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)

Interview with Author C. L. Polk

C. L. Polk (they/them) wrote the Hugo-nominated series The Kingston Cycle, including the WFA-winning Witchmark. The Midnight Bargain was a Canada Reads, Nebula, Locus, Ignyte, and WFA finalist. They have worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of Lepidoptera before settling down to write fantasy novels. Polk lives in Calgary, which is on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, and the Métis Nation (Region 3).

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

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

Hi! I’m C. L. Polk, I write Fantasy, I’ve lost all the big three North American SFF awards, and I’m always late watching the TV show everyone is talking about, and I would love to follow Critical Role but I just never seem to start. I’ve been trying to get a gaming group together for years, and I like to knit.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Even Though I Knew The End? What inspired the story?

I had a whim one day to write a hardboiled detective pulp voice, and I let it percolate in my mind while I did some other things, and one day it sprouted. I didn’t really have a good reason. I wanted to write something voicey; that was all. 

But when it finally came together it did so all at once, and I had to race to finish it. Then it languished for a while, and I picked it up, read it, and thought of something that I could do with the story, so I had the chance to do what a lot of writers don’t get – a good long wait between finishing it and returning as a different kind of writer.

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

My reasons are ordinary. I liked stories, and I wanted to try writing some of my own, and when I did, I found that I liked it, so I kept doing it. And I’ve read a lot of books. All of them have something to do with the reasons why I’m interested in writing and stories. My favorite writer is a tough one to answer. I usually say Tanith Lee, but honestly, it’s a lot wider than that.

How would you describe your writing process, especially that for worldbuilding?

When I worldbuild I just do whatever. I don’t have a system. I follow an enthusiasm, which sparks off more enthusiasms until I hit critical mass and I have to start writing before it all collapses.

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

My favorite is the times when I’m drafting an I hit flow. It’s great. It’s a gift. It’s not like that every day. The most challenging is evading the self-doubt that is in the way of the page.

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

I never have an answer for this. I never expect or hope for someone to ask me the perfect question. I’m not sure it exists. I also don’t think I can control what drives another person’s curiosity. I suppose that’s not an exciting answer but I find accepting this is much less stressful than hoping someone perceives me in a particular way.

Also, asking for a friend, do you have a favorite hot beverage?

I like a lot of hot beverages. I drink coffee pretty often, and I’m particular about its quality. I usually make coffee at home, but when I’m out I look for cafes with excellent beans and well-trained baristas. A good cup of coffee will stop you in your tracks.

And how have you masterfully weaved so many plot threads together, like in Witchmark?

It’s easy. I write characters who want things that aren’t the same as what the other characters want, and then I set them to go about getting it.

More technically, for the interested writers in the group: I use Scrivener. I am a scene-by-scene writer and not a chapter writer. So for each scene, I write a little summary and give it a label, and every label has a color – so if I look at my Scrivener project’s notecards, I can see at a glance which plotlines are getting lost because their colors haven’t shown up in a while.

If you don’t have Scrivener, you can use Google Slides for this as well. But don’t let me gas on about Scrivener because I will be here all day.

And as a writer would you ever be interested in trying out other genres besides fantasy?

I have written science fiction short stories before and I might try a novel at some point. I have written more than one contemporary romance, but never tried to publish one. I like mysteries, but those are easy to include into fantasy stories. I’m also interested in Gothics and domestic thrillers. Honestly, I just like genre.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Write what you believe in. Ignore trends. You have thousands of people who are dying for the kind of thing you’re doing. They are your audience; write for them instead of who you think you should write for.

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

Honestly, that’s it. I like stories, I’ve written a few, I hope you like them. If you want my cheeky comments check out my twitter. I don’t think there’s anything a reader needs to know—if they’re curious, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary.

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

There’s an activity on a subreddit called r/fantasy where they do a bingo card. The idea is that you try to read a book you’ve never read before that fits a given category and fill the square. I think it’s brilliant: one of the best reading guides out there. It’s such a good invitation to explore, so I want to shout out to the bingo card. And I do that because it’s a great way to do what I recommend – go wide. Try stuff. The number of amazing books being published these days is staggering.

Also, I want to shout out to short fiction. There’s piles of it online, free, waiting to be read, and short fiction is fantastic reading. Other magazines are by subscription, and some of them, particularly the print digests, have been around for decades. You can finish a story quickly but short stories have the potential to come along with you for years after.


Header Photo Credit: Mike Tan

Interview with Author Melissa Blair

Melissa Blair (she/her/kwe) is an Anishinaabe-kwe of mixed ancestry living in Turtle Island. She splits her time between Treaty 9 in Northern Ontario and the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg in Ottawa, Canada. She has a graduate degree in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies, loves movies, and hates spoons. Melissa has a BookTok account where she discusses her favorite kinds of books including Indigenous and queer fiction, feminist literature, and non-fiction. A Broken Blade is her first novel.

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

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

Sure – I’m Melissa Blair. I’m 27 Anishinaabekwe, I spend too much money on books and too much time playing board games. I love all forms of storytelling and have a new puppy named Giizhik.

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

I was seven when my mom explained to me that it was someone’s job to write all the books I’d been reading, from that moment on I knew I wanted to tell stories. It started with paper and crayons and has gotten slightly more sophisticated from there. I think speculative fiction has always been something I’m drawn to because its function is to allow another perspective or idea take center focus, as an Indigenous person I’m always comparing Western perspectives with Indigenous ones. 

What can you tell us about your new book, A Broken Blade? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? 

A Broken Blade is the story of Keera who is part Mortal part Elf and also an assassin for the Crown. She is forced to serve the king who conquered the continent and drove her kin into hiding. When the King tasks her with killing the Shadow, a masked enemy who is destabilizing the Crown, Keera realizes that she has a choice to make to stay safe or save her people. 

The inspiration came from reading a lot of books in this subgenre during lockdown. They were so much fun and I enjoyed them, but I kept noticing that all of the stories took place in colonial societies. I had all these questions about what happened to the Indigenous people of those realms, where were they, how were their lands taken from them? Those questions became the foundation of me creating the world of the Halfling Saga. 

A Broken Blade is described as anti-colonial fantasy with indigenous influences. Could you describe what that means?

The story is about Keera who is part Elf and her Elvish kin. As a story it centres the characters Indigenous to the continent and frames the conquering King as the rightful villain. Much of the plot and the impacts on the characters on the story is directly inspired by the history that has happened to my own ancestors – extractive colonialism, establishment of a gendered binary and the weaponization of patriarchy are only a few examples of how the Kingdom of Elverath mirrors our own. A huge part of the series will be uncovering how the Elverin lived before the King came at all and reclaiming that way of life. 

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

I would say readers should assume everyone is queer in some way unless stated otherwise. There are bisexual characters, gay and lesbian characters, asexual characters, and ones who don’t conform to the gender binary the king has established. As the series moves forward, something Keera learns is how differently her kin view and live queerness as compared to the king. The Elverin love freely and always have, and they also conceptualize gender in a very different way than the king and his citizens. Keera begins to uncover that in A Broken Blade but it becomes a much bigger theme in upcoming books. 

What are some things you hope readers take away from this story?

My first hope is that readers have a fun time but recognize the parallels I’m making between this made up world and our own. I also hope readers seek out more Indigenous books, there are so many out there.  

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in?

My biggest inspiration was the storytelling that happened around me as a kid. Most of it came from my grandma, sometimes my mom or aunties too. Hearing a story around a campfire can really make it come to life and those are some of my most vivid memories. I want to learn how to evoke emotion in that same way. 

I think part of the reason I want to be a storyteller is because I never got to see myself reflected in the media I consumed as a child or teenager. There are so few examples of Indigenous characters in popular stories, and when they do exist, they are often stereotyped and poor portrayals. I think I write out of spite in some ways.  

What does it mean to you creating a story with queer and indigenous influenced representation?

It means a lot. For me it is the ultimate form of self-expression because so much of who I am and how I see the world is in the book. But in many ways it is also a responsibility. We all receive gifts in life, and I’ve been given a brain to create stories where nothing exist before. It’s important to me that those stories reflect my family, my ancestors in some way. Even when I’m writing about mythical creatures on a made-up land. 

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

My favorite stages are conception of an idea, plotting, and editing. I find first drafts really exhausting and tend to get through them as quickly as possible. To be honest, second drafts aren’t much fun either. But once I get notes back, I fall in love with the story all over again. There are also days where I do not have the strength to write dialogue and will move on to a scene where that isn’t necessary. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You can’t get better at something unless you do it – a lot – and until you get quality feedback on it. Seek out writing partners and friends, share your work, and learn from each other. Every writer has something to teach another, even if neither of you have shared your work publicly. Also if you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, write it! And when you get to the point where you hate it and you’re convinced it’s the worst story ever told, it isn’t and you needed to keep going.  

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

Currently I’m working on a few projects. The sequel to A Broken Blade is moving through the editing process and will come to readers in 2023. Readers will also be getting a contemporary romance from me later this year. I also have a speculative sci fi story about language and Indigenous sovereignty that I’m very excited about and hope to sell. The best place to stay up to date on those releases is on my socials. 

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

There are so many amazing storytellers! You can’t go wrong with Rebecca Roanhorse, Eden Robinson, Cherie Dimaline, Billy Ray Belcourt, or Richard Wagamese

Interview with Author Alexandra Rowland

Alexandra Rowland is the author of several fantasy books, including A Conspiracy Of Truths, A Choir Of Lies, and Some by Virtue Fall, as well as a co-host of the Hugo Award nominated podcast Be the Serpent, all sternly supervised by their feline quality control manager. They hold a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore from Truman State University. 

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

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

Hi, thanks for having me!

I’m Alexandra Rowland (they/them), and I’m a very queer fantasy novelist writing very queer fantasy novels, all set in the same expansive worldI have a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore, which definitely informs the sort of stories I tell and the ways in which I tell them. I’m also the person who coined the word “hopepunk”, and a four-time Hugo Award nominee as a co-host of the podcast Be the Serpent, which discusses tropes in literature/media and particularly the role of fanfiction in the broader literary conversation.

Please link to this article, *NOT* the Vox one: https://festive.ninja/one-atom-of-justice-one-molecule-of-mercy-and-the-empire-of-unsheathed-knives-alexandra-rowland/

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly romance and speculative fiction? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

When I was eight years old, a friend of my parents said to me, “Wow, you really love reading, I bet you’ll be a great writer someday!”—whereupon I, outraged and affronted at the very suggestion, told her in no uncertain terms that I hated writing and that I would never be a writer. (So that’s clearly going well, LOL.) If I had realized at the time that the little stories I made up in my head or wrote down in my diary totally counted as writing, I might have had a different answer—because I’d been doing that for as long as I can remember.

Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love speculative fiction. My parents were both geeks, and my dad in particular really loved fantasy, so I grew up with those books being read to me or readily accessible around the house. My dad was also a bit… voluble, shall we say, especially once he got going on topics he was interested in (of which there were many), so oral storytelling was a great part of my childhood as well.

In terms of specific authors who have shaped me, I’ve probably been most influenced by (in no particular order) Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Lois McMaster Bujold… And, of course, KJ Charles for the enormous epiphany that I did like romance novels, it’s just that I needed to be reading queer romance novels, not straight ones.

What’s probably been most influential on me, though, is two decades of reading fanfiction. Now, there are still a lot of people who turn up their noses at fanfic and who might be sneering and scoffing at the mere mention of the fact that it’s been that influential on me. But the truth stands! Fanfiction is a part of the broader literary conversation, and there is absolutely no better school for teaching you how to do incisive literary criticism through the medium of really, really deep character work—and, as it happens, characters have always been what I am most interested in.

Reading fanfiction also taught me a great deal about how writing can be a joyfully self-indulgent thing, that self-indulgence and your own personal pursuit of what delights you is not something shameful or embarrassing. There is a strong tendency in our culture to assume that things that make you happy are also things that make you weak or worthy of scorn—why? Why make such an effort to conceal the things that bring us simple, uncomplicated joy? Why spend so much energy trying to convince people that we’re aloof and disinterested and without human feelings? Why perpetuate that toxic bullshit?

Self-indulgence and the personal pursuit of joy was a hugely influential thing with this book in particular, whiiiich… seems to lead us to the next question!

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, A Taste Of Gold And Iron? What inspired this story?

There’s two ways to answer that!

First, the surface-level answer: A Taste of Gold and Iron is about an Exquisitely Beautiful Prince and his Hyper-Disciplined Stoic Bodyguard investigating some counterfeited coins—and then they fall in love! It’s got heartfelt oaths of fealty, erotic handholding, and a scene where they wash each other’s hair and talk about ethics. If you’re looking for big, epic, swoopy action scenes and multi-kingdom battle sequences, this might not be the book for you, honestly! But if you are looking for lots of deep, intimate character work and all the quiet, soft moments of two characters realizing their first impressions of each other might have been wrong, and then doing the work on themselves to grow as people, come closer together, and have extravagant feelings, then this is definitely the book for you. Also a little magic system, as a treat.

On a deeper level: A Taste of Gold and Iron came about because back in 2017 or so, I was mulling on some of my favorite tropes in fiction—and, in particular, my personal hands-down favorite, the Benevolent Liege/Devoted Vassal romance (which is a specific aspect of a broader category, the classic Courtly Love trope). Then I had that grouchy thought, as so many writers do, that nobody had yet written that trope in precisely the way I wanted to read it, so I had to do it myself. (I have taken to calling it “Fealty+Feelings”.)

This was unusually deliberate in comparison to my general writing process—I started from a place of “I’m going to write this favorite trope of mine in exactly the way I would want to read it,” and then it was sort of a natural progression to, “Okay, what other tropes do I also love which would underpin and support the main one to best effect?” and thence with increasing giddiness to, “What if I just cram as many things as I like into one book?”, and then further to, “Now let’s dig in even deeper to interrogate some of those tropes and unpack them, so that they’re complex, intentional, meaningful building-blocks of story.” (For example: “Kissing to avert suspicion” is a great trope—why do I like it? What makes it so appealing? What’s the realistic, logical aftermath? How would two people navigate that, when there are so many other factors in play?)

But then, that’s the sort of thing that I really, really love—not just going through the motions to recreate a trope as if I’m following a script or a recipe, but also interrogating what underpins it. It’s the difference between “In making bread, we must knead the dough for ten minutes” and “In making bread, first we must understand how gluten is formed and what the act of kneading does to the end product.”

The entire writing process was like that—not just finding the things I liked best, but asking myself questions about why I liked them, and then about what could be tweaked or emphasized to make me like it even more. It was an exercise in the exploration of my own delight, and long before I ever sold the book, I used to tell people that I’d already gotten paid in joy, just from the time that I got to spend with this story and these characters.

This novel is said to be set in a world inspired by the Ottoman Empire. Did any particular kind of research go into making the world you created?

To be specific, it is only this particular kingdom of the world which is inspired like the Ottoman Empire! In terms of research, much of it was of the “read seven Wikipedia articles, glean two or three interesting pieces of information, and extrapolate outwards from there” variety. I’m not trying to replicate the Ottoman Empire (But Make It Fantasy), but rather create a new setting that has enough of the the flavor, the vibes, the texture—whatever you want to call it—that someone with a working knowledge of that period/area of history would find it comfortably familiar and hospitable.

For research on general flavor/vibes/texture, one of my favorite methods is to watch foreign movies or TV shows (ie: in this case, I watched several dozen hours a Turkish period drama, Magnificent Century, as well as a couple other Turkish shows). The key thing I’m looking for with things like this is, again, not to do an empty recreation, but to catch really visceral details of everyday life (like how and what they eat, or what the architecture looks like, or how people move when they’re wearing the clothes), but also, more importantly, how a story oriented to an in-group audience chooses to depict itself: What is the implicit scaffolding that the story is leaning on? What does it frame as romantic or epic or scandalous? What does it consider so normal and mundane as to not require any explanation whatsoever, and what does it go out of its way to inform the audience about?

The one thing I did borrow directly from the Ottomans is the governmental structure, particularly in regards to the janissary corps and bureaucracy—in particular, the fact that their soldiers and ministers were “recruited” as children and provided with years of education and elite training, after which they were appointed to government office and could potentially rise to be the second most powerful person in the empire after the sultan himself. Of course, the Ottomans, being an empire, were doing this “recruitment” in usually non-consensual ways (as empires so often do), by which I mean “forcibly taking children from their parents and enslaving them.”

While obviously I strictly avoided replicating that particular aspect, I did find it interesting to think about a system of governance that relies so heavily on investing time and money into educating the next generation of ministers, soldiers, bodyguards, and other servants of the Crown, especially when juxtaposed against the book’s themes of the ethics of power (both theoretically and in practice), and specifically the question: “If a vassal owes his loyalty to his liege, what does his liege owe in return to him?” We currently live in a society where we can expect to be actively and carelessly exploited by anyone who is in power over us—we regard that as no more than the mundane cost of earning a paycheck! So asking questions about power and responsibility and what fealty really means is a juicy subject.

What can we expect from the main characters of A Taste Of Gold And Iron?

[slaps the roof of Kadou and Evemer] These good boys can hold so many feelings!

Kadou is Exquisitely Beautiful, the prince of the richest nation in the world, very tenderhearted, and lightly traumatized. He is pretty much permanently worried about whether he is taking care of his people sufficiently, or whether he is inadvertently causing harm. Part of this is due to the fact that he has one hell of an unmedicated anxiety disorder; part of it is just very real philosophical concerns about the ethical expectations and responsibilities of his position.

Evemer is Beefy and Stoic. He has shoulders like a hero out of legend, an extremely rigid and unyielding sense of right and wrong, a tendency to be quite harshly judgmental of others’ shortcomings in the privacy of his own mind (or so he thinks). He has never failed at anything in his life. Hell, he’s rarely even felt ill-prepared for a challenge. (Spoilers: He is very ill-prepared for dealing with Kadou.)

They both have big, big feelings about responsibility, obligation, duty, and serving something greater than themselves.

Evemer: [wistful sigh] My most romantic fantasy is that I will one day be able to dedicate myself to the service of a worthy lord, throw my whole self into his service, and then maybe… just maybe…. save his life and die tragically in his arms, in the rain, while he cries on my face. Like in an epic poem.

Kadou: ??????? UM… Sorry, but why does this so-called romantic fantasy involve you dying? Can we revisit that???? Because that’s one of my dealbreakers.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you find to be some of the most challenging?

I love writing beginnings, unusual worldbuilding, vividly emotional scenes, introspective characters, and tangents about fantasy economics. I love characters that are complex, by which I mean “capable of accessing a broad range of feelings”—I don’t really enjoy books where everyone seems to feel only one thing in a sustained note the whole way through the story, so I don’t write books like that. I like it when characters have the capacity for a variety of different emotions, where they might get a chance to be funny, or tease a friend, or feel insecure, affectionate, fascinated, bored… All the things people feel.

The most challenging part of a book for me is the middle, particularly just before and during the “darkest right before the dawn” part. You know, the bit when the main characters are facing setbacks and feeling disheartened and discouraged and all seems lost. I haven’t yet quite figured out how to dodge that, partially because the temptation to write all the juicy emotions of a character being really sad is nearly irresistible (love those vivid emotions!). But that section always makes me grind to a halt and lose a lot of momentum, and it’s not nearly as much fun as other bits.

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

I haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer this question, so I have chosen to willfully interpret it as a request for Three Quirky Facts About Me:

1. I grew up on a sailboat in the Bahamas.

2. My superpower is to intuitively Perceive when someone is on the asexual spectrum and hasn’t twigged to it yet (this is kind of ironic because it took me until age 28 to grasp that I was not “just really picky”, that was in fact demisexuality I was experiencing).

3. I’ve done every fiber art you can name, and some that you can’t

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

From a craft perspective: Ask questions. Always. About everything. Especially when you think you understand something innately and effortlessly, ask questions about it. Push yourself to think deeper and go a step farther. When you think you’ve walked all the way to the end of Understanding a thing, turn around and walk back to the other end and interrogate it all again from a slightly different perspective. Your whole job is to see something in the world that nobody else sees and to then tell people about it, so don’t ever accept the obvious answer without turning it around and peeking underneath to see what’s there.

From a career perspective: I know it feels icky to think of writing as a business, but getting out of that mindset is an essential part of protecting yourself, giving your work the best chance that it has, and slowly encouraging this industry away from the ways that it so egregiously everybody working within it. You can still be an artist when you’re all alone in a room with the manuscript, but having a business brain is invaluable.

Additionally, whether you decide to go for traditional publishing, indie publishing, or hybrid, take some time to look at the ways other people are doing it—on both sides of the aisle. Learn the tricks and tools the other side has, and see if any of them are useful and applicable for you and your situation.

Most importantly: Be a cockroach. This is a hard career, and for most people, it takes a lot of time to see results from the effort and time you’ve invested. Be a cockroach! Refuse to be squished, survive the nuclear winter, spread your cockroachy dominion across the earth when all others have perished—ok, this analogy is getting away from me a bit, but you get the picture. This game isn’t over until you decide you don’t want to play anymore.

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

Q: Favorite line of the book?

A: Hard choice, it’s between “I got you this door” or “Oh, fuck, I think I just got religion.” You’ll laugh about this later, I promise. 😉

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

Yes! I’ve branched out into hybrid publishing this year (that is, a blend of both traditional publishing and indie publishing), and I’ve been releasing a novella series called The Seven Gods (of which the first book is Some By Virtue Fall), and it is chock full of disaster lesbians, fantasy-Shakespearean theater intrigue, dapper fancy hats, and arson. Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on another installment of that series—The Light of Ystrac’s Wood, a small spinoff about a secondary character who will be quite important in book two of the series—which due to be released in early May.

I’m also hard at work for another book for Tordotcom, and while I can’t quite tell you any solid details yet, I’ll give you a fun clue: One of the Three Quirky Facts I gave you earlier will be, ah, relevant. 😉

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

Victoria Goddard’s The Hands of the Emperor, ALWAYS—if A Taste of Gold and Iron sounds good to you, this one will probably also appeal! It is about a god-emperor who doesn’t want to be emperor and his incomparable secretary, and together they institute Universal Basic Income, have a deeply romantic friendship/queerplatonic relationship, yearn at each other from across a room because there is a taboo against touching the emperor, and… eventually… hold hands. GASP. Scandalous, I know. (Lots of queer rep throughout the series—the two main characters of this one are bisexual (the emperor) and somewhere on the ace/demisexual spectrum (the secretary).

I’ve also recently loved Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch and The Bachelor’s Valet by Arden Powell, which are both M/M romance novels. And for authors in general, I’m always delighted to boost Tasha Suri, Jenn Lyons, Freya Marske, Everina Maxwell, Alexis Hall, AJ Demas, and Cat Sebastian!

Interview with Author KD Edwards

KD Edwards, author

K.D. Edwards lives and writes in North Carolina, but has spent time in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington. (Common theme until NC: Snow. So, so much snow.)

Mercifully short careers in food service, interactive television, corporate banking, retail management, and bariatric furniture has led to a much less short career in Higher Education.

The first book in his urban fantasy series THE TAROT SEQUENCE, called THE LAST SUN, was published by Pyr in June 2018. The third installment, THE HOURGLASS THRONE, is expected in May 2022.

K.D. is represented by Sara Megibow at kt literary, and Kim Yau at Echo Lake Entertainment for media rights.

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

Of course! I’m the author of The Tarot Sequence series, an urban fantasy that reimagines a modern world with a very real Atlantis. The series is built around several broad concepts: LGBT+ inclusion, found family, humor, tarot card imagery, a lack of toxic masculinity, and lots of immersive world-building in a society that blends science fiction and fantasy.

Congratulations on your upcoming book, The Hourglass Throne! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

It’s the third book in a continuous series and is being released May 17, 2022 – I actually have nine planned books (three trilogies). My largest motivation for the series was to create a wildly different type of society free from many of the biases in our own culture. There is no “gay” or “straight” – Atlanteans operate on a very broad spectrum of gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story that honors urban fantasy greats – like Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher – while also featuring a cast of characters that I would have wanted to read as a young gay man.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fiction/fantasy?

I read SFF almost exclusively as a teen, and then moved away from it in my 20s and 30s. When I hit 40, I decided the world…. Well, the world kind of sucks at times. So I turned my back on contemporary fiction and dove whole-heartedly into escapism. I want people to ENJOY these books, and escape from the grind of doom scrolling. I want people to laugh, and care about the characters, and get lost in the wonder of this city I’m creating – a city built from teleported human ruins from across the world. I love that element of SFF. It can be uplifting, and can present a World we deserve. 

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

In the beginning, I thought I was something special for having a book with a lot of gay men. My readers – my very kind, awesome readers – disabused me of that. Since then, I’ve taken it as a point of pride to really explore the depth of the queer community. My main character, Rune, is demisexual, and in a relationship with a man. Quinn is Asexual. Layne, who was introduced as a 15-year old male teen, now identifies as gender fluid and uses “they/them” pronouns. One of my newest central characters, Lady Death, has had relationships with women in the past. I’m only getting started, too.

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

I have a complicated relationship with the books I read growing up. The SFF was so important to my development but, looking back, I can see how homogenous the material was. And how male. It’s so powerfully obvious that those stories lacked diversity. Some of those series I cannot even talk about – especially the ones where the hero’s journey is built on raping others or violence against women. 

The urban fantasy stories I read as a young adult fare better. JD Robb’s In Death series; Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson; Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels…. I really adored a lot of the early urban fantasies. 

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

I can’t even remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. Ever. I think the ability to escape this world and live in another has always been the draw, for me.

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

One of the ways I manage a 9-book series is having huge, tent pole ideas for each book. That satisfies my craving for different sub-genres within SFF. For instance, I’ll have my Natural Disaster novel. I’ll have my Kaiju novel. I’ll have my Roadtrip novel. 

But given the constraints of the series I built, there are still stories I wish I could tell. I want to write a space station book. I want to write a post-apocalyptic tale….

What inspired you to incorporate Tarot cards and it’s mythology into your stories?

My own writing has always involved archetypes. I’ve been working on Tarot Sequence for close to 10 years, but the archetypes of Rune and Brand pre-date that by many years. That’s what I love about tarot cards – they’re built on human archetypes and appetites, like Love, Fortune, Nature, Death. My focus is on the major arcana cards, in particular. Given the unique identity of each major arcana card, it seemed like a good idea to build a nobility system around it. My main character, Rune, is the sole remaining heir to the fallen Sun Throne. These novels represent his journey in reclaiming his birthright.

Your last short story collection placed your characters into the COVID pandemic and under lock down. How did your own experiences during that time inspire that work?

Oh my God, those stories SAVED ME. I was just as lost and scared as everyone else during the start of the Pandemic. Putting Rune and Brand through quarantine was my way of coping with it. And it snowballed from there – the response I got from readers also looking for a distraction, or meaning, was fantastic. So I decided to make the stories canon – and haven’t regretted it.

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

The Pandemic has changed everything. I moved from a workplace-based day job to work-from-home status. (And I love it.) I also stopped reading books in favor of watching international TV. It really opened my eyes to how perspectives change globally. It expanded my tastes, and gave me new ideas and ideas. I really, really need to get back to reading – but the TV habit still persists for now.

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

Hah! If you knew my readers, you’d know that there are very, very few unexplored questions. My readers are amazing, and supportive, and vocal. I am so freaking blessed. They exchange ideas with me, ask questions, make artwork, provide music recommendations… So I’m honestly at a loss at what question I haven’t been asked.

I suppose one question I don’t get often: The series is based in New Atlantis, formed after the fall of Atlantis during the Great Atlantean War. Every now and then a reader asks if I ever intend to take the story back to the abandoned homeland. And the answer? Oh yes.

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

I am really loving David Slayton’s Adam Binder series. TJ Klune is one of my favorites. Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner books. Gideon the Ninth is magnificent. I know I’ll regret not spending more time on this list….so many suggestions that they bottle-neck in my brain. Oh! Hero by the late Perry Moore remains hugely influential for me. Gregory Ashe is a prolific sci-fi and mystery writer, and I love his Hollow Folk series.

Interview with Author Abigail Hilton

Abigail Hilton finished her first novel when she was fifteen and never stopped writing. She has a science background and a day job in healthcare.

She frequently travels for work, but comes home to the Pacific Northwest, where two elderly tabbies and two Japanese bobtail cats maintain her home in perfect condition. (Haha, j/k; they try to wreck it.)

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

Hi, fellow Geeks! Thanks for having me. “Novelist” has been near the top of my personal identifiers since I was young. I’ve worked hard to build a life with books at the center. I started podcasting my novels back in 2008. I narrated the books myself at first, then moved on to elaborate fullcast productions, all of it “for the love.” Around 2011, Kindle upended things in the publishing world. I discovered that people would pay for my books, which made it easier to justify the massive amounts of time I was spending on them. I moved into ebooks and paper, then into more professional audio. Along the way, I’ve dabbled in all kinds of commissioned illustrations, promotional art, and comics.

My Abigail Hilton books all feature non-human characters. I love the biological sciences and xenofiction. However, I finally realized that most humans would rather read about other humans. I launched my A. H. Lee pen name in 2017, partially to publish steamier titles, but also to see whether I was right there being a larger audience for human characters. Sure enough, that pen name did really well. I still write under both names, though, and I publish everything from children’s books to adult romances. All of my books are some flavor of fantasy, and I gravitate to high fantasy/epic fantasy. Queer characters have been showing up in my stories since that very first novel.

Congratulations on your upcoming series release, Pirates of Wefrivain! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the books came from?

Pirates of Wefrivain is a redemption story about a couple of dudes who realize they were working for the evil empire and try to switch sides. They fall in love and fight dragons. That’s the first 2 books. Then it opens out into a broader epic, following some of their friends and enemies through war, nautical adventures, and airship battles. All the plot-lines converge in the final book. This series goes to some very dark places (all the trigger warnings), but I promise I am not a nihilist, and you’ll get a happy ending if you stick with me.

Unfortunately, Pirates has a confusing publishing history. The first book was published in 2010. It was originally published as two separate, interlocking series, and the tale spills over into a couple dozen short stories, which were originally published separately and on Patreon. With the publication of the last book, I have repackaged everything into 5 volumes and put it all under the Pirates of Wefrivain series title. New readers can skip all the confusion.

You asked where the idea came from. No clue. The Elder Gods. Lord Frith. Somewhere beyond the Ninth Gate. Sorry, ideas are mysterious and complicated, and I’ve been writing this series for over a decade. This was my second series set in the world of Panamindorah, so it’s not like the world itself was new to me.

What can you tell us about your most popular series, The Knight and the Necromancer? Where did the inspiration for these books come from?

This one is a little easier, because The Knight and the Necromancer (K&N) was fully planned and completed before anything was released. (I had a lot more publishing experience by then.) K&N did not develop organically over many years like Pirates. K&N occurs in my Shattered Sea universe, which I had already fleshed out in The Incubus series. In that way, I guess it is like Pirates. It’s the second series I wrote in an already-established universe.

The Knight and the Necromancer is about the titular characters, who meet under false pretenses, find that they like each other, and then learn that they are natural enemies. Then they have to solve a problem together. This is a well-trod setup, but it’s one that I particularly enjoy, and I had a lot of fun coming up with all the necromancy magic.

The world was influenced by Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books, all things D&D, a little HP Lovecraft, Jonathan Stroud’s massively underrated Bartimaeus trilogy, and many things I’m probably forgetting. Also, don’t judge me, but James Harriot (I mean, for the farms and farmers and livestock-related plot points). The character dynamics were influenced by C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince, KJ Charles’s entire catalogue, probably a bit by T. Kingfisher, and perhaps even Terry Pratchett. 

As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy, especially epics?

This is another of those “where do the ideas come from” questions. I write the kind of stuff I like to read. I feel like there isn’t nearly enough gritty epic fantasy with queer characters who are allowed to have happy endings.

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

I most enjoy writing gay and bisexual men. Most of my books include at least one gay or bisexual male couple, frequently (though not always) in the lead. But I also like variety. There’s a trans man who is a stealth favorite in K&N. My Hunters Unlucky xenofiction epic includes a lesbian couple, as well as many gender-bending species. There’s an MFF triad in my Pirates of Wefrivain series, in which one of the ladies is on the ace spectrum. I like writing polyamory, although I’ve come to realize that the market for it is limited, so I feel pressured to write about monogamous couples. But my Incubus Series is unapologetic MMF.

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

Write something before bed. Even if it’s just 200 words. If you go to sleep thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it. Sometimes you solve a problem in your dreams.

As an author, what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Nothing will ever be as fun as writing the novel and sharing it with your friends. Making money, being approached by publishers, seeing positive reviews – all that stuff is nice, and you think it will make you happy, but that happiness lasts, like, 5 minutes. Writing the book is the fun part – that state of creative fugue, where it feels like you’re taking dictation. Second most fun is sharing it. Receiving related artwork comes in as a close third, whether it’s art you commissioned or fan art. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do the fun stuff.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? 

I wish I’d known that I would eventually “make it” in the sense that I have an audience and make a living wage. I spent a lot of time worrying about failure in my teens and twenties. I’m not usually a jealous person, but I felt insanely jealous of traditionally published novelists back then. It turns out, I was already doing the fun stuff! And I would eventually get paid for it, so I needed to just cool my jets.

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

I’m currently writing some follow-on novels to my Hunters Unlucky series. That’s one of those not-at-all-commercial projects, haha. But they have been insanely fun to write, and a small group of (the coolest) people are excited about them along with me.

The next thing I’m planning to write that I think a large number of people might want to read is a new series that I’ve been calling the Sleipner-verse. This is a new setting, where sailors hunt Lovecraftian monsters for their magic, chasing them through multiple universes in world-hopping ships. The story is about a young man from a wealthy, magic-wielding family, who befriends a lower-deck sailor from one of the slipper ships. They proceed to get into all kinds of trouble. 

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

Entertaining my cats, growing carnivorous plants, reading (of course), hiking in out-of-the-way places, and using my passport as often as possible.

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

What formats are my books available in?

ebook, paper, and audio. You can get most of my audiobooks in many places besides Audible. You can buy them directly from me on my website, which is generally the cheapest way (coincidentally, I also get paid the most). You can also get them on some library platforms.

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

My first experience of gay fiction was Marry Renault. I still return to her work sometimes. She probably seems stilted to a modern audience, but the language is so beautiful, and she can get a sentence wound so tightly that it twangs. Her Alexander books, including the non-fiction biography, absolutely broke my heart. Scenes and lines from those books stick in my head to this day.

I really like KJ Charles. She’s most known for her historicals and her historical urban fantasy. However, my favorite book of hers is neither. It’s The Henchmen of Zenda, which is a queering of the classic Prisoner of Zenda. The book is full of quote-able lines and genuine wisdom. I rarely see anyone recommend it – an under-rated bit of her work.

I’m sure everyone reading this already has an opinion about C.S. Pacat, so let me pitch something of hers that you might not have read. Her short story, “Pet,” is maybe my favorite thing she’s written. It’s set in the Captive Prince universe, but stands on its own, and you can tell that she’s bringing everything she learned from writing CP to the table. It’s deft and understated, gentler than CP, but still has some teeth.

Interview With Author Kalynn Bayron

Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of Cinderella is Dead and This Poison Heart. A classically trained vocalist, she grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family. I had the opportunity to interview Kalynn, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, This Poison Heart. Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?

Thank you so much! I like to describe This Poison Heart as equal parts Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden with a Greek mythology twist. It’s about 16-year-old Briseis Greene, a young woman born with a unique ability—she can grow plants from seed to full bloom in seconds. She’s struggling to keep this power in check when she finds out her aunt has recently passed away and left her a sizable estate just outside of Rhinebeck, NY. When she and her parents go up for the summer they realize that nothing is what it seems. The house comes with a specific set of instructions and a walled garden filled with the deadliest plants on the planet. Briseis begins to uncover her family’s complicated and deadly history while learning to lean into her own power. 

Where did the inspiration for the book come from? Were there any music/media/ stories you were influenced by while writing this book?

Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden were some of the biggest influences for this story. but I was also fascinated by the real-life poison plants in the Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. I wanted this story to have the feel of a gothic novel set against a contemporary backdrop. I love how atmospheric it is and that was heavily inspired by my love of gothic horror.

How did you find yourself becoming an author? Do you remember some of the notes of your own origin story? Did any writers or books inspire your writing journey?

I’ve always loved storytelling. The medium didn’t matter to me—music, tv, movies, theater, literature, I loved them all. I read everything I could get my hands on. One specific story was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. My teacher read it aloud when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I remember having such a strong reaction to it and being unable to get it out of my head. It was the same thing with musicals. I watched Annie, Wizard of Oz, and Little Shop of Horrors on loop from the time I was little. A neighbor introduced me to The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten and I became weirdly obsessed with the Phantom. I wanted to know why this man was living in the sewer and why everybody was so scared of him. So I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in the parts of popular stories that don’t get as much attention. 

I wrote my first novel when I was 19 and it was awful, but it taught me that I could start and finish a manuscript which, as any writer will tell you, is half the battle. Storytelling has always played such an important role in my life—stories helped me cope when things felt overwhelming, they provided an escape. When I sat down to write Cinderella is Dead in 2016, I wanted to tell a story that might provide an escape for someone else. 

Along the way the work of literary giants like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston have inspired me to tell stories in the way that I want to tell them and to be unapologetic in my work. I return to their stories any time I need a reminder of what we are allowed to be on the page.  

Besides being a writer, what are some small facts you would want your writers to know about you?

I’m a classically trained vocalist. I love musicals. I love Biscoff cookies and I really think they should sponsor me the way brands sponsor athletes. 

How would you describe your writing process? What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?

I wish I’d understood that there are a lot of non-writing things that count towards the development of a story. All the time I spend thinking about the story, the characters, the setting, the world building—it all counts! In fact, I now recognize it as an integral part of my process. I need time to sit with my ideas for a while before I get them on the page. 

For me it starts with an idea, or a collection of ideas. Once I have a good idea of the scope, I start a zero draft which is essentially just a few plot points in chronological order and some character work. As I’m doing this, I’m thinking about the story but it’s really just vibes at this point! No plot just vibes! Then, if I feel like a firm grasp on the story, I’ll work through a detailed synopsis and then a first draft. The synopsis acts as an outline for me and because things always change, I’ll write added scenes on index cards and lay them out and attach them to the outline. It’s usually not until I complete the first draft that I know my story and characters well enough to go back and really fill out the narrative. My process is always evolving and I’m always picking up new tricks and practices that work for me.

Your first book, Cinderella is Dead, is a Cinderella remix with some horror/dark fantasy elements. Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing this specific story and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn back to older fairytales when making new stories?

I have a lot of nostalgia associated with fairytales. I loved fairytales as a kid but it was painfully obvious that there was never anyone who looked like me in those stories. I wanted to do a Cinderella retelling that addressed the issue of feeling like I was an outsider looking in on this tale. I wanted to show the ways in which something as innocent as a children’s fairytale can be used as a tool of both empowerment and oppression depending on who’s penning the story.

I think we return to these stories again and again because there’s comfort in the familiarity of them but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be examined and critiqued, sometimes critically. As creators, especially those of us from historically excluded backgrounds, it’s important for us to be able to reclaim these tales on our own terms.

Which books or authors does Cinderella is Dead and The Poison Heart stand in conversation with?

I’d like to think Cinderella is Dead stands in conversation with the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella and the Charles Perrault version.  And I’d like to think This Poison Heart stands in conversation with The Secret Garden and contemporary fantasy in general. To be able to compare and contrast my work with the stories that inspired them is a great way to think about the ever-evolving process of storytelling. I’d also like to think of both This Poison Heart and Cinderella is Dead as being in community with books like Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow because contemporary fantasy is such a perfect place to interrogate who has, and who has not, been allowed to take folktales, or fairytales, or specific myths or legends and reimagine them. 

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love musical theater and I’m really looking forward to being able to get back to live shows. I love music. I love scary movies. I’m looking forward to seeing the Candyman reboot! Other than that, I really enjoy spending time with my family. I’m very much a homebody. 

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

That’s a tough one! Most people know I have a musical background, but nobody has asked me yet about my favorite opera. I get asked about my favorite musicals but never about opera! My favorite opera is Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor. Fun fact—there’s an aria in Act 3 of this opera that, even if you’ve never seen it, probably sounds familiar because it was in the movie The Fifth Element.

The Poison Heart features a Sapphic badness with a proclivity towards plants and poisons. Any relation to Poison Ivy? And on that note, how would you imagine any interactions between the two?

I love Poison Ivy! She’s a queer icon! I’m definitely inspired by her and I’ve heard that Poison Ivy was originally inspired by a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called Rappaccini’s Daughter. It’s a story about a man who raises his daughter around a collection of poisonous plants and in doing so she becomes immune to their toxicity. The story has also been adapted into several operas. If the folks at DC Comics ever need someone to do a one-shot deal for anything Poison Ivy related, I would jump on it. I’m just sayin.

Poison Ivy is a morally gray character. She does villainous things and sometimes with not-so-villainous intentions. Bri is kind of the opposite of that but I can totally see Poison Ivy trying to recruit Bri for some nefarious purpose. I don’t think Bri would sign up, but I don’t think that would stop Poison Ivy from trying.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Try to have some fun with your writing, don’t be afraid to take risks, and take any sort of writing advice with a grain of salt—even mine.

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

The follow up to This Poison Heart comes out next year and so does my debut middle grade debut. The middle grade is called The Vanquishers and it’s the story of 12-year-old Malika “Boog” Wilson. It takes place in an alternative San Antonio where vampires were known to have existed but were wiped out during an event known as the Reaping by a group of masked vampire slayers called The Vanquishers. However, when Boog’s new classmate goes missing, the local community starts to think maybe a vampire is responsible. I like to describe it as Stranger Things meets Watchmen with a Buffy twist. I’m SO excited about it! 

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

There are so many but everyone should be reading Tracy Deonn, Bethany C. Morrow, Tiffany Jackson, Claribel Ortega, Ashley Woodfolk, Leah Johnson, Roseanne A. Brown, Dhonielle Clayton, and J.Elle.

Interview With Author C. L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny. You can follow her on Twitter @c_l_clark. I had the chance to interview her, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your new book, The Unbroken. In your own words, could you tell us what the story is about?

Thank you! The Unbroken is about finding your place in unjust systems, and defining loyalty (and family) on your own terms. 

Where did the inspiration for The Unbroken come from? Were there any sources you drew from for inspiration while writing this story?

My inspiration for The Unbroken came from three different things hitting me all at the same time–I was studying the colonial relationship between France and North Africa, post-colonial literary theory, and violent women in fantasy. That lit the spark and then I kept drawing from European and American imperialism more broadly as I thought about what I wanted to address in epic fantasy narratives.

How did you come to find yourself becoming an author? What would you say lead you on this journey?

I always wanted to be one. I’ve loved reading since I was really young; both my grandmothers were teachers, so that helped. Writing lets you become a lot of different things, a lot like acting (I also wanted to be an actor), and so it was really just an extension of playing pretend. Now I can put the things I want to enact on the page into more sophisticated language, but it’s pretty much the same thing–I’m writing what I want to see in the world, even if they never happen.

As a queer writer yourself, have there ever been instances where your experiences bleed into your writing? Have you ever seen yourself in a book and if not what would you want to see?

Oh, I’m sure they do, as I write about women who desire other women and queer people. I’ve seen bits of pieces of myself in a couple of books–I think of Gaela and Hal, from Tessa Gratton’s Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur respectively, and Tavi from Sofia Samatar’s Winged Histories. Still, wanting to see myself in fiction is a big reason Touraine from The Unbroken is a butch woman of color who likes other women, who embraces big muscles and rough physicality and even violence in ways that I haven’t seen for women in SFF.

One of the many things that stands out about The Unbroken is the fact that it is a fantasy inspired by a North African setting? Can you tell us about your motivation in writing this, as well as exploring the cultural and historical context that went into developing this story?

Well, to expand a bit more on what I said above, I was really motivated to dissect the notion of empires in science fiction and fantasy. Many authors use Europe as the base-inspiration for their worlds, and there are the ‘enemy hordes’–often people of color–or there are places with exotic artifacts that heroes have to retrieve. So I wanted to dig a little deeper into that. The cultural and historical context of colonialism, of imperialism…well, that’s everywhere around us. As a Black American, I live it. You can see it in climate injustice, in the (lack of) global vaccination dispersion, in the fight for Palestine. And on a more individual level, people in diasporic communities and previously-colonized places are often dealing with the same questions of identity and ambition that Touraine and others in The Unbroken deal with. People with power, or even just substantial financial and racial privilege, have to decide where their interests lie, too–and when their support is a true alliance or just something that makes you feel good while you get what you want, just like Luca does.

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

I recently got to ask some other Orbit authors what book changed how they understood the craft of writing–something that made them go “oh, you can do that?!” But I didn’t get to answer it myself, so here’s mine: The Fifth Season. I’d never read anything that manipulated point of views or structure so well–and to such painfully beautiful effect! If you haven’t read it, do, and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve even dissected and have a name for the phenomenon, but I haven’t tried to do anything like it myself.

What advice would you give to other writers starting out on their own journeys?

Take the time. Don’t rush the novels, don’t rush the queries. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking it has to be done now, now, now, and that you have to breakout immediately. A rushed product doesn’t help anyone. Content yourself with the words and the telling the stories you want to tell as honestly as you can. That’s the only thing that’s guaranteed–happiness in your own work.

Oh, and study what you read.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

Definitely working on books two and three in the Magic of the Lost trilogy. Touraine and Luca aren’t done yet. And I edited a queer anthology that should be out later this year with Neon Hemlock Press called We’re Here, a Best Of for queer SFF.

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

I’d definitely recommend all of the stories in the We’re Here anthology! They’re a collection of some of my favorite stories from 2020, and some of them are available online, like R.B. Lemberg’s “The Weight of Khalem.” Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is a new favorite, and along with The Traitor Baru Cormorant…let’s just say The Unbroken is very much in conversation with them and discussions of empire.

Interview with Author H. E. Edgmon

H.E. Edgmon (he/they) is a high school and college dropout, a militant queer, and an author of books both irreverent and radicalizing. His stories will always center the perspective of Indigenous people, trans people, and survivors of trauma. At present, he’s probably biting off more than he can chew, emulating the aesthetic of Dwayne from The Lost Boys (1987), and living out the found family trope in Brooklyn. Online, he can most often be found on Twitter @heedgmon. His debut novel, The Witch King, is available now. I had the opportunity to interview him about his new novel, which you can read below.

First of all, at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an author? What drew you to this medium of Young Adult literature?

As soon as I realized it was possible to be an author, that’s what I wanted to be. I was always incredibly escapist as a child. I didn’t like my life—I felt like I’d been born into the wrong world, with the wrong people, or overall the wrong set of circumstances. So, I made up new versions of reality in my head. I lived almost entirely in my own imagination. And that’s probably what draws me to writing for teens, now. The YA age is when I needed these stories the most.

What were the first stories to draw you in and what kind of stories inspire you today?

There are some really beautifully done and important contemporary stories out there, but fantasy has my heart and always will. I grew up on things like the Dragonlance Chronicles. Sprawling new worlds filled with magic, found families going on epic adventures, and seemingly no limitations on what could happen. These are still the kind of stories I want more of, though now I want them gayer.

Which is to say, I guess, that I like reading books that feel like D&D campaigns.

Where did the inspiration for The Witch King come from? Was there any media (i.e. books, films, music, etc.) that influenced you while writing it?

You’ll actually find a lot of popular fanfic tropes in TWK. At the time I wrote it, I was reading way more fanfiction than traditionally published books, and I honestly really like the way that influences the writing. Also, Halsey’s entire discography is basically Wyatt’s inner monologue.

Your debut novel tackles a lot of serious issues related to mental health and trauma? What was it like writing that into fiction, and what advice might you have for writers who might want to tackle that in their own work from a safe distance?

I wrote this book while I was actively unpacking a lot of my own trauma in therapy, and that probably comes as no big surprise to anyone who’s read it. It offered a space for me to explore my feelings and come to realizations about experiences I wasn’t ready to consciously acknowledge as my own. Looking back, actually, I realize I wrote a lot of myself into Wyatt that I didn’t even recognize as me when I first wrote it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have advice about tackling these issues from a “safe distance.” Because it didn’t feel like a safe distance. Working through trauma on the page was uncomfortable and vulnerable, in the end, and it forced me to start working on myself in ways I’d been inadvertently putting off for years.

I absolutely encourage people not to hold back in their writing. But also be prepared. Once you open up that door, there’s probably no going back through it. Whether you’re ready or not.

As an ace reader, one of my favorite parts about the book was the strong relationship between Wyatt and his best friend, Briar? Was centering platonic relationships as important as romantic relationships always a goal of yours, and could you call their relationship a queerplatonic partnership?

Yes! As someone on the ace and aro spectrums, who has practiced non-monogamy for over a decade, it’s always been important to me that there is no relationship hierarchy in my work. (IE—romantic relationships are not inherently considered more important than friendships.) Wyatt and Briar are soulmates. She’s the most important person in his life, and probably always will be. Now, that doesn’t mean their relationship is perfect, or even always healthy. They’re both children with a lot of growing up to do, and Wyatt specifically has a lot of issues to work through, at the start and end of the book. But this is a queerplatonic relationship, absolutely.

As a trans author of indigenous (Seminole) descent, you had discussed a bit online about the need for more trans and indigenous/ Native American representation? Could you take about your personal connection to that and what you wish to see in the world of literature/media?

I wish our identities weren’t considered niche interests.

We’ve seen a rise in trans protagonists lately, but, the vast majority of the time, they’re written into stories where their transness is the driving force of the plot. Contemporary “issue” books, if you will. These stories are important, and necessary, and can be incredibly powerful and life changing for many people. But they’re not the kind of stories I was interested in reading as a teen, and they’re not what I want to write today.

Meanwhile, Native protagonists are rarely allowed to exist in fantasy unless their ancestry is plot-relevant—if the story draws on Indigenous mythologies or traditions, for example. And again, these stories are important and necessary and I don’t want to minimize them at all. But it does make me sad they’re (almost) the only Native rep we get in this space, because so much of the knowledge needed to accurately write those stories has been lost due to colonization.

With both trans and Native rep, I wish we saw more stories about characters who just were these things, whose choices and thoughts and feelings were informed by these things, but whose stories didn’t have to be all about them.

Within The Witch King, you discuss something that’s still rare to talk about, which is parenthood for trans people? What made you decide to talk about this, and has your own experiences as a parent affected your writing process?

The fact that I was pregnant when I wrote this probably had something to do with it. Oof. You know, everyone’s going to read this and realize how 75% of my writing process was just projecting. Ah well.

On the other hand, pregnant or not, it was always important for me to confront the idea of biological realities for trans people. Something that we hear a lot from transphobes is that we can’t change our biologies, no amount of surgery will make us another sex, etc. And I wanted to look directly at that line of thinking, make eye contact with it, and say, “Okay, and? He’s still a boy.” Wyatt could carry Emyr’s children, if he wanted to. That doesn’t change anything about who he is.

Besides the much anticipated sequel to The Witch King, do you have any more ideas in mind you feel free to talk about?

I would really love to write in both the middle grade and adult spaces, in addition to continuing my work in YA. And I definitely have plans to do all of that—just none I can talk about right now!

What advice would you have to give to authors, especially debut ones like yourself?

This sounds really counter-intuitive, because publishing is an industry that demands so much of us in so many ways, but I highly encourage authors to find something they love more than writing. Something they know will always be there. Because this business is full of highs and lows, dramatic ones, and when your entire life revolves around it, the lows can be soul-crushing. It has been invaluable for me to be able to walk away from my computer, set aside my work for a while, and go do something else that brings me joy.

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

There’s a book called Hell Followed With Us that’s coming out next summer, from debut author Andrew Joseph White. It’s a YA post-apocalyptic horror with a trans main character, and it’s as beautiful as it is horrifying. I cannot stress enough how badly you all need to add it to your TBRs and preorder as soon as it’s available.