieh’s autistic YA contemporary SOMETHING MORE and Rebecca Mix’s middle grade debut MOSSHEART.


Header Photo Credit Sam Housman Creative

Interview with Helen H. Wu

Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author and illustrator, as well as a translator and publisher. She is the author of Tofu Takes Time, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022) and Long Goes To Dragon School, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is the Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher based in San Diego, California. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that empower children to understand the world and our connections. Born and raised in Hefei, China, Helen moved to the US in her 20s. Currently, she resides in sunny Southern California, with her family and two kids. You can follow Helen on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

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

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

Thank you so much, Michele for having me!

I’m a children’s book author, illustrator, translator and publisher. My books include Tofu Takes Time, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022) and Long Goes To Dragon School, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). I’m the Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher based in San Diego, California. Fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, I love to share stories that empower children to understand the world and our connections..

What can you tell us about your latest book, Long Goes to Dragon School? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

My new picture book, Long Goes to Dragon School, was inspired by my own experience as a minority immigrant student. It follows a Chinese dragon who struggles to breathe fire in his new Western dragon school, only to discover he must carve his own path to finding a sense of belonging. In this story, Long’s name is based on the Chinese word for dragon, “龙(lóng).” Like in Western culture, dragons are intricately intertwined with Chinese culture. However, Chinese dragons do not typically breathe fire. Instead, they are known as water spirits. I have always been fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures. And living in America, I’ve realized that everyone is different and that learning from others helps you discover your own talents, while still allowing you to find your own path.

As a first-generation immigrant, I’ve felt impostor syndrome ever since—including throughout my journey as an author. But here’s the good news: while I don’t think these thoughts will ever go away completely, I’ve learned to control them. In fact, I’ve learned to let them motivate me to think outside the box and find my own unique path in writing and publishing.

I managed to use those feelings of insecurity to motivate myself to keep learning, keep going, and seizing every opportunity that came my way. A few years ago, I was invited to talk about publishing and my stories on a podcast. I was so nervous and my English wasn’t as fluent as I wanted it to be, and unfortunately, the recorded podcast wasn’t aired. Despite feeling discouraged, I also realized that I had taken a brave step by accepting the opportunity to be on the podcast. This experience pushed me forward and taught me to embrace every small success. I learned that taking even a small step forward is a significant achievement and should be celebrated.

So eventually, I embraced my multicultural identity and began to tell stories that were not only personal to me but also unique and universal.

I identified with Long’s story because I could relate to feeling like an outsider and struggling to find my place. I wanted to write a story that celebrates cultural differences and encourages readers to embrace their individuality.

In Long Goes to Dragon School, Long struggles to fit in with his classmates because he cannot breathe fire like the other dragons. This mirrors my own experience of feeling inadequate because I did not have the same background as my peers. That’s why I wanted to include the theme of growth mindset in this story. Long is a water dragon and he can’t match his fire-breathing classmates. But he keeps practicing and finally manages to turn water into something surprising. By persisting with a growth mindset, he discovers his own unique talents. I’m very honored that this book has received some glowing reviews. “Using a dragon as the main character strengthens the overall message that everyone is different and has unique gifts to share. Besom’s appealing watercolor illustrations wonderfully complement the text, clearly representing the story’s events. From beginning to end, the images will likely enchant youngsters as they get to know Long’s world.” –Kirkus Reviews. “An insightful picture book in which a young dragon with unique abilities struggles to fit in.” –Foreword Reviews. Like Long, I found my own unique path and learned to embrace my differences. I hope readers of all backgrounds will be able to relate to Long’s journey and find inspiration in his perseverance and self-discovery.

How would you describe the process behind this book? How would you describe your general creative process?

I had the opportunity to serve as the editor and be involved in every single step of the process – from text editing, illustration thumbnails, sketches, and coloring, every revision to graphic design. I provided a lot of input into the layout design, cover design, and jacket design. In fact, I even came up with the idea for the poster on the back of the book and designed it myself. Working so closely with the team was an incredible experience, while effort-consuming. I always appreciate the efforts from a publishing house, including the editorial team, design team, marketing and sales team, that goes into making a book possible and ensuring that it is the best it can be.

Chinese dragons are typically visually different from western dragons, with their long snake-like bodies. However, in this book, the focus is not on their physical differences but on their unique inner abilities. To bring each character to life, I designed them with distinct personalities and body shapes, and Mae Besom’s exceptional talent made them even more captivating with her mesmerizing illustrations. Mae’s specialization in drawing cute childlike Chinese dragons, coupled with her mastery of traditional Chinese watercolor art style, added another layer of beauty to the book. When our team pitched the story to Mae, she immediately jumped on board and brought her artistic magic to the project.

Collaborating with Mae Besom is an absolute delight! During the character design phase, she meticulously explored each dragon’s background and personality, and the results were breathtaking! From Camila, the fiery dragon who loves to read, to Willy, the hilarious double-headed dragon who breathes lightning, and to Mia, the fluffy dragon who spews lava – each character had a unique and captivating design that perfectly matched their distinct personalities. Mae’s artistry was truly remarkable, making the characters jump off the page and into our hearts! I’m thrilled that Mae’s talent and passion contributed to the project and that people of all ages can now enjoy the story and its characters.

What are some of your favorite things about picture books?

Children’s picture books have the potential to pass on the joy from generation to generation. Picture books are one of the channels that children can learn about the world when they snuggle on the laps of parents and grandparents. As an art lover, I also find it’s very entertaining and soothing to simply enjoy the artwork of picture books.

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

Can you briefly speak about the Kickstarter campaign of the Dragon Plushies? What is it like seeing these characters come to life and holding actual merchandise of your book characters?

Children’s picture books have the power to spark joy and curiosity in young minds, and with Long Goes to Dragon School, we wanted to take that experience beyond the pages of the book. That’s why we created these adorable dragon plushies that can bring happiness to not just kids, but also teenagers and adults. Made with super-soft premium plush fabric, these huggable toys are perfect for playtime or as a comforting companion during difficult times.

But that’s not all – we’ve also expanded our product line to include pins, stickers, key chains, and animated gif emojis that can be used on social media. Our hope is that these cute and loveable dragon characters can become more than just book characters, but also everyday companions for people of all ages. And with their heartwarming message of self-discovery and self-love, these plushies and accessories can help spread kindness and compassion in the world.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring creatives, especially picture book creators?

As a creator, I believe in the power of imagination and bringing ideas to life. Pursuing your dreams takes hard work, dedication, and the courage to take risks, whether it’s creating a plushie, writing a book, or starting a business. But the rewards are incredible. When you see your idea come to life and hold the finished product in your hands, it’s a feeling of accomplishment that is priceless. That’s what motivates me to keep creating.

As I create, I’m inspired by the endless potential of what could be. I hope to inspire others to take that first step towards their own dreams, to believe in themselves, and to take that leap of faith towards something they love. Remember, the world needs your unique ideas and creativity. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and put in the effort to make it happen.

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

Currently, I am working on expanding the product lines of plushies, pins, and keychains, as well as developing a few other picture books that showcase Chinese culture. Stay tuned for more updates!

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

OPAL’S SPRINGTIME BIRDHOUSE written by Emily Matheis, illustrated by Albert Arrayás

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE AND ME written by Roxanne Troup, illustrated by Kendra Binney

HUMPHREY THE EGG-SPLORER written by Nadia Ali, illustrated by Valentí Gubianas

Interview with Cartoonist Wes Molebash

Wes Molebash is the creator of several popular webcomics, most notably You’ll Have That (Viper Comics) and Molebashed (self-published). He has also created cartoons for companies and organizations such as the Ohio State University, Target, and PBS Kids. Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is his debut graphic novel.

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

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

Thanks for inviting me to participate! I’m honored! My name is Wes Molebash, and I’m a cartoonist in Southern Ohio. I’ve been drawing comics for a couple of decades now; mostly webcomics, but I’ve recently published my first graphic novel!

What can you tell us about your debut graphic novel, Travis Daventhorpe for the Win!? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is my first graphic novel, and it came out at the end of March from 01:First Second Books. It’s the first in a four-book series. The story follows a socially awkward eleven-year-old who discovers he’s the prophesied hero of a kingdom in another dimension. The book has robots, wizards, magic, dinosaurs, and tons of video game references. It’s a lot of fun!

The biggest inspirations for the series are my two sons, Parker and Connor. When they were really little, I started brainstorming ideas for a story I thought they’d enjoy. The initial idea for Travis Daventhorpe popped in my head while I was playing with them on the living room floor one afternoon.

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

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartoons and animation. Newspaper comics were also fun to read, but I didn’t fall in love with the medium of comics until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. That changed everything. It inspired me to learn everything I could about making comics.

During middle school, I began collecting comic books like Batman and Superman. They were fun, but I didn’t love them the way I loved Calvin and Hobbes. But then I found Bone by Jeff Smith, and that book was another game changer. It had the heart, imagination, and visuals of a comic like Calvin and Hobbes, but it was in this much larger comic book format. So the worlds could be bigger; it felt like there was more to explore. I loved that, and I wanted to make comics like that.

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

Well, as I said before, Bill Watterson and Jeff Smith are the BIG TWO. But I’m also inspired/influenced by other cartoonists like Mike Cavallaro, James Burks, and Michael Jantze. Movies, books, and video games are also huge influences. Speaking of video games, Travis Daventhorpe was heavily influenced by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. So if you like those games, you’ll probably find some nods to those series in my books.

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

I was the 3rd Grade Spelling Bee Champion, I was class president my junior year of high school, and I can play the guitar.

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

No one has ever asked me who I would want to voice Belazar if Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! was made into an animated movie. The answer is Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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

Right now we’re wrapping up the edits on Travis Daventhorpe Book 2, and I’ve started writing Book 3!

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

Here are a few of my faves:

The Nico Bravo series by Mike Cavallaro

Agent 9: Floodageddon and Agent 9: Mind Control by James Burks

The Real Friends series by Shannon Hale and LeYuen Pham

The Margo Maloo series by Drew Weing

Interview with Author Lionel Hart

Lionel Hart (he/him) is an M/M fantasy romance author based out of the San Diego area.

Twitter: @lionelhart_ 
TikTok: @author.lionelhart 
Facebook: Lionel Hart, Author
Website: lionelhart.ink

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

Hi! I’m Lionel Hart, and I write M/M romance books. I write primarily fantasy romance but have plans to branch out into a few different subgenres of M/M romance. I live in North San Diego county with my partner and our dog.

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

For sure! Well, I’m a gay trans man, so having representation that mirrors my own experiences is important to me. Not all of my main characters are trans, but they are all somewhere in the LGBTQ+ spectrum. But, I do focus mainly on male-male relationships, since that aligns with my own identity and lived experience.

How did you find yourself getting into writing fiction, particularly fantasy adventure with a side of gay eroticism?

I’ve always wanted to be an author, but had put that dream on the back burner as an adult — paying the bills and keeping a roof over my head was my primary focus for a while after getting out of college, when I came out and lost a lot of familial support. Then even when I was in a more stable place, it was hard to get back into writing. It was actually a few months into the pandemic, after I was laid off, that got me into writing seriously again. I had so much free time all of a sudden and decided now was my best chance at making writing my career. 

I did a ton of research into the world of indie publishing and decided romance was a genre I enjoyed reading, would enjoy writing, and would give me the best shot at making a living doing what I loved. I knew I would want to write gay romance, of course, and as an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and general fantasy enjoyer, I saw there weren’t a ton of the sorts of stories I liked to read in indie published gay romance. So I decided that would be the niche I focused on, and here we are!

Your book(s) tend to center around male protagonists of fantastical origins. Could you tell us about some elements of these characters you’re excited for others to see in stories?

My debut series, The Orc Prince trilogy, features an arranged marriage between an elf and an orc. I wanted something that felt like a D&D inspired world, and I thought that would be a fun pairing. And since this was going to be a spicy romance, I included some omegaverse-like elements in my lore for elves — the series isn’t exactly an omegaverse series, but there are definitely shared elements so I’d say it’s omegaverse lite, haha.

I also have a more paranormal/urban fantasy series that’s in progress, the Chronicles of the Veil, which features a trans MC with a cis male love interest. The main character Florian finds out that he’s secretly a fae prince prophesied to save the world, and falls in love with his wolf shifter bodyguard along the way. This is a different take on fae and shifters, but I really love these characters and this series, and put a lot of myself in Florian. My partner is a cis man, so their dynamic was one I loved writing and felt very comfortable with.

Lastly, I have a dragon romance duology featuring an immortal dragon with a mortal fated mate. This is a darker romance which I really loved writing, as I got to explore what morality means to an immortal, extremely powerful creature. The dragon MC does a lot of morally questionable things in his attempts to keep his mortal mate with him forever, and I loved writing a villainous character who would not consider himself evil in the least, but would gladly destroy the world for the one he loves!

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

Too many to name! I was a voracious reader as a child, so it’s hard to name any in particular. I re-read the Chronicles of Narnia a lot, so I’d say that really started my love of fantasy as a genre. I think that the book that made me decide I wanted to write fantasy books was The Secret of Dragonhome, a YA fantasy novel which I randomly found in the school library and loved it so much that I just never returned it… oops! It’s fairly obscure and I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it, but I read it over and over. I’d say that was my first experience with romantic fantasy, and while I’m not sure that book specifically stands up to the test of time, it definitely shaped my reading and writing habits into adulthood.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

To be honest, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first story in kindergarten — my mom still has it — about me finding a dalmatian puppy on the way home from school and convincing my parents to let me keep it. I was obsessed after watching 101 Dalmatians, but wasn’t allowed to have a dog at the time. The story didn’t convince my parents, but I never stopped writing after that. I got my bachelor’s degree in creative writing, and for a while wanted to get more into literary fiction to be a “serious writer” but honestly found I had a lot more fun writing genre fiction instead.

What magic systems/worlds/characters draw your attention?

I play a ton of D&D, specifically 5th edition, so I think that influences my magic systems and worldbuilding. For a future project I’d like to create a new magic system from the ground up, but for now, the worlds I write in have a softer, looser version of D&D’s magic system.

My partner is deep in the A Song of Ice and Fire fandom, so I know a lot about it even though I’m not nearly as big a fan as he is. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to pull off writing a world as intricate and deep as George R.R. Martin has accomplished, but I do love the idea of creating a fantasy world from the beginning, having its own mythos to self-reference and an entire history to pull stories from. I think a lot about that when trying to come up with ideas for future books, so maybe I’ll attempt something that ambitious someday!

As far as characters, that’s so hard to say! I love tragic characters and angst in general, so I think I’m drawn more to characters like that. Those who have dark pasts and carry deep sorrow or grief with them, but work to keep living until they find purpose again. I think a lot of LGBTQ+ people can resonate with those sorts of characters, because we still live in a world where just openly being LGBTQ+ means experiencing a loss of friends and family for a lot of people. That was my reality, too, so seeing characters who struggle but ultimately triumph is a comfort and an inspiration.

Is writing in the genre you have chosen difficult? Do you consider the results worth the challenge?

Fantasy can definitely be a challenge just by the virtue of how much worldbuilding goes into creating a good fantasy story, and while romance has a different reputation, it can still be a challenge for very different reasons. Putting both together creates unique challenges that encompass the pillars of both genres, but I think that when they’re done well, this is absolutely worth the challenge! I love the familiarity of romance beats contrasted to the new, unknown elements of a fantasy backdrop.

Do you have any plans to branch into other genres?

I do, actually! While I plan to stick with MM romance at the core, there are other subgenres I’d like to explore. I recently have been reading a lot of litRPG as a genre, so I have some ideas for more litRPG/progression fantasy-inspired romances, and I’d also like to dip my toes in contemporary MM romance in the future as well.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

I’ve never fully fleshed out a custom, hard magic system. It seems daunting from the outside, but the more I read about creating magic systems, the more I think it’s a challenge I’d like to take on at some time. So I’d like to do that in the future, especially if I decide to move forward with the litRPG-inspired fantasy ideas I have.

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

Definitely! I’m currently working on finishing my paranormal romance series, The Chronicles of the Veil. Books one and two are out, and I’m finishing up book 3 now and hope to have it published this spring. Book 4 will be the final book of the series and should be published later this year. I’ve really enjoyed writing this series and I’m eager to share it with my readers!

After that, I think I might give contemporary MM romance a shot. I’ve had some ideas for an angsty rockstar romance series, which would be pretty different from what I’ve written before, but I have three books basically already outlined so I think it would be a fun but fairly quick project to experiment with.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

As mentioned, I play a ton of D&D, haha! I used to be a DM but when I started writing seriously again, I found it difficult to put my creative energy into two big projects, so now I’m a player in two different campaigns. I’m also a huge Pokemon fan and I play a lot of that when I have the time — I love shiny hunting, but I’m not very good at competitive battles unfortunately! I live in San Diego, so when it’s warm my partner and I spend a lot of time at the beach as well.

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

This is a tough question, haha. I think someone’s favorite food can tell you a lot about a person, so — Lionel, what’s your favorite food? Thanks Lionel, if I had to pick, it’d have to be sushi for me!

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

So many!! If you want more M/M fantasy romance, especially if it’s spicy, check out Ben Alderson’s books — he has quite a few, but I loved his gay vampire Beauty and the Beast retelling, Lord of Eternal Night

For a more high fantasy inspired omegaverse series, I’ve loved Corey Kerr’s The Middle Sea series, especially The Sorcerer’s Alpha. Kerr really nails keeping the appeal of omegaverse books in a very different setting, and the fantasy world of this series feels very expansive.

For some spicy trans rep, I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Freydis Moon, especially their novella Exodus 20:3. If you have some lingering religious trauma like me, I think you’ll enjoy this spicy story between a trans man and an angel in disguise.

And finally, for a cozy, non-spicy, sapphic fantasy, I adored Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree. I read it with a friend who’s into a very different vein of fantasy romance (cough, ACOTAR, cough) and we both loved it, so I would highly recommend it to just about everyone, especially if they love D&D flavored fantasy.

Rebelle Re-Views: ‘Centaurworld’ and The Discovery of Self through Found Family

Being alive is a trip. There is no beauty, horror, and ass-kicking quite like navigating a lifetime. I don’t have much else to compare that to because, as far as I know, I haven’t not been alive, but one thing that seems apparent to me is that we all get put through our paces at one point or another. We fall on our faces, experience unimaginable traumas, we stagnate, we grow, we repeat cycles, and sometimes we break them. For me, when anxiety begins creeping up my spine or dissociation swoops in to take me out of my body and place me somewhere else, I typically turn to places I know are safe: Bob’s Burgers, Schitt’s Creek, and the show that not enough people seem to know about, Centaurworld. Centaurworld is the story of Horse (Kimiko Glenn), a warrior deep in the trenches of an endless conflict, who magically leaves her world and lands in a bright, musical, bizarro one. Desperate to return home and reunite with her Rider (Jessie Mueller), Horse bonds with a magical ragtag herd of “half-animal, half-man things” and sets off on a journey of self-discovery and home. Created by animator Megan Nicole Dong (also the voice of anxiety-ridden and klepto gerenuktaur, Glendale), the story is about embracing the unexpected and changing in ways previously not thought possible. It could not have entered my life at more prescient time as my own self-concept and sense of my world had just fallen apart.

In May 2021, I was informed I needed to leave my home of three years so the landlord could move back in. Shortly after selling or storing my belongings and driving my self, Gatsby, my cat companion of 15 years, and a couple of suitcases the 6-8 hours from Tucson, AZ, to Los Angeles to stay with my aunt and uncle, my said beloved companion died of stomach cancer. Wound, meet salt. Unlike our hero, Horse, I was not feeling ambitious or focused on a goal of any kind. I felt completely and utterly lost. But similarly to Horse, I was in the beginning stages of finding my herd amidst what felt like insurmountable obstacles, trauma, and grief. Less than a month after the loss of Gatsby and only about two since losing my home, I was sitting in a friend’s living room in Hawaii. Surrounded by my friend’s family and other friend’s visiting from New York, Yahtzee dice and random toys settled on corners of the coffee table and kitchen counters, it was a moment of relaxation and fun that had been difficult for me to cultivate at that time. We all probably had a beer or seltzer in hand, lost in laughs and conversation while on the TV screen, a giraffe with a toned human torso and pear-shaped humanish face appeared, screaming dramatically at a freaked out horse. The horse was also screaming. Through the immense fog of grief and autopilot human-mode, a thought emerged from the depths: “What the fuck am I watching?”

Durpleton (Josh Radnor) and Horse (Kimiko Glenn) meet in ‘Centaurworld’ on Netflix

This, my friends, was Centaurworld. I can’t remember if I finished watching season 1 with my friends or if I decided to watch it on my own (season 2 would not come out until the Fall) but an impression was made. Centaurworld is full of topical absurdist humor, first-class talent from Broadway, Pop, YouTube, and the Film/TV worlds, and a soundtrack that will make you want to embark on an epic adventure in one turn and hold your loved ones and aching heart close the next. “I tried to draw from my own emotional experiences… The whole [story] is based on me going through high school, getting ready to take all these [AP] classes and then ending up in a show choir because the only available extracurricular was show choir… Being from one world, thinking that there was one way to do things, and then ending up in this really musical, silly place and having that really change her [Horse] as a character,” said Dong in an interview with the LA Times about where the concept for Centaurworld originated. The relatability of Horse’s story arc, as well as those of many of the secondary character’s, is what keeps the show anchored enough to allow the this place to come alive in all its saturated, hills and moons with butts, shooting-tiny-versions-of-themselves-from-their-hooves glory.

The first season centers on Horse’s trek across Centaurworld to find the missing pieces of a mysterious artifact, and the shamans who hold them, that will help her return to her world and Rider. Accompanied by Wamawink (Megan Hilty), Durpleton (Josh Radnor, and the aforementioned beefy giraffetaur), Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), Glendale (Dong), and Ched (Chris Diamantopolus), this unlikely herd get mixed up in all sorts of shenanigans all the while helping Horse navigate way outside her comfort zone and discover and embrace previously uncharted aspects of her identity. Face-offs with taurnadoes, standing for trial for falling down a moletaur hole, competing in Johnny Teatime’s cattaur competition, ugly crying, and learning the unfortunate origins of glue are all par for the course when going on a herotaur’s journey. All leading to a more connected herd and Horse who becomes more unrecognizable, yet more herself. 

Season two widens the focus to ending the war in Horse’s world by defeating the big bad Nowhere King (if Adventure Time’s The Litch and Hexxus from FernGully had a baby with the voice of Brian Stokes Mitchell) while giving more backstory and arcs for the other members of the herd as they attempt to recruit other centaurs to join the fight. The fun thing about growth is we often learn swiftly about the many areas in which we fall short and the deep discomfort of trying to continue to play roles that just no longer fit. Unless you are fan faves Comfortable Doug (Flula Borg) or Waterbaby (Renée Elise Goldsberry) then you are perfection. No notes. For everyone else, falling short doesn’t always mean eventually being able to rise above and conquer the thing, but is actually in the courage it takes to feel our disappointment and grieve the person we thought we were or would like to be but aren’t. Or it’s our envy of those we love being able to do or have what we may be yearning for in ourselves. Sometimes it’s wondering about where we even fit in the world anymore. It’s frustrating feeling brain mushy where there was once a sense of clarity. Hopefully we are as lucky as Horse is to have the modeling of support and acceptance of her herd as we figure out how to answer those questions for ourselves. 

Everyone has got some trauma they are working through or from and rarely is anything what it seems on the surface. Durpleton’s distress over having mean farts, Glendale’s habitual stealing and hoarding everything into her portal tummy, and Ched’s outright disdain for horses and Centaurs™ are silly quirks at first, but aren’t most quirks little glimmers of baggage not yet unpacked? The growth from, in spite of, and the empowerment to make it to the other side of hard times is not exclusive to the hero, but is for everyone. In true musical theater fashion each moment of foreshadowing, deep discovery, and major plot twists  is punctuated by song.  Big white way power ballads like “Hello Rainbow Road” and “Who is She” propel us into action and huge moments of expansion while the contemplative “What if I Forget Your Face” and fierce “Nothing Good” (sung by the equally fierce legend Lea Salonga) are stark reminders of our greatest and most heartbreaking fears about relationships. But, it’s “Rider’s Lullaby” that we hear within the first five minutes of the series that carries us through it all. 

The herd following the Rainbow Road in ‘Centaurworld’ on Netflix

Though it’s the main theme of season one, its refrain of “you’re ok, you’re alright” lays the foundation of what the herd are able to build together. The beauty of a theme like, ‘you’re ok” is not in the upholding of ideals of rugged individualism and the notions that in order to conquer our demons, we must do it alone and be better at being alone. No, it’s about staying connected during the toughest, strangest, most surprising times. Things happening may not be ok, but as long as we’re with those who see how worthy we are of protection, growth, and love we will be ok. It’s a misguided and oft repeated notion that “things will work out.” It takes decisive action, risks, support, and a little bit of magic for life to unfold and fall into place. Whether we coincidentally wind up in a show choir class or have lost a home, the world opens up in unimaginable ways and the company we keep can keep us going. My story has yet to reach a conclusion like Horse’s as I’m sure is the case for many out there in the world right now. Whether your path is a rainbow road or a plane ticket to another continent, the opportunities to uncover ourselves and find our communities are endless.  

Interview with Author Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall Ryan Maresca (he/him) is a fantasy and science-fiction writer, author of the Maradaine Saga: Four braided series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine, which includes The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, The Holver Alley Crew and The Way of the Shield, as well as the dieselpunk fantasy, The Velocity of Revolution. He is also the co-host of the Hugo-nominated, Stabby-winning podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists, and has been a playwright, an actor, a delivery driver and an amateur chef. He lives in Austin, Texas with his family.

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

Hi, I’m Marshall Ryan Maresca, and I’m a fantasy author and a podcaster.  I’ve written 16 novels, a novella and a novelette, most of which take place in the same world.  I’m also the host of Worldbuilding for Masochists, a podcast about fantasy worldbuilding in deep and considered ways.

Your stories are a intertwined group of series all taking place simultaneously in the same city. How did you come up with this interesting way of telling your tales?

So, I started the worldbuilding work of the Maradaine setting in the 90s, and I had done a lot of the entire-world, broad-brushstroke work of it all.  With that, all of my early attempts to write in it tried to be these giant epics where, because I had made the whole world, I wanted to show off the whole world. When those projects didn’t work, I reconsidered my approach, deciding to narrow my focus to one city in the world, and from there, finding the stories in that city, and how they could come together to be facets of the larger story.

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

So, one of the ethos of Worldbuilding for Masochists is “Choose, don’t presume”, in that when you are building the world your stories are in, you want to make deliberate choices of what’s going on in your world, instead of falling back on lazy presumptions. And one of the top presumptions to push back on, for me, is heteronormativity.

Now, in the case of the Maradaine books, my intention was to show a culture in a time of social change, and part of that is shown with more visibility of LGBTQ+ characters as Maradaine goes on.  One of the main ones is Jerinne, from the Maradaine Elite books.  We first see her just having a crush on one of the other young women in her cohort, and then later has her first kiss with another woman, and then in later books she is starting a potentially long and serious relationship with Rian.  

With The Velocity of Revolution, I made completely different choices, namely: I created a culture where pansexual polyamory was a social norm, so almost all of the characters are LGBTQ+. 

There have been LGBTQ+ characters in the background of some of your stories, but recently one of the main protagonists in a series was portrayed as bisexual, why was this the time to show that aspect of them?

This is in reference to Asti Rynax in The Quarrygate GambitI’ve always known Asti was bisexual, but since the beginning of the series he’s also been carrying a lot of trauma, to the point he doesn’t trust himself to let his guard down at all, let alone be intimate with anyone.  I’ve had readers presume he was ace because of that, actually.  But Quarrygate gave me the opportunity to give him a quieter moment with Tharek Pell– another character whose queerness was strongly implied in his previous appearance in the saga, but not explicit.  And in starting to write that quieter moment, it was clear to me that Asti needed intimacy, and given his traumas, Tharek– someone who you would never describe as a “safe” character, but he’s definitely capable of protecting himself–  was the perfect person to have that with.  That moment actually wasn’t in my outline, but when I was writing, it just made sense for both of them.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy?

It’s funny, I can’t think of an exact, you know, origin story for that.  It’s just a genre that’s always pulled at me, and which I’ve alwasy found the most interesting, just out of the limitless possibilities it has.

Were there any books or authors that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

Two of the big ones were the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatly Snyder and Watership Down by Richard Adams.  Both are absolutely fantasy stories– though Green Sky is kind of fantasy-embedded-within-scifi — but neither of them look like “traditional” fantasy, which I think was instrumental in a lot of my mindset as I’ve been approaching the genre.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

It had always held my interest, I know somewhere around middle school I made my first attempts at “writing a novel”, not that I had any idea what I was doing.  I actually remember in 7th grade I was attempting to write a fantasy novel called “The Last Righon”, but I had no idea what a Righon was or why someone might be the last one.  I just thought it sounded like a cool fantasy title.

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

Despite my prolific output, I actually have something of a slow-cook process.  Often I will have an idea, and then outline it roughly, put it to the side to marinate, then outline it more thoroughly, put it aside again to stew, and THEN, much later, start actually drafting.  Honestly, Velocity probably had the fastest turnaround from concept-to-draft in 18 months.  

As far as concentration tactics, I’m a big fan of putting in earbuds and then one song on repeat so it drowns out all the “what about this shiny thing?” thoughts that pull me off track. 

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

I still have a space opera type project stewing in one of the crockpots in the back of my head.  Haven’t quite cracked it yet.

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

Right now, I’ve been calling 2023 a “rebuilding year”, as I’m creating some new projects that aren’t Maradaine, as well as readjusting the long-term Maradaine plans.  One of them is a secondary-world fantasy, sort-of gaslamp, about people trying to build a theater company in a new city, where I’m also using magic in very class-specific ways as a tool of wealth inequality.  I’m enjoying drafting it, but there still are pieces that haven’t clicked into place.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I’m a big fan of cooking from scratch, which I find very zen and relaxing… most of the time, at least.  If you look at my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/mrmaresca/), pretty much everything that isn’t shouting about books is food porn.

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

How about, “Hey, are there going to be any new audiobook versions of your books?”

YES THERE ARE.  In April and May we’re getting all four of the Streets of Maradaine series in audiobook, starting with The Holver Alley Crew (https://www.audiobooks.com/promotions/promotedBook/655954/holver-alley-crew-a-streets-of-maradaine-novel?refId=64976), followed by Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe,  The Fenmere Job and The Quarrygate Gambit.  

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

I have to plug my co-host Cass Morris, whose Aven Cycle books are very bisexual (as is she!).   And I’m probably not telling your readers something they don’t already know, but I just adored CL Clark’s The Unbroken.  Also Andrea Stewart’s Drowning Empire series, Victor Manibo’s The Sleepless, and Jordan Kurella’s I Never Liked You Anyway

Interview with Author SL Rowland

S.L. Rowland (he/him) is a wanderer. Whether that’s getting lost in the woods or road-tripping coast to coast with his Shiba Inu, Lawson, he goes where the wind blows. When not writing, he enjoys hiking, reading, weightlifting, playing video games, and having his heart broken by various Atlanta sports teams.

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

Thanks for having me! I’m a fantasy author of over ten books and audiobooks. I got my start writing LitRPG, (If you’re not familiar, think Dungeons & Dragons meets epic fantasy) and I’ve just started branching into more traditional fantasy with my first cozy fantasy, Cursed Cocktails.

What can you tell us about your newest story, Cursed Cocktails? Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

All credit for the inspiration goes to Travis Baldree and his amazing debut novel, Legends & Lattes. It’s an amazing story of a retired orc barbarian who opens a coffee shop. I didn’t know how much I would be drawn to the idea of high fantasy with low stakes, but I loved it.

As I was reading, the idea for Cursed Cocktails started to form. It grew for months and months in the back of my mind while I finished up another project, and by the time I was done, I had this whole world that was ready to be explored. I knew I had to write it.

Cursed Cocktails seems to fall into the “cozy mystery/fantasy” genre, which is a genre I didn’t know I needed until I read and loved it. What caused you to move into that genre?

I felt the same way. After discovering cozy fantasy, I immediately fell in love with the possibilities it could offer for storytelling. One of my favorite tropes is the retired hero/adventurer, and seeing what these characters do when the fighting is over.

After the last few years, I kind of felt like everyone needed a bit of an escape from the doom and gloom of the real world, and cozy fantasy offers that. I love high fantasy and dungeons & dragons, and some of my favorite moments are the small scenes in a tavern or camping by the woods. The idea of writing full novels that capture that feeling was incredibly appealing to me.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy, especially works intended for LQBTQ+ audiences?

Fantasy has always been a big part of my life. I grew up playing RPG video games and reading the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. As a kid, I’d often go out into the woods pretending I was on some epic quest and looking for hidden treasure. I’ve always been drawn to the fantastical, magic, elves, dwarves, and the like.

When the idea for Rhoren first came to me, I knew he was an LGBTQ+ character. It wasn’t what defined him, it was just part of who he was. And I wanted to tell his story to the best of my ability.

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

I’ve had several books feature LGBTQ+ characters as side characters, but Cursed Cocktails was the first one I’ve written with an LGBTQ+ protagonist. Rhoren is an elven blood mage suffering from the chronic pain caused by years of using blood magic to defend the realm. Once he retires, he moves to a warmer climate in the hopes that it will help with his pain. He’s a little broody at times with a good heart and a desire to help people. When he arrives in Eastborne, he meets Kallum, a human bartender who’s naturally charismatic with a detail oriented personality. The two have an easy-going relationship, balancing one another out in a lot of ways.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

I dabbled with creative writing growing up, but never really pushed myself to explore it or hone my craft until much later in life. I had a pretty dysfunctional childhood growing up, but I always found escape in fantasy books and video games. Learning to write fiction has been a lifelong process. There were some very bad Harry Potter-esque attempts at worldbuilding in high school, and then I wrote a few post-apocalyptic short stories in college.

At 27, I took my first shot at writing a novel. It was a post-apocalyptic novel about a guy who dives into a lake and wakes up in the apocalypse. The book wasn’t very good, but it got me started down the path that would eventually become my career. This was when I first realized what it was like to have the characters really come to life in a story, and become more than just words on a page. By 29, I’d started researching publishing and eventually indie publishing. I published my first novel at 30, and I’ve been doing this ever since.

What magic systems/worlds/characters draw your attention?

There’s so much that I love–tolkienesque high fantasy, grimdark, cozy, litrpg. I think they all have something to offer, and depending on my mood, I’ll read just about anything. I love the retired adventurer trope, like Kvothe in Name of the Wind or Viv in Legends & Lattes, which has become a pretty popular in cozy fantasy as well. Morally grey characters can be fun. As long as the characters are written believably, I’ll ride along for the journey.

Your latest book contains drink recipes for the cocktails created in the books. Did you develop them yourself? Have you tried them all? Do you have a favorite?

Creating the drinks for Cursed Cocktails was a really fun experience. I worked in upscale restaurants for 10 years, so I have quite a bit of drink knowledge. Plus, I love a good cocktail. I had an idea for the type of drinks I wanted to include, and I knew I wanted to have a recipe book as a bonus download so that readers could make the drinks themselves.

One of my readers is an amazing bartender, and he’d made one of the magical drinks from my Sentenced to Troll series for fun. I reached out to him for some suggestions, and he helped me narrow down a list of real-world cocktails to use as a guide. Every drink in Cursed Cocktails is based off of a real-world cocktail, with all of the ingredients translated to a fantasy setting.

I’ve tried a good portion of them and one of my favorites is the Nelderland Mule, which is based on a Moscow Mule. There’s something about the copper mug that really sets it off.

Where do you see your stories going in the future? More like Cursed Cocktails, back to your previous works, or in a new direction?

I’d like to do a mixture of stories. One thing about creating the world for Cursed Cocktails is that it’s really epic in scope, allowing for a variety of story styles set in the same world. I already have a handful of story ideas I want to explore there, but I also love litrpg, so I’m sure I’ll write more in that genre as well. I just want to tell good stories with fun characters, wherever that leads me.

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

I’m currently working on a second book set in the world of Aedrea, the same setting as Cursed Cocktails. It will feature a character who made a brief appearance in the first book. I intentionally made the world epic, with nine kingdoms and a deep history, so that I could tell a lot of small-scale stories within the setting. I already have ideas for several more books.

After this current book, I’ll be wrapping up the sixth and final book in my Sentenced to Troll series before doing another book within Aedrea.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

That’s a good question. Doing a book tour sounds pretty cool but also incredibly stressful. 

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I spend a lot of time walking my dog, playing video games, weightlifting, or getting lost in a good Netflix binge. I’m also a big fantasy football nerd, so that consumes way too much of my time in the fall. My interests are all over the place, so there’s usually something to keep me occupied.

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

There are so many great stories that fall under this umbrella with more releasing by the day. It’s great to see more representation in fiction. I think as readers, we can all enjoy stories that are different from our own, but it’s a nice feeling when you can relate to a character on a personal level.

A few of my favorites are The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, and Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne. They all have great characters and are feel-good stories.

SLRowland.com

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Interview with Author Blake R. Wolfe

Blake R. Wolfe (he/him) is an LGBTQ+ fantasy and romance author of over a dozen books. His work is known for its heartfelt characters, daring adventures, and commitment to preserving the magic and wonder that readers love. Blake resides in Muskegon, Michigan near the shores of the Great Lakes. He spends most of his time writing, usually while sitting on the beach, and cooking/gardening with his partners.

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

Of course! My name is Blake and I’m a fantasy/romance author. I’ve been writing for a couple of years at this point, although I’ve been dabbling for most of my life. Up until recently I almost exclusively wrote epic fantasy. However, in the past couple of months I’ve been diving into Shifter Romance and let me tell you, it’s been a wild ride!

What can you tell us about your newest story, Alpha’s Rejection? Most of your previous books have been fantasy, what made you change to paranormal romance?

I hate to admit this, but Alpha’s Rejection was a complete experiment and an “I don’t care” project. I’d been listening to some shifter romance on Audible and I thought to myself, I can do this. So I gave it a shot. You wouldn’t believe it, but I wrote 99% of the book in 15 days. It just flowed so easily that I could barely put it down. I fully intended it to be a one-off romance novel, have it flop, and never come back to it. But in less than two weeks, it’s become one of my most popular books I’ve ever written. I guess it’s true that good things happen when you’re having fun! Now I’m halfways into the next book in the series and have at least a handful more planned for this year.

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

All of my main characters, regardless of the series, are LGBTQ+. I try to make them as real as possible and convey some of the struggle of being LGBTQ+, but I also like to put them in worlds (especially in the fantasy stories) where being queer isn’t a taboo. Sometimes, in situations where people are required to produce an heir (like nobility or royalty) I can create some tension with the characters coming out and going “against the grain”, but usually I just want them to have problems outside of their sexuality. I want them to be first and foremost compelling characters, not just queer people struggling BECAUSE they are queer. I had to go through that growing up and I can’t bring myself to do it to my characters.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fiction/fantasy, especially that intended for LGBTQ+ audiences?

Pure and simple, I wanted to read about people like me growing up and I couldn’t. There were no queer characters in fantasy. It was always the knight in shining armor and his princess. Reading those books, I always saw myself as the hero, but when they got to the romance with the princess, I found myself losing interest. So, when I started writing, I decided I was going to write the kinds of stories I love, for a younger version of myself.

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up?

Most of the books I read growing up were things like Animorphs, Deltora Quest, Jurassic Park, Eragon, and Harry Potter. However, I didn’t really get into the big name fantasy stuff until I was nearly thirty. That being said, movies played a HUGE role in my understanding of the fantasy genre. The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Studio Ghibli, and a ridiculous amount of anime, not to mention almost every Final Fantasy game. All these pieces of media evoke a nostalgia that’s so deeply comforting and I try to bring that into my work while weaving in a bit more realism. I love dark and gritty stories, but at the same time, I know it can be overwhelming if it’s overdone, so I try to make sure there’s quite a bit of levity at the same time.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

As a kid, I used to make up stories all the time and I loved to draw. When I learned that art got me more immediate attention (I was like seven), I leaned into drawing. But there were always little stories happening. During high school and college I would make an attempt, at least once a year, to write a novel and never really got anywhere. However, in 2019, after my divorce, I found myself too emotionally compromised to draw, so I began to write. And wouldn’t you know it, I finished something for the first time in my life. It was a horror novella composed of eleven short stories about a killer mermaid. I published it with a shrug in May of 2020, figuring it would never go anywhere. But people liked it, so I kept writing. Now, nearing on my third anniversary of being a published author, I have fifteen books written, over 1.3 million words under my belt, and more ideas that I could write in a lifetime. This has become the most euphoric and difficult (in a good way) creative experience of my life.

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

I am 100% a panster (a writer who flies by the seat of their pants). My method is similar to Stephen King’s, although I don’t claim to be anywhere near his level of competency. I come up with a “what if” scenario and then I go nuts. Usually I’ll develop a character, or a magic item, or a problem, and then I sit down and try to solve it. The great thing about this method is that since humans are genetically wired to tell stories, my brain takes care of most of the story beats without me realizing it. However, I do go back, once the draft is done, and clean it up, add foreshadowing, and make sure it flows. I write with a goal of 1500-2000 words per day and I write every single day. That usually means I’m done with a book in less than 60 days unless it’s super long.

As for concentration, I find being excited about the story really helps. If I’m bored while writing it, my readers will be bored, and that simple will not do. I also like to write at night while I’m tired. I close my eyes and leave my fingers on the keyboard, writing what I see in my mind. Sometimes I can bang out 1000 words in twenty minutes if I really get lost and I love that feeling. Definitely hitting that elusive “flow state” that people talk about.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

One of my biggest goals is to go full-time as an author. That is really the one BIG thing I’d like to accomplish. As for the actual creation of books, I want to write a big meandering epic fantasy, something like The Lord of the Rings, but more easily readable. I’m currently working on building a world for that project, but I don’t expect it to be finished anytime soon. I’m in it for the long haul.

What magic systems/worlds/characters draw your attention?

I love intuitive magic because frankly, it saves me a lot of time making up hard magic rules. Hard magic is great, it’s just too stifling for me when I’m trying to be creative. However, I see that as a challenge, so I’m actually trying to figure out a way to make it fun. As for worlds, the bigger and more high fantasy they are, the better. I adore giant magic crystals, floating islands, gods that meddle in the affairs of men, and mages that can grow so powerful that they control the fate of the entire world. Make it big and chaotic and I’m in.

When it comes to characters, I like them to be a little bit broken (I blame Disney for that) and I like them to be a little morally ambiguous. Fantasy worlds are nothing like our own and sometimes that means defending yourself (murderously) with a sword or magic. I think that makes them more real when faced with a problem. There’s an easy way out and there’s the hard/right way and sometimes, they make the wrong decision. It’s relatable, because there is not a single person on this planet who has not made the wrong decision in their life. We can watch these characters fall and then cheer them on as they rebuild themselves from the ashes. So, in reality, I tend to write a lot of phoenix characters.

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

Absolutely! As mentioned, I’m working on Beta’s Bliss, the sequel to Alpha’s Rejection. It’s another shifter romance. After that, I’ll move onto Gamma’s Delight, probably the last in that series. However, that won’t be the end of werewolf romance for me. I’ve got another series idea brewing in the back of my mind.

My giant fantasy project is currently being worked on as well. Right now I know the premise and the name of the world, Eadronem. This will be a much larger epic fantasy, probably a trilogy with pretty thick books. I imagine it will take me a year or more to complete it with other projects going on.

I also have one book, that is incredibly stupid, coming out in March called The Quest for Cowmelot. It’s a fantasy satire/spoof about a cow that pulls Excalibur from the stone instead of Arthur. It makes fun of the entire fantasy genre, it is incredibly ridiculous, and I think I make fun of every major political/rich person figure in the world today. It’s another giant experiment, but I’ve laughed so much writing it that I think people will like it.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to garden and I love to cook, I think those are my two big ones. My partners and I just bought a house in late 2022 and we finally have enough space for a big garden. I’ve got lots of little plants growing already for this season and I can’t wait to cook with those veggies! I actually bought a new wok recently and I’ve been only making Cantonese/Japanese food for the past two weeks, haha. I’m sure they’re getting tired of it, but I really do have a lot of fun learning all these cooking techniques and making some of the best food I’ve had in my life.

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

I think a lot of people focus on the creative aspect of being an author, which is awesome. It’s inspiring and it gives people more of a “story” to attach to that author. However, I’m surprised nobody ever talks about the business side of being an author. Being an indie, I have to not only be a good writer, but I have to know how to balance spreadsheets, run ads, hire narrators and cover designers, do taxes, and run marketing campaigns. I LOVE the business-y side of being an author, but I think it’s something a lot of people struggle with. It’s not often that people love math and writing at the same time, so some of those less “fun” skills have to be learned. I’m definitely privileged in the fact that I enjoy both and a successful marketing campaign feels just as good as publishing a successful book.

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

One of the best LGBTQ+ books out in the past year is definitely Perception Check by Astrid Knight. She is an incredible author and wordsmith. Her characters and worlds are so ALIVE, you can practically feel the book breathing in your hands. I have the greatest pleasure of working with her and Taiylor Wallace on novelizing one of our recent Dungeons and Dragons campaigns (The Obsidian Archive). It is incredible to work with them both and the stories we create together are so much richer because of that. We recently released book one in the series, The Wayward and the Wanderer, and it’s just amazing. I don’t usually claim one of my own books is good, but this one is GREAT because those two were part of the team!

Find Blake R. Wolfe here:

Twitter: twitter.com/BlakeRWolfe

Facebook: www.facebook.com/blakerwolfe

Patreon (exclusive content): https://www.patreon.com/blakerwolfe

Website and Newsletter: www.blakerwolfe.com

Interview with Author David Slayton

David R. Slayton (He/Him) grew up outside of Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. David’s debut, White Trash Warlock, was published in 2020 by Blackstone Publishing and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. The Adam Binder series continues with Trailer Park Trickster (October 2021), and Deadbeat Druid (October 2022).

In 2015, David founded Trick or Read, an annual initiative to give out books along with candy to children on Halloween as well as uplift lesser-known authors from marginalized backgrounds.

A lifelong Dungeon Master, video gaymer, and sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan, David has degrees in History and English from Metropolitan State University in Denver. He’ll happily talk your ear off about anything from Ancient Greece to Star Trek.

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

Sure! Like Adam, the main character in White Trash Warlock, I grew up in a trailer outside of Guthrie, Oklahoma. Like him I’m gay and a high school dropout. Now I’m fortunate enough to live in Denver, Colorado with my partner Brian and write the books I always wanted to read.

Congratulations on releasing the last book in your first series, Deadbeat Druid! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

It really springs from my rural background. I love urban fantasy but could never find myself represented on the page, not just as a gay man but as someone who comes from where I do. I wanted to tell a story about people like us and I can’t express how touched I am by some of the emails I’ve gotten from readers who connect with it. Deadbeat Druid is the third book in the series (I hope for more) and is my take on the Odyssey, only it’s a road trip through hell to get the two love interests back together. It’s spooky and weird and full of healing your trauma by facing what you don’t want to.

As a writer, what drew you to writing modern fantasy?

Urban fantasy as a genre has so much flexibility in it, so much variation. I always saw myself as a high fantasy or epic fantasy author, and there’s a lack of representation there too, but I wasn’t making headway publishing in that space so I tried something new and it paid off. I originally started writing White Trash Warlock to remember why I love writing. I was very tentative when I shared it with my agent, but she loved it and it ended up being my debut book. I’m very grateful that it’s been so well received.

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

Absolutely! I focus on gay main characters for all of my current books, as that’s my experience. The Adam Binder series also features a bi love interest and including that representation was very important to me. The elven characters we meet are pansexual. Argent is also aromantic and Vran is asexual.

I’m writing the spin off, Rogue Community College, now and I’m happy to get to work with a bigger cast and show more LGBTQ+ characters and relationships.

Your book(s) tend to center around gay and bisexual protagonist(s). Could you tell us about some elements of these character(s) you’re excited for others to see in stories?

I love getting to include the characters’ identity without it being the thing that drives the plot. I always say that I write books about LGBTQ+ characters that aren’t about being LGBTQ+. The Adam series is contemporary fantasy and Adam is from Oklahoma so homophobia and other issues exist, but they aren’t the focus of the story. I’m especially happy to be releasing Dark Moon Shallow Sea later this year as it’s high fantasy in an original world where I could leave homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc. behind. In that world, nobody cares about your identity or orientation but which god you worship? That can get you in trouble.

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up?

I especially loved Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin when I discovered her work. My mother went deeply into religion at one point and my reading was limited to Star Trek books (big shout out to David Mack here), which were fantastic, but as with fantasy, we just weren’t on the page or on the screen. It’s great to see Star Trek correcting this, but I’ll always be sad I didn’t have that representation when I needed it the most.

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

I use an Agile Project Management approach to my writing, which means I set weekly goals, track everything in spreadsheets, and try to maintain a consistent daily practice, though sometimes the day job means I just don’t get to write on a weekday and have to make up the time on the weekend. The best thing I can do is turn off the Internet, social media especially, and just lose myself in the work. It’s also been really important to me to not compare my career trajectory to others. That way lies madness. A lot of what happens in a writing career comes down to luck. The only think you can really control is your writing, so I focus on always learning and continually improving my craft.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

I’d love to be nominated for a Lambda or a Hugo. I’d especially love to see the Adam Binder novels made into a TV series, to see that representation on the screen. I’ll admit that I’m always fan-casting my books. I saw that Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things just came out and my first thought was that he’d be great for Adam.

Your first series has characters that come from the southern states in the United States, why did you pick this area that is usually unwelcoming to people like your protagonist?

We’re not often portrayed in urban fantasy. Books like this one are usually set in big cities like Chicago or New York. It was nice to be able to showcase small town Oklahoma and a smaller city like Denver (where I live now). I also think that so many LGBTQ+ people come from places like Guthrie or have experiences like mine. I wanted to tell our story and I wanted us to have the chance at being the hero. Someone recently asked me why there’s a car chase with a dragon in the book and my answer was how often do you see a gay action hero?

All three of your books mix the modern day world with high fantasy, can you explain how you developed the world you’ve placed your stories in?

I’m all about trying to undermine stereotypes and encourage readers to look beneath the surface. I like to take fantasy tropes and mess with them or flip them on their head. No one in my books is simple and the worlds they inhabit reflect that. For example, the elven realm is beautiful but there’s a shady side to their politics and some of their motivations are outright evil. My friend Shiri said that my elves would have Tolkien spinning in his grave and I take that as a high compliment.

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

I mentioned Dark Moon, Shallow Sea. It’s queer and dark and full of ghosts and dead gods. It’s everything I love in high fantasy and it’s out on Halloween 2023! It’s Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn meets Dark Souls. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a gay, geeky romance called To Catch a Geek coming out late 2023, maybe 2024. It’s nerdy and full of every nerdy reference I could work into it. It’s really fun. I have also have a spin off to the Adam Binder series, Rogue Community College, coming out in 2024. It picks up on developments in Deadbeat Druid and it’s Umbrella Academy meets Doctor Who with lots of great representation. It’s a bit more cozy which is funny since the main character Isaac is an assassin, but he’s quickly faced with his attraction to another student and the problem of trying to murder a living building.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I’m a huge gaymer. I’m really excited to see what Bethesda’s Starfield will look like later this year and for Baldur’s Gate III to leave early access. I’m also anxious to get my hands on Jedi: Survivor, the sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order. That quickly became my favorite Star Wars game. Let’s hope Cal gets a boyfriend this time around. I’m a big fan of TTRPGS, Dungeons and Dragons especially. I’m writing an adventure set in the world of Dark Moon, Shallow Sea that I’ll give away on my website as we get closer to the book’s release.

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

I was stumped so my partner Brian suggested this one: how do you write about your experience without opening yourself to hurt or pain when you put yourself on the page? My answer is that you don’t. You have to open yourself to the pain to write authentically. Obviously, my characters are fictional. They aren’t me, but I try to give them pieces of myself, enough to make them feel real to the reader. A lot of Adam’s experience around his family and upbringing in the White Trash Warlock series come from my experience. A lot of Raef’s hurt and anger in Dark Moon, Shallow Sea come from my hurt, anger, and my own experiences with faith and religion.

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

Some of my favorite authors working in the LGBTQ+ space are:
K.D. Edwards’s Tarot Sequence is great urban fantasy. It’s high action mixed with cool magic and witty banter.
Cale Dietrich: The Pledge, The Friend Scheme, etc. He just captures that sense of teen want like no one else. Reading Cale’s stuff takes me back to being an awkward gay teen.
Helen Corcoran: Queen of Coin and Whispers, Daughter of Winter and Twilight. This is low magic YA sapphic fantasy with deep political machinations.
Barbara Ann Wright: The Pyramid Waltz, Thrall, etc. Barbara is the queen of sapphic sci-fi/fantasy romance and has fourteen books ranging from fantasy to space opera.
I’m also really excited about Trip Galey’s A Market of Dreams and Destiny coming in September.

Fanart for David Slayton’s Adam Binder series, first three are from Jake Shandy (permission given to author for use); second three are from novaecomic.com (permission given to author for use)