Interview with Melissa See

Melissa See is a disabled author of young adult contemporary romances. When not writing, she can be found reading, baking, or curled up with her cat, most likely watching anime or 90 Day Fiancé. She currently lives in the New York countryside. You, Me, and Our Heartstrings is her debut 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? 

Hi! Thank you so much for having me. I’m Melissa See, the author of You, Me, and Our Heartstrings and Love Letters for Joy. I write young adult contemporary stories the feature disabled teens falling in love, being messy, and being loved for exactly who they are.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Love Letters for Joy. What was the inspiration for this story?

Love Letters for Joy follows seventeen-year-old Joy Corvi—a fat, disabled, queer girl—who wants to become the first disabled valedictorian of her elite New York City prep school. She just has to beat Nathaniel Wright, her academic rival of the last four years. But when she realizes that she may have missed out on having a high school romance, she reaches out to her academy’s anonymous love-letter writer known as Caldwell Cupid. But as she begins falling for the mysterious student behind the letters, she might be risking her dreams at valedictorian—as Caldwell Cupid is the last person she ever would’ve expected.

The inspiration for Love Letters for Joy came from Cyrano de Bergerac—which is also why Love Letters for Joy is a retelling of the play. Me writing a Cyrano retelling was completely unintentional, but when my friend made me realize I had, I decided to really delve deeply into aspects of the play: love, withheld identity, and letters being the strongest aspects I drew from.

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

Well, I knew that I wanted to be a writer by the time I was just seven years old. (Spending summers going up and down the east coast while my sister was on a traveling softball team, I carried bags of books with me wherever we went.)

As for young adult fiction and romance, when I read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, an entire new world had opened up before me. I knew that writing young adult romance, specifically, was absolutely something I wanted to do. (The love confession scene at the end of Anna and the French Kiss remains one of my favorite scenes in all of fiction.)

As an aspec reader, I was really excited to read about another ace book coming out into the world. If you feel comfortable, could you tell us what having asexual and disabled representation in your writing means to you?

Thank you so much! Having asexual and disability representation in my books means a lot to me. Growing up, there really weren’t a lot of books that included disabled characters—or queer characters—so I am elated to see that representation increasing. In providing both disability and asexual representation through Love Letters for Joy, I’m hopeful that readers will get to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book in a way I didn’t get to growing up.

How would you describe your creative process?

I genuinely do not have a creative process. I write whenever I can and try not to put pressure on myself. (Such as not needing to write every day, especially if I don’t have the spoons to do so.)

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

Some of my greatest creative influences are authors whose books I love, such as Jonny Garza Villa; David Levithan; Emily Lloyd-Jones; Jen DeLuca; Brian D. Kennedy; Daniel Aleman; Andrew Joseph White; and Stephanie Perkins (who I mentioned previously). I also just recently finished Into the Light by Mark Oshiro, which I loved.

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

As far as stories I’m touched by now, the first one that comes to mind is The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White. It’s an incredible gothic young adult horror that tackles ableism and transphobia in such a brilliant way. Getting to see Silas’ autism on the page and having it remind me of my own experience being autistic was something I’d never had up until I read this book. It comes out in September, and I cannot recommend it enough.

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

My favorite element of writing is character creation. It’s one of my favorite aspects of anything creative I get to do. It’s this awesome place of endless possibility, and I love exploring it.

I think the most frustrating element of writing for me is when I can’t figure out how to work a plot. A large part of that is me being a character driven writer. But talking to my author friends about that helps immeasurably!

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/advice that helped you finish your first draft?

I didn’t use any techniques or strategies to finish my first draft of Love Letters for Joy, as writing it was a whirlwind. (I’d been moving to New York City during a good amount of it, so a lot of the process has become a blur to me.) Writing as much of it as I could, whenever I could, but also knowing how to balance myself, was what helped me the most, I think.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would like readers to know about you?

I’ve been involved in performance spaces—from music to theatre—for most of my life. And now, I’m a TTRPG performer. What that means is I appear on Twitch streams to perform in actual plays of different TTRPG systems. Having a creative outlet like this has been such a joy!

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

Question: Without giving spoiler-filled context, what was one of your favorite scenes to write in Love Letters for Joy?

Answer: The Valentine’s Day scene. It’s one of the earliest moments of romantic tension, which are some of my favorite parts of any story I get to write.

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

One of my biggest pieces of advice is: You don’t need to write every day. Write when you have the spoons to do so.

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

I’m currently drafting a young adult contemporary that can best be described as Dungeons & Dragons meets Paper Towns. It follows a group of friends—bonded together by a fantasy TTRPG—who embark on a cross-country road trip to find their Game Master when he goes missing.

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

Ander and Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa; Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White (which has both disability and LGBTQ+ rep); A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy; The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones; and Into the Light by Mark Oshiro.

Interview with Shelley Parker-Chan, author of She Who Became the Sun

Shelley Parker-Chan (they/them) is an Asian Australian former international development adviser who worked on human rights, gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights in Southeast Asia. Their debut historical fantasy novel She Who Became the Sun was a #1 Sunday Times bestseller and has been translated into 15 languages. Parker-Chan is a previous winner of the Astounding Award for Best Debut, and the British Fantasy Awards for Best Fantasy Novel and Best Newcomer. They have been a finalist for the Lambda, Locus, Aurealis, Ditmar, and British Book Awards. They live in Melbourne, Australia.

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

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

Hello, thanks for having me! I’m Shelley Parker-Chan, and I write highly emotional, ostensibly historically based, epic fantasy novels. I’m Australian, but I’ve spent a lot of my working life in Asia.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, He Who Drowned the World?

Drowned is a direct sequel to She Who Became the Sun, and picks up just a couple of months after the action of that first book. The two books of the duology are organised around the Buddhist principle that desire begets suffering. The first book was very much about desire, especially as experienced by people traditionally denied it: women, queer people. The characters’ desires ranged from basic survival, to the ambition to become the greatest person in the world: the emperor. In Drowned, we see the other side of the equation. We see the suffering and sacrifices that are the price of those desires. And it asks: is it worth it?

What was the inspiration for your original series The Radiant Emperor duology, which includes She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World?

The idea came out of my weird obsession with monks. I know the image we hold of them doesn’t reflect their lived reality, either now or historically, but I’m fascinated by the idea of people who set aside worldly interests in favour of the pursuit of self-perfection. Of being ‘good’, according to a set of rules. But even more than a monk, I love the idea of a bad monk: someone who can’t—or doesn’t want to—overcome their ambition, their desire, their attachment to the world. So I was playing around with the idea of monks in a wartime setting: a monk who deliberately violates their vows of nonviolence to defend their people.

And then, lo and behold: I came across the life of Zhu Yuanzhang, who started life as a peasant in Mongol-occupied China. He became a monk, then a rebel commander, then finally the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. I was like: aha! He’s my bad monk. But I realised I also wanted to twist the story. What if I took this man, whose whose ambition and capacity for violence led him to become the ultimate patriarch, and made him not a man? How would that change the meaning of his ambition, and rise, and rule?

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

Like lots of people these days, I started off writing fanfiction. Fanfiction was a cradle of queerness in a time when there was so little of it in mainstream media. It was where we subverted the texts to add our queer selves back in. It was a sort of communal yearning, but also a source of communal joy. It taught me to write what I liked, and how to express my authentic self on the page, and that if you wrote truly you would always find people who would recognise those words as true for themselves, too. A lot of fanfiction stories are romances, structurally speaking, but the ones I read and wrote were based on SFF media. Fantasy and science fiction, like historical fiction, give a lot of room to play with big stakes: life and death, and the times when love isn’t enough because there’s something more important: duty, or the fate of the world. I love writing in that slightly melodramatic register. It makes the feelings more intense.

How would you describe your writing process?

I start by laying out a plot in Excel. I put a timeline down the side of a sheet, the POV characters across the top, and then I fill each cell with a scene. By the time I start drafting, that plot is pretty fixed. But plot is a far less important element to my stories than the characters and their emotions. I like to call my subgenre ‘emo fantasy’, because it’s all angst, all the time. So when I’m drafting, I spend inordinate amounts of time shaping and re-shaping character arcs, and making sure I understand what they feel and think at every moment. I’ll have to write a scene twenty times, with twenty slight variations on a character’s understanding of themself, before I find the one that works for their arc, the story themes, AND the plot. I guess it’s a form of discovery writing. But as a process, it’s definitely slow and frustrating.

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

I love thinking about character. What makes characters tick, and how they relate to themselves and each other. I could do it forever. But there are so many aspects of the craft of fiction writing that I’m still learning. I really struggle with simple things, like starting and ending scenes. How to feed in details about the world, how to build those mini plot arcs that keep the reader engaged, how to keep dialogue moving. I’m inspired by the authors I know who sit down and really study these elements, and learn how to execute them—not just well, but quickly.

In previous interviews, you’ve spoken about an interesting part of literary background, of being heavily influenced by Asian historical dramas while emphasizing the distinction of writing from a diasporic lens. Would you spend expanding on that please?  

I first started watching Asian TV dramas when I was a young adult, living in Asia for the first time. I was raised in Australia, and when I was growing up if you saw an Asian onscreen (which was super rare), they were usually some kind of joke or horrible stereotype. They were never fully-realised human beings the way the white characters were. So when I started watching Asian dramas, I was blown away. Not only did I see characters who shared the same values and cultural worldview as me, but the full-Asian casts meant that Asians could be any and every kind of character: the heroes, the villains, the love interests, warriors, scholars. I knew I wanted to write a story like that in English—the story I’d never had, growing up.  

But at the same time, I’m from the diaspora. Even if I fill my story with Asians, and set it in China, I don’t have the same worldview as someone who grew up in that environment. My perspectives are shaped by being a minority in a white-majority country. Some of that is the simple feelings of rejection, exclusion, of being misunderstood. And you can see those themes in my work. But being diaspora goes deeper. It comes with ambivalence, as well as pride, because aspects of my traditional culture also reject who I am. Reimagining the history of imperial China is my attempt to grapple with the exclusionary elements of the history and culture that’s been bequeathed to me. What if what had been handed down had been different? What if I didn’t have to feel this painful ambivalence, because my culture actually embraced queerness?

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

I almost exclusively read nonfiction and romances, which gives me a lot of trouble as someone who gets asked to blurb epic fantasy books. On the nonfiction side, I read a lot of memoirs, biographies, psychology, philosophy of the self and the emotions, gender studies, religion, nature writing—it all feeds my understanding of how people work, the variety of ways we can be in the world, what consumes us. And as for romances: they’re usually purely character driven, which is the good stuff as far as I’m concerned. I’m constantly looking for stories that have a raw and uncomfortable edge, and that give me big feelings. That’s what I want to learn to write well.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

Especially for a first book, I think mutual accountability with friends was the most helpful thing in getting me to the finish line. If I hadn’t been on a journey with them, I’d probably have quit halfway through, thinking, “oh, this is shit, it will never be as good as I’d imagined it to be, I’d better start something else.” But when I saw them grinding away at their books, and bemoaning the process as much as I was, I understood that the bad feelings were normal—and if they could get through them, I could too. I think it also helps to believe that you’re writing the book that only you can write. Even if it didn’t turn out how you dreamed, it’s your unique contribution to the world.

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

If you know my work, then you basically know all of me that there is to know.

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

I’m offended that nobody yet has asked me about how I organise my bookshelves. The answer is: by subject for nonfiction; by era and country for literary fiction; and by how much I like them, for genre fiction. I’m ruthless about fiction, though. If it’s not a re-read, then it’s instantly off to the nearest Little Library.

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

I want to do something different after a historical fantasy, so I’m working on a secondary world fantasy. It’ll still feel like one of my books, though. It seems I can’t escape the lure of exploring gender and daddy issues.

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

I’ve long loved Lee Mandelo’s horror-fantasy works starting from his debut Summer Sons, and his new one goes even harder. It’s called The Woods All Black, and it’s about anti-trans small-town religious bigotry—and monsterfucking. The cathartic queer rage it delivers is EPIC.

Header Photo Credit Harvard Wang, 2018

Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through My Geeky Glasses – Science Fiction and Space Opera

Greetings, esteemed readers! As a 100% real human person and not a droid, I am thrilled to embark on this literary journey with you, delving into captivating books that traverse distant galaxies while shedding light on LGBTQIA+ and Queer-Coded experiences, all in the spirit of beloved geek culture. Strap on your seatbelts, and let us get a”byte” of adventure in the wonders of the following literary gems.

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR): Check out these titles!

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

“The Disasters” by M.K. England

“The Darkness Outside Us” by Eliot Schrefer

“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden

“The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers

And, for those of you still with me, on to why I recommended you put these stories into your brain!

5. “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer: 

Prepare to be enchanted by this imaginative retelling of the classic Cinderella tale with a sci-fi twist. In a futuristic world, cyborg mechanic Cinder, an LGBT+ character, is entangled in political intrigue while exploring her identity and desires. A narrative that challenges gender norms, “Cinder” blends futuristic tech and romance.

Within the pages of “Cinder,” Marissa Meyer gracefully introduces readers to the complexities of identity, love, and self-acceptance. Cinder’s journey of self-discovery unfolds seamlessly against a backdrop of futuristic technologies and social stratification. Through this futuristic retelling of the beloved fairy tale, Meyer empowers LGBT+ readers by presenting a cyborg protagonist who embraces her uniqueness and navigates her burgeoning feelings without restraint. By defying traditional norms and expectations, “Cinder” ignites a spark within us, urging us to embrace our authentic selves and champion those who dare to be different.

Meyer creates a cybernetic wonderland brimming with steampunk aesthetics and diverse characters, celebrating individuality and love in all its forms. “Cinder” stands as a beacon of hope, promoting acceptance and showcasing that our uniqueness is what makes us extraordinary.

4. “The Disasters” by M.K. England: 

In this fast-paced sci-fi adventure, a motley crew of cadets must band together to thwart a sinister plot. Geek culture takes center stage, entwining fandoms and pop-culture references with identity exploration and burgeoning romance.

“The Disasters” propels readers on an exhilarating rollercoaster of action, friendship, and geek culture, all while celebrating diverse identities. England creates a thrilling narrative filled with witty dialogue and pop-culture references that resonate with readers.

As they navigate a treacherous mission and their own identities, their experiences serve as a testament to the beauty of authenticity and the strength of unity. “The Disasters” is a vibrant testament to the power of found family, geek pride, and the courage to be true to oneself.

England captures the essence of geekdom, enveloping readers in an exhilarating escapade. Through witty banter, queer empowerment, and found family dynamics, “The Disasters” strikes a chord with those who revel in embracing their true selves.

3. “The Darkness Outside Us” by Eliot Schrefer: 

Amidst the interstellar void, two young astronauts find themselves in a gripping tale of mystery, betrayal, and unexpected alliances. Our main characters grapple with their identities as they embark on a high-stakes mission. The exploration of love and trust is central to the narrative, showing the intricacies of queer relationships.

In this gripping and psychologically charged narrative, Schrefer delves into the complexities of human relationships as our protagonists, set adrift in the vastness of space, must confront external threats and the internal struggles.

Schrefer’s deft storytelling prompts readers to question the barriers imposed by society and to embrace the fluidity of human connections. “The Darkness Outside Us” reminds us that love and acceptance can be beacons of light guiding us home in the darkest times.

Schrefer weaves a mesmerizing narrative, blending sci-fi and psychological drama elements. This absorbing read challenges the boundaries of human connection and explores the complexities of self-discovery.

2. “The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden: 

Enter a fantastical South African world where mythology and technology converge. This genre-defying novel takes readers on a thrilling ride with a rich cast each on their own journey of empowerment. Fluid identities, extraordinary powers, and battles for acceptance create a vibrant tapestry in this unforgettable tale.

In a stunning tapestry of mythology, technology, and queer empowerment, Nicky Drayden weaves a tale that leaves an indelible mark on readers’ hearts. The vibrant characters challenge conventions and embody the power of self-discovery. In a world where the boundaries of identity are fluid, and the definition of heroism is reshaped, “The Prey of Gods” celebrates individuality and reminds us that our diverse identities are a wellspring of strength. Drayden’s exquisite portrayal of queerness and the embrace of nonconformity make this novel a dazzling gem in the constellation of inclusive sci-fi literature.

Drayden crafts a breathtaking universe that combines the best of speculative fiction with cultural depth. “The Prey of Gods” is a kaleidoscope of wonder, challenging norms and embracing the extraordinary.

1. “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers: 

A voyage awaits you in this enchanting space opera that unfolds on board the Wayfarer, a diverse crew of interstellar misfits. This heartwarming tale of camaraderie explores love, friendship, and gender identity among alien species. LGBT+ themes find a tender portrayal through the endearing romance between two characters as they navigate their emotions amidst the vastness of the cosmos.

In the heart of the Wayfarer’s crew, readers encounter an eclectic mix of personalities, each grappling with their pasts and embracing their true selves. Through this diverse ensemble, Chambers deftly explores the nuances of gender identity and sexual orientation, fostering an environment where acceptance and respect flourish. The interplay between cultures and species serves as a poignant mirror of our society, prompting us to cherish our differences and celebrate the beauty of inclusivity. A touching portrayal of LGBT+ love and camaraderie amidst the stars, “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” becomes a hopeful reminder that unity and empathy can conquer even the most daunting challenges.

Chambers skillfully crafts a universe where acceptance, inclusivity, and personal growth converge in a masterful symphony. This book transcends the boundaries of science fiction, resonating with readers on a deeply human level.

Another great thing about this entire series is something I’ll gladly go on a separate rant about later … pronouns and honorifics. In this series, in the Galactic Common Language, Kliptorigan frequently referred to as Klip, if a being’s gender is not known or stated, then ze/zir is understood to be appropriate, and the honorific M. is used for elders and formal settings, pronounced “Ehm”. Used like, “Good morning M. Johnson” or “I’d be happy to help you with that M.” It’s wonderful, it’s understated but it feels so right.

As we close this cosmic chapter, we celebrate these five exceptional works for their portrayal of LGBT+ and Queer Coded experiences alongside the captivating tapestry of geek culture. These books transport us to far-off realms and remind us that love, acceptance, and the exploration of identity are timeless quests that resonate across the galaxies. Until next time, may the force of understanding and inclusion be with you, dear readers!

Interview with Carlyn Greenwald and Todd Milliner

Carlyn Greenwald writes romantic and thrilling page-turners for teens and adults. A film school graduate and former Hollywood lackey, she now works in publishing. She resides in Los Angeles, mourning the loss of ArcLight Cinemas and soaking in the sun with her dogs. Find her online on Twitter @CarlynGreenwald and Instagram @Carlyn_Gee.

Todd Milliner is an Emmy Award–winning producer and writer who cofounded Hazy Mills Productions with Sean Hayes in 2004. He has produced over 400 episodes of television, including hit NBC drama Grimm and the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland. He lives with his husband, Michael Matthews, in Los Angeles.

I had the opportunity to interview Carlyn and Todd, which you can read below.

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

Carlyn Greenwald: Hi! So happy to be here! My name is Carlyn Greenwald and I’m a YA and Adult romance and thriller writer from Los Angeles. I’ve been writing YA since I was a teenager myself, and after going through film school and attempting to break into Hollywood as a screenwriter, I returned to novel writing where I currently reside. My queer adult romcom debut, Sizzle Reel, hit shelves April 18th and with Time Out and other books on the horizon, hopefully this’ll be the start of an awesome career.

Otherwise, I’m Jewish and bi and spend my time outside of work gaming, scouring random pockets of pop culture YouTube, and hanging out with my incredible chihuahua mix, Phoebe.

Todd Milliner: Thanks for the invite. My name is Todd Milliner and I’m a television producer and writer in Hollywood (which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is). I’ve produced shows like Grimm (NBC), Hot in Cleveland (TVLAND), and QForce (Netflix) along with a bunch more. I’ve been doing this for about 20 years and before that I worked at a bunch of corporate jobs while trying to be an actor in Chicago. Sean and I went to college together at Illinois State University and we started our company years later in 2003. This is my first novel and this is Sean’s second book. We are so excited to be sharing this story.

What can you tell us about your latest novel, Time Out? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

CG: Time Out is a YA Contemporary novel that’s kind of Heartstopper meets Friday Night Lights about the #1 ranked high school basketball player in Georgia who decides to come out to his whole town via a pep rally. When the town doesn’t react well, he ends up quitting the team, joining his friend’s underground voting rights group, and starts to fall for a school newspaper reporter.

I’m sure Todd will talk about this more, but it was inspired by him and Sean growing up in vastly different social circles (Todd was into athletics and Sean the arts) thinking about what it would’ve been like in high school if they’d had each other. From there, we wanted to involve high school sports as the backdrop since it remains one of the strongest pressure points for young men to conform to rigid ideas of masculinity, which only makes it more stressful for our main character Barclay to come out.

TM: Carlyn is right! The story is very loosely based on my friendship with Sean. I was an athlete growing up and played many sports. I settled on running after I broke my collarbone playing football. And, full disclosure, I was never as good as Barclay, so it was probably best to write this book! Sean wasn’t involved in the school paper, but he is a classically trained pianist and that took up most of his extracurricular time. So, we came from different worlds, but became great friends. We wanted to tell a little of that story. And after that jumping off point and a whole lot of help from Carlyn, we had Time Out.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly the young adult medium?

CG: I think from when I was a teenager (like, we’re talking 13), YA was just where my story ideas came from. I’d been an avid reader all my life and like most middle schoolers, I was eager to read up at the time. YA was going through a particularly interesting era of what I like to call “weird YA” — where storylines were just wild and outlandish and kind of trippy but still so heartfelt and commercial. I wanted to write stories like that. There’s something so special about the high intensity of emotion and emotional stakes writing for teenagers. It creates this vivid energy that is infused into every genre that I loved when I was younger and never grew out of now.

TM: To us, storytelling is our entire life. We like to tell those stories from many different ages, experiences and points of view. The most important thing to us is to tell the right story at the right time. The YA medium felt especially important for this story. Coming out can be hard for people of any age, but we felt like that layered on top of all the other things young adults are dealing with made the story even more compelling.

Carlyn Greenwald – Photo Credit Molly Pan Photography

As Time Out was written between multiple authors, what could you tell us about your collaboration process together?

CG: The best way to describe it would be to compare it to somewhat of a writer’s room in television. Sean and Todd had originally written a TV pilot and worked with S&S to develop a full outline of a book version that I saw. So, I brought in my experience with contemporary YA to hammer out the first draft. Within even the first draft, I’d offer up suggestions as I saw opportunities, including changing some character backstories and motivations, suggesting tiny scene changes, that sort of thing. Sean, Todd, our editor and I then all collaborated on notes and revisions, eventually beefing up the voting rights storyline and really delving into where to start the novel and how to translate the humor and heart from the pilot into the book.

TM: What Carlyn said 🙂 I will add that it was about the easiest process I’ve ever been part of. It helps when your partners are talented, nice people.

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

CG: Hmm, with YA, from the really early days, I absolutely loved Libba Bray, Jennifer Brown, Barry Lyga, and Neal Shusterman. All totally different genres (with Libba, different genres among her career) but every one of these authors just created these super entertaining books with complex characters I rooted so hard for. But I still remember learning about absurdity and humor from Libba Bray’s books, how to write emotion and difficult topics from Jennifer Brown’s books, how to write commercial suspense from Barry Lyga, and finally mixing moral complexity and depth into speculative fiction from Neal Shusterman.

TM: For me, I find creative influences from many different disciplines. I’d say great television (in my opinion) like Beef or Succession or Hacks to great movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once, great plays like Good Night Oscar or Kimberly Akimbo, to great music like from The Lumineers or Coltrane, and great books like the OG YA To Kill a Mockingbird or my friend’s book Scream All Night. I find inspiration in many places. Sometimes even Chipotle.

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

CG: Avatar: The Last Airbender will always be that seminal story that changed my life. I watched it when it was airing and I was around ten years old, glued to the TV when my older cousins were making fun of me for watching a cartoon. (Guess who then watched it and loved the show too?) It really captures what a masterpiece story can be, especially when you balance plot, tension, world-building, and just a stellar, stellar group of characters who are all given the love and attention they need. There’s something for every writer to take away from the show.

TM: I was always drawn to stories about growing up that were funny, but tinged with melancholy.  Things like The Body or The Outsiders touched me the most. Big Fish is another one that got me. Read the entire book on a flight, just amazed at the imagery.

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

CG: Hmm…that I never feel like I’m done learning about my writing — what I like to write, what new challenges I could bring into future works, what my favorite book is. I try to take each new project and say “what new skill am I developing by writing this?” My answers have ranged from “new age category” to “new genre” to “new main character personality type” to “new multimedia aspect” etc. With that said, I still have so many dream projects and elements I want to work with — something historical, a main character who wants to go into STEM, stuff like that.

TM: I think I’m pretty fun to hang out with. I mean, not all the time. Who is fun all the time? But, I genuinely like people. I like learning about their stories, finding fun things to discuss and new adventures to embark upon. And I love mint chip ice cream.

Todd Milliner

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

CG: What’s the significance of Christopher (the love interest in Time Out) being Jewish?

When it came to the collaboration process of Time Out, I really wanted to make my mark on the book in some very obvious Carlyn sort of way. And I got thinking — there really is so little LGBTQ+ Jewish representation, and often it’s Jewish LGBTQ+ girls. So, I wanted to really advocate for our love interest to be Jewish, to show that there’s space for Judaism in love interests across sexuality. It became this really fun, silly challenge where right as I was about to send the email asking about the change, I realized that I was asking to make a character name Christopher Jewish. But I was determined to make it happen without changing his name. So, I thought — what if it was a family name? He could be half Jewish, like I am. And then the lore grew – it ended up being a bargain between Christopher’s mother and father and I think makes for a great little joke for any mixed faith readers.

TM: I guess I wish people would ask what I think is truly important. Like, “Todd, cut through the clutter and tell us one thing that’s really important”. And, the answer to that question from me is to always lead with kindness. It’s just so much easier than being mean. And a big bonus is that people will tend to lead with kindness back. Pretty easy stuff.

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

CG: Not too much yet! I have a second adult romcom coming out summer 2024 that I’m revising right now! I can’t say too much, but it’s another sapphic book and takes place in film school. Beyond that, I have some irons in the fire that I am perpetually fingers crossed will turn into tomorrow’s news.

TM: We are working on a bunch of television and film and theatre projects and they are all pretty secret, but I am working on a comedy with Kevin Smith that I’m pretty excited about. Oh, and guess what? He leads with kindness.

What advice would you give to any aspiring creatives out there?

CG: Love your writing, but also expand the way you love your writing. There’s this idea that one book will be the book of your heart and I think that sets so many writers up for more mental strife than is necessary in an already difficult industry. Every book of mine is a book of my heart. Sure, some are more personal to me or have more of my favorite tropes or comp to my favorite TV shows. But find a reason to love every book you write, even if you have to hamfist it in just for you. It’ll make every step of the process easier and make you happier in the long run.

TM: If this is truly your dream, stick with it. There’s plenty of time, god willing, to do something you hate.

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


ALWAYS THE ALMOST by Edward Underhill

OUT OF CHARACTER by Jenna Miller


TM: Gosh there’s so much good stuff out there. I think you should start with Carlyn’s Sizzle Reel and mix in a great new book by Robbie Couch called If I See You Again Tomorrow. Then, before you fill your cart, grab Byron Lane’s Big Gay Wedding.

Interview with Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSlateMcSweeney’sMother Jones, the Boston ReviewTor.comTin HouseConjunctionsWired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

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

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

Sure! I’m a trans woman in San Francisco who writes science fiction and fantasy. I also organize local events, including a ton of spoken word events, but also the monthly Trans Nerd Meet Up here in SF. I love karaoke and queer performance art, and I have been known to do some pretty outrageous performances myself. I won a Lambda Literary Award for transgender/genderqueer writing, and helped to organize a national tour of trans authors called the Cross Gender Caravan. Lately, I’ve helped to create a trans superhero for Marvel Comics named Escapade, who’s appearing in a miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion that I’m writing — it debuted in March 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest books, the Unstoppable series?

The Unstoppable trilogy is an epic story about figuring out who you are and how far you’re willing to go to save the people you love. Tina Mains looks like a normal human girl, but she’s secretly a clone of an alien hero who died — they hid the clone on Earth, disguised as a human baby. And now it’s time to return to the stars and reclaim her heroic legacy. Tina is expecting to leave home and step back into her former self’s life, but it turns out things aren’t that simple, and being a hero is kind of a messy business. Luckily, Tina’s not figuring it out alone: a group of other Earth kids join her in space, and they help her realize that instead of trying to be the second coming of the heroic Captain Argentian, she should try being herself. And then in the sequel, things get a lot messier, and there’s a fascist takeover and we learn the truth about an ancient threat to all life in the galaxy, and Tina pays a heavy price to save her friends.

What was the inspiration for this series?

When I was a kid, all I wanted was for aliens to drop out of the sky and tell me that I didn’t belong here on Earth — that I was secretly an alien, and I belonged with them. As a visibly queer kid with a really severe learning disability, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere here, and I just wanted someone to take me away from this honestly disappointing planet. So when I started thinking about writing a young adult novel, I wanted to write a book for my younger self — about what would happen if aliens showed up and took you away on a huge, awesome adventure in space.

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

I’ve always loved making up weird stories, and that was a huge part of how I dealt with the aforementioned learning disability. I’ve written fiction in lots of different genres, but I keep coming back to speculative fiction because it’s the best way to deal with how strange and confusing the real world is. People are constantly pretending that stuff makes sense, when it really doesn’t. At all. Especially nowadays, the world is changing too fast to keep up with, and tons of people loudly pretend that their imaginary rules are super important and real. And I’ve found that goes double for young adult fiction: when you’re a teenager, you’re surrounded by adults who are pretending that nonsense makes sense, and sometimes it seems like everyone else is playing along. I love stories that gently (or not-so-gently) point out how fake and bizarre all the stuff we pretend to believe in is.

How would you describe your writing process?

It really varies, but I try to do some writing every day, when I can. I know some writers who only write on weekends, or on some other schedule, but I find that if I can keep the story fresh in my head, it flows easier every time. I like to try and get some writing done in the mornings with my coffee, and then take a super long walk to the ocean or to Chinatown, to clear my head and just kind of work things out in my head. Long walks are a big part of my writing process, and so is hanging out with my cat.

As a writer who has written on the importance of fiction as a form of healing and accessing agency, particularly your book, Never Say You Can’t Survive, I’m wondering if there’s anything you could say now on what creative expression and art means to you personally?

Making up stories helped me survive some rough times in my childhood, and it’s still doing that now. Writing stories helped me figure out my gender when I was transitioning. I love getting lost in my own imaginary world, where I can identify with my characters as they struggle to survive and do the right thing, and I especially enjoy when my characters are having a deep emotional conversation that speaks to something in my own life. Writing is my happy place.

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

As a kid, I loved big escapist stories with larger than life adventures, and I definitely wanted to be Wonder Woman when I grew up — I also loved Doctor Who for the way that the Doctor used creativity and silliness and kindness to solve problems instead of just shooting everything in sight. I also loved Monty Python and Victor/Victoria, which fed my love of anarchy and seemed to hint that gender was something you could reshape to tell your own story. The books that spoke to me were weird, surreal things like Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time and the works of Daniel Pinkwater. In my early teens I discovered Prince, and his music and his image changed my life.

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

Oh, so many. There are so many incredible authors writing right now — N.K. Jemisin’s work has changed the way I think about stories, over and over again. A whole bunch of amazing trans/non-binary authors have come along recently in speculative fiction, and their giving me life and encouraging me to take bigger swings creatively. Among others, Isaac Fellman, Ryka Aoki, Naseem Jamnia, Nino Cipri, R.B. Lemberg, Elly Bangs, April Daniels, H.E. Edgmon, Aiden Thomas and Rivers Solomon… I’m just scratching the surface. It’s a wonderful time to be a trans SFF fan.

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

Man, I have good days and bad days, like most people. I love it when the characters are speaking through me and doing stuff that surprise me — that’s the best thing ever. And then there are the times when I know I need a scene where something happens, but I can’t come  up with it to save my life. Revision is also often a nightmare, because you have to make the best of all the choices that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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

I used to belong to a skipping team. My cat’s name is Marcus Aurelius Sassafras Vespasian IV, but sometimes he goes by Dr. Sassafras or just Dr. Sassy. I used to have a giant collection of Doctor Who memorabilia, but I sold it all and gave the money to charity.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You have to be simultaneously humble and arrogant — you have to believe that your work is amazing and important and will change people’s lives, so you’ll keep going and doing the boldest and most audacious work you possibly can. But you also have to remember that there are a million other writers out there who are also doing awesome work, and that you’re part of a whole community of creative people who need to support each other. You have to be okay with tons of rejection — I racked up hundreds and hundreds of rejections when I was starting out! — and not take it personally. Also, you should totally make writing a communal activity as much as you can: join a writing group, organize writing dates with friends, share your work online, take part in open mics and other readings. Just find ways to make it a social thing.

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

I already mentioned this at the start, but I’m writing a miniseries for Marvel called New Mutants: Lethal Legion. It includes Escapade, the trans mutant superhero I created with artists Ted Brandt and Ro Stein, who has the power to trade places with anyone. The plot has to do with Escapade organizing a heist with some of her mutant friends, which (not surprisingly) goes pear-shaped. And the New Mutants are forced to face off with some of the worst villains in the Marvel Universe. It’s a super silly, heartfelt, goofy comedy miniseries about trauma and what we do to take care of the people we love.

Charlie Jane Anders is a guest this year at Flame Con on August 12th and 13th at the Times Square Sheraton.

Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through My Geeky Glasses – Fantasy and Supernatural

Sapphic Adventurers Unite!

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR): Read these books for some Sapphic Fantasy (Supernatural) Realness!

Gideon the Ninth- Tamsyn Muir;

Hench – Natalie Z. Walschots;

Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo;

Valiant Ladies – Melissa Grey;

Warrior of the Wild – Tricia Levenseller;

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland.

Let us know what you think!

Welcome to a world of magic, wonder, and representation where Sapphic adventurers take center stage. If I’ve learned anything from Drag Race …

As an avid reader and fantasy enthusiast, I can’t help but don my geeky glasses and immerse myself in fantastical realms where diversity and inclusivity reign supreme. Of course I still love dimension hopping, but Fantasy is what got me started in my reading journey as a young person in Indiana. Join me as we embark on a journey through six remarkable fantasy and supernatural novels that explore compelling LGBTQIA+ issues and storylines. From necromancers to superheroes, these tales showcase the power of diverse narratives .

6. Gideon the Ninth (by Tamsyn Muir):

Content Warnings: Gideon the Ninth is about Necromancers. There’s a lot of bones and gore and violence and such. Its a darkly funny story in a dark universe. Please proceed with caution.

The Best way to Sum it all up ….

Gideon Nav, a snarky and sword-wielding orphan, is bound to her lifelong frenemy, Harrowhark Nonagesimus (her very few friends call her Harrow), to serve the Ninth House in a deadly cosmic competition. This epic tale combines dark fantasy and science fiction elements, enthralling readers with its unique blend of magic and technology. As we traverse the dangerous halls of the Emperor’s crumbling palace, we encounter a tantalizing romance between Gideon and another powerful necromancer that is not what it seems. Tamsyn Muir’s masterful storytelling highlights the struggles of queer characters while delivering a thrilling mystery and adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Gideon’s unyielding spirit and witty banter make her an instantly likable and relatable character for LGBTQ+ readers who have often sought more assertive representation in the genre. Her struggles with self-acceptance and the journey towards embracing her identity resonate deeply, mirroring the experiences of many individuals within the queer community.

The novel’s strength lies not only in its LGBTQ+ themes but also in its nuanced exploration of power dynamics, loyalty, and the complexities of human relationships. As Gideon and Harrow navigate a treacherous game of politics and dark magic, their compelling dynamic unveils layers of emotion and vulnerability beneath their seemingly adversarial exteriors.

Tamsyn Muir’s world-building is nothing short of mesmerizing. She crafts a vivid, macabre setting that immerses readers in a chillingly gothic universe filled with ancient mysteries and ominous secrets. This eerie ambiance serves as an ideal backdrop for a story that delves deep into the hearts and minds of its characters, showcasing their triumphs and traumas.

I picked this up on the recommendation of my local Providence Bookstore, and I couldn’t be happier. Tamsyn Muir’s skillful storytelling, multi-dimensional characters, and darkly enchanting world-building combine to create a singular reading experience.

5. Hench (by Natalie Zina Walschots):

Content Warnings: Some violence, blood, gore, imprisonment, and torture.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Harper Collins Publishing Group, LLC.

Ever wondered about the lives of henches working for supervillains? (And no, I’m not talking about Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Dara Khosrowshahi.) Hench takes us on a journey with Anna, a data analyst working for various nefarious villains. Amidst the chaos of superhuman battles, we witness a budding romance between Anna and a fellow hench. Natalie Zina Walschots’ engaging narrative sheds light on the vulnerability and strength of LGBT characters in a world where villains and heroes blur the lines of morality.

At the heart of “Hench” is Anna Tromedlov, a talented data analyst who finds herself entangled in the machinations of superheroes and villains. As she navigates the dangerous world of powered individuals, Anna’s compelling character arcs offer a profound exploration of identity, ambition, and the pursuit of personal agency. Her journey to embrace her queer identity resonates with authenticity. It highlights the struggles and triumphs faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As Anna becomes entangled with the enigmatic and charismatic villain, Leviathan, the novel explores a complex queer relationship that defies the binary notions of good and evil. The exploration of queer romance in “Hench” transcends token representation and delves into the depths of emotional connection, showing the profound impact of authentic love regardless of societal norms.

In a genre often dominated by cisgender and heterosexual protagonists, “Hench” boldly carves out a space for queer representation and narrative complexity. The novel’s unflinching exploration of identity and agency mirrors the struggles of many in the LGBTQ+ community, highlighting the need for greater inclusivity and visibility in all forms of storytelling.

4. Empress of Salt and Fortune (by Nghi Vo):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

In this evocative novella, Nghi Vo explores the life of a non-binary cleric, Chih, who unravels the secrets of an exiled empress through the eyes of an elderly servant, Rabbit. Set against a rich tapestry of East Asian-inspired mythology, the story delves into power, betrayal, and resilience themes. As Chih and Rabbit’s paths intertwine, the novella offers a tender depiction of queer love, acceptance, and the endurance of the human spirit.

At the story’s core is a timeless tale of resilience and defiance, centered around the exiled empress, In-yo, and her loyal handmaiden, Rabbit. As their untold story unfolds through the narration of the nonbinary cleric Chih, readers are drawn into a mesmerizing journey that challenges traditional gender roles and explores the profound bond between women.

Nghi Vo’s exquisite prose creates a vivid tapestry that paints a nuanced picture of power dynamics, patriarchy, and the hidden strength of women who have often been relegated to the sidelines of history. “Empress of Salt and Fortune” celebrates the agency and wisdom of female characters while shedding light on the overlooked aspects of their contributions to shaping kingdoms and empires.

The novel explores the consequences of silenced voices and histories and profoundly resonates with contemporary social justice issues. By portraying the multifaceted impact of colonization and erasure, “Empress of Salt and Fortune” becomes an allegory for reclaiming marginalized narratives and identities.

As Chih unearths the hidden truths of the past, the novel reveals a narrative that celebrates the resilience of women, the beauty of queer connections, and the power of reclaiming history.

3. Valiant Ladies (by Melissa Grey):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

Set in the spirited landscape of 17th-century Peru, “Valiant Ladies” is a historical fantasy novel that centers on the gripping tale of Kiki and Ana, two women from starkly different backgrounds. Kiki hails from nobility, while Ana has been raised in a brothel. Despite societal differences, they form an unyielding bond and begin a thrilling secret life of night-time adventures, gambling, and rescuing the oppressed. When tragedy strikes close to home, they find themselves in the heart of a murder mystery, their growing love for each other intertwining with their pursuit of justice. Based loosely on real historical figures, the story is a riveting blend of reality and fiction, serving as a fresh take on the fantasy genre.

“Valiant Ladies” is an engaging blend of historical fantasy and sapphic romance, offering a refreshing narrative in Young Adult and New Adult literature. It beautifully captures the budding romance between the two main characters, presenting a realistic, intimate exploration of a lesbian relationship that is still sadly underrepresented in fantasy.
The novel successfully fuses fantasy tropes with a distinct LGBTQ+ narrative. Kiki and Ana’s story challenges the familiar heteronormative narratives found in many fantasy novels, bringing to the forefront a tender sapphic romance that resonates deeply with the LGBTQ+ community. It is not simply a token romance but an integral part of the plot as they navigate their growing feelings amidst societal expectations and high-stakes adventures.

The book’s historical context provides a unique backdrop for exploring issues of acceptance and identity. Ana’s acceptance by Kiki’s noble family and their non-judgmental approach towards her past provide a poignant commentary on acceptance and breaking societal norms, a theme many in the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

Moreover, “Valiant Ladies” doesn’t shy away from weaving feminist themes into its narrative. The heroines challenge the gender norms of their time – they are vigilantes, gamblers, and fighters, subverting expectations in a predominantly patriarchal society. This aligns with the broader themes of resistance and agency explored in LGBTQ+ narratives.

“Valiant Ladies” is a fun, engaging historical fantasy that offers a heartwarming sapphic romance, an exciting adventure, and a thoughtful exploration of LGBTQ+ themes. While it doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it adds a much-needed voice to the diversity of narratives within fantasy literature. It’s a must-read for any Queer geek seeking representation and relatability in their fantasy adventures.

2. Warrior of the Wild (by Tricia Levenseller):

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC.

In “Warrior of the Wild” by Tricia Levenseller, embark on a captivating journey into a Viking-inspired world where honor, love, and identity intertwine. As the story unfolds, Rasmira, a fiercely skilled warrior, faces the heartbreak of betrayal and is cast out to the perilous wilderness. To redeem herself, she must accomplish the impossible – slay an oppressive god. In this action-packed tale of self-discovery and resilience, Rasmira’s unwavering spirit challenges societal norms. An unexpected romance blooms, transcending boundaries and making an empowering statement for LGBT representation in fantasy.

Rasmira’s journey as a robust and skilled warrior mirrors the struggles of many in the Queer community who face discrimination and prejudice based on societal expectations. Her resilience and determination in the face of adversity are an empowering parallel to the real-world challenges of self-acceptance and embracing one’s true identity.
The novel artfully incorporates LGBTQIA+ themes, offering readers a heartwarming and authentic portrayal of same-sex love through the character of Iric. As Rasmira’s banished companions, Iric and his partner defy society’s expectations, and their relationship becomes a beacon of hope for those seeking representation in fantasy literature.

Beyond its focus on LGBT representation, “Warrior of the Wild” delves into broader social justice issues. Through Rasmira’s journey to defeat an oppressive god, the story symbolizes the fight against systemic injustice and the struggle to dismantle oppressive power structures. The battles she faces in the wilderness are potent metaphors for overcoming societal prejudices and finding one’s place in a world that often seeks to marginalize and silence diverse voices.

Tricia Levenseller’s masterful storytelling unfolds with a perfect blend of action, romance, and rich world-building. While the novel adheres to classic fantasy tropes, it gracefully subverts them to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. The characters are beautifully developed, and the solid sisterly bond between Rasmira and her sister adds depth to the narrative, emphasizing the importance of family support in the journey toward self-acceptance.

1. Dread Nation (by Justina Ireland):

Content Warnings: Racism, racial violence, gore.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Titan Books

I know what some of you are thinking. I just did a review of Survival Horror Books. How did I end up with a Zombie Book on the Fantasy List? That is a valid question, but holy cow look behind you!

What if the Civil War was interrupted by a zombie apocalypse? Dread Nation presents a gripping alternate history where African American and Native American children are forced to train as zombie-fighting warriors. Among them, the bold and capable Jane McKeene stands out, fearlessly challenging the norms of her society. She forms a complex bond with another girl along her path, showcasing a powerful portrayal of queer love amidst the undead chaos.

“Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland is a riveting and groundbreaking novel that deftly weaves together alternate history, zombie horror, and social commentary while championing intersectional representation with a fierce and complex protagonist. This genre-blending tale transports readers to an America where the Civil War takes an unexpected turn when the dead rise, forcing a new narrative of survival and resistance.

At the story’s heart is Jane McKeene, a fierce and intelligent Black protagonist who navigates a world where racial oppression intersects with the threat of the undead. As a student in Miss Preston’s School of Combat, Jane is trained as an Attendant, meant to protect the wealthy white citizens from the relentless zombie hordes. Her narrative embodies the struggle of Black people throughout history, navigating a society that seeks to control and limit their potential.

Justina Ireland’s writing is engaging and thought-provoking, immersing readers in a vividly depicted world that mirrors the complexities of our own history. Through Jane’s journey, the novel delves into themes of identity, survival, and rebellion against oppressive systems, resonating deeply with readers who face similar challenges in the real world.

As we conclude our journey through these enchanting worlds, we celebrate the wonders of fantasy and supernatural fiction and the importance of queer representation. So, whether you’re a seasoned fantasy enthusiast or a newcomer to the genre, these books promise to leave you enchanted and inspired, opening your heart and mind to the power of Sapphic adventurers and their quest for love, acceptance, and triumph. As always, if you think I missed any great reads, let me know. Happy reading!

Interview with Terry J. Benton-Walker

TERRY J. BENTON-WALKER grew up in rural GA and now lives in Atlanta with his husband and son, where he writes fiction for adults, young adults, and children. He has an Industrial Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State. When he’s not writing, he can be found gaming, eating ice cream, or both. Blood Debts is his first novel.

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

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

Thank you so much! As a geek myself, I’m honored for the opportunity. I’m Terry J. Benton-Walker (it’s also okay if you call me TJ), the author of Blood Debts, my young adult contemporary fantasy debut coming from Tor Teen on April 4th in the US and from Hodder & Stoughton on April 6th in the UK. I’m also the author of Alex Wise vs the End of the World, my middle-grade contemporary fantasy publishing with Labyrinth Road and Random House Children’s on September 26th. I am a toddler daddy, which means I’ve been fighting on the front lines of the Preschool Plague Wars™ for my second year now and am battle-weary but love being a parent to my son, who’s actually a really cool little guy. I’m also a video game geek, who is presently struggling as I’ve banned myself from gaming until I meet my current deadlines.

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

Here’s a short synopsis of Blood Debts:

Terry J. Benton-Walker’s contemporary fantasy debut, Blood Debts, is “a conjuring of magnificence” (Nic Stone) with powerful magical families, intergenerational curses, and deadly drama in New Orleans.

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen. Now, Clement and Cristina Trudeau—the sixteen-year-old twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family—discover their mother has been cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

Clement and Cristina’s only hope of discovering who is coming after their family, is to trust each other, to trust their magic, and solve the decades-old murder. If they don’t succeed, New Orleans may see another massacre. Or worse.

The inspiration for Blood Debts was three-fold. First, I was inspired by my personal experience with Game of Thrones and wanted to create a world where Black and Black Queer people could be centered and represented authentically in an epic fantasy story.

Then, while drafting the manuscript, I went through a rough time where I struggled with injustice both in the world at large and my personal life. Writing Blood Debts (in addition to therapy) became catharsis for me, as I got to process my complex and nuanced feelings about justice while exploring concepts of intergenerational trauma and the cycle of violence.

Lastly, anyone who follows me on social media most likely knows that I adore the video game, The Last of Us Part II, in which the story developers crafted an exceptional tale about the danger of perpetuating the cycle of violence through a unique dual perspective that was pitch-perfect and incredibly effective (albeit highly divisive among hardcore fans). The story of Blood Debts is also told through multiple perspectives of characters who are all seeking the justice they believe they’ve been wrongfully denied, whether right or wrong in their pursuits. This experience is meant to probe the layers of morality and justice through a story crafted with a 360-degree view of the central issues between these deeply complicated and compassionate characters.

As a story rooted in New Orleans, much of the story seems to rely on its historical significance, as well as its connection to Black magic/belief systems. Could you expand on your choice to center your story there?

I created Blood Debts for Black and Black Queer teens (and adults, y’all can enjoy it too), which means for them to have a truly immersive and heartfelt experience, the foundation of this story had to be authentic and Black. A major part of Black culture is our connection to our history, the good and the bad and the veiled, and our family, those who are still with us and those who are not. I wove those elements into the foundation of this series, because I want readers to feel at home from the first page, and on the last, I want them to close the book and hug it to their chests with pride in knowing that that is their story and Clem and Cris and Valentina belong to them.

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

I’ve been a fan of stories from as young as I can remember. My mom always fed my curiosity as a kid, and when it came to stories in any form, I was ravenous. Life wasn’t always great for me growing up for several reasons, so I often escaped into the speculative worlds of books, video games, and movies. And I still have the same habits as an adult.

I enjoy writing both young adult and middle grade fiction, because I adore kids and have so much respect for the innocence and honesty with which they view the world and the people in it. As a parent, I’m very careful to respect and nurture that in my son, though I also worry about the day he goes out into the world and external influences start chipping away at that innocence and honesty to replace it with respectability politics and other nonsense. The stories I write are entertainment first and foremost, but they also represent the lessons I’ve learned through tough experiences in my life that I hope, in sharing with kids, helps them hold onto their authentic selves and not make the same (or as many) mistakes as I have.

How would you describe your writing process?

My writing process is incredibly organized, because otherwise my high-functioning anxiety would not allow me to be great. I’m a heavy planner/ plotter, so before I draft a single word, I need to know everything about the world, the characters, and the plot. I front-load the majority of the heavy lifting at the beginning of my writing process, which means drafting takes me a bit longer, but revisions tend to go super fast for me.

I also created a Novel Planning Kit that I use for plotting and writing stories, which is available for download on my website as a free resource to help authors with their own projects. 

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

Growing up, I had no stories at all that made me feel truly seen. If I wanted to escape, I had to learn how to connect with stories and characters who were nothing like me. The media landscape has significantly improved since then, despite still having a long way to go. There are so many stories featuring Black and Queer characters in so many genres that at times I’m jealous of the treasure trove of content available for today’s kids to escape into. However, it’s my hope that publishing and other media industries continue to champion intersectional stories in speculative fiction, particularly ones centering authentic Black gay characters like Blood Debts and Alex Wise and Jamar Perry’s Cameron Battle series.

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

I’m endlessly inspired by Black creatives who are never complacent but continue to push their talent and skill with each new project. Whenever they level-up, they also motivate me to keep pushing the limits of my creativity and developing my own craft. Some of my recent favorites and inspirations: Beyoncé. Issa Rae. Jordan Peele. Quinta Brunson. Regina Hall. SZA. Kalynn Bayron. Jordan Ifueko. Alexis Henderson.  

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

My favorite element of writing is how extraordinary it is that we start with a literal blank page—nothing—and create entire worlds with rich characters and intricate stories that ripple through the very real lives in our world. Art in every form is the closest form of magic that’s accessible to almost anyone, and we artists are all magicians in that way.

The most frustrating element about writing is how slow it can be sometimes. My creative brain is very temperamental and doesn’t always want to clock-in when I want or need it to, but I’ve found that if I allow myself and my brain the time I need and take breaks to recharge, we always find our way through eventually.

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

Since this is Geeks OUT, I’ll share a geeky not-so-secret secret with you. I was a total band geek in high school. I played the Alto Saxophone and was pretty good at it (second chair in symphonic and first chair in concert band). I have not played in years, though I miss it dearly. My horror short story in Karen Strong’s Cool. Awkward. Black. anthology (which is out now, by the way) was inspired by my love for playing music. It’s titled “Requiem of Souls” and is about a Black gay band geek who finds supernatural sheet music that summons the dead—and something else far more dangerous than ghosts.

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 love talking about craft, so I’m always game to discuss some of the cool craft tricks I did with Blood Debts. Everything I write is curated to be enjoyed more than once. I try to be extremely deliberate with every sentence so that on multiple reads, readers should find new and intriguing pieces of information they hadn’t picked up on during prior reads.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

It’s hard, especially now, but you owe it to yourself not to give up. Blood Debts recently got a starred review from Kirkus, and on the day it was announced, I received a status memory on Facebook of a post from exactly ten years ago where I’d sent out over a hundred queries for a fantasy series I was hopeful would interest an agent. Spoiler Alert: It did not. But I didn’t quit. And ten years later, I have a starred review on my debut young adult contemporary fantasy story. I hope it doesn’t take you as long, but the only way it won’t happen for you is if you quit.

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

Yes! Later this year, September 26th to be exact, my debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, Alex Wise vs the End of the World is publishing from Labyrinth Road / Random House Children’s. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy whose summer vacation takes a dramatic turn when Death, one of the spirits of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, possesses his ten-year-old sister and threatens the end of the world.

I’m also working on a YA horror anthology, The White Guy Dies First, which is coming from Tor Teen, Summer 2024. It features 13 scary stories from 13 BIPOC authors that subvert classic horror sub-genres and, most importantly, where the cishet white guy always dies first. The lineup is epic. In addition to a story from me, readers can expect frights from bestselling and award-winning authors: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Kalynn Bayron, Kendare Blake, H.E. Edgmon, Lamar Giles, Chloe Gong, Alexis Henderson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Adiba Jaigirdar, Naseem Jamnia, Mark Oshiro, and Karen Strong.

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

There are soo many LGBTQ+ books coming out this year that I’m super geeked about—and I’m also super jealous of Queer kids who’re getting all these amazing stories because I had to live vicariously through Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony haha.  

The first LGBTQ+ book I’m hyped about is The Black Queen by Jumata Emil, which is a YA thriller coming from Delacorte on January 31st. It’s sapphic, utterly addictive, and thought-provoking—easily one of my most anticipated thrillers of the year!

The second is Your Lonely Nights Are Over by Adam Sass, coming from Viking / Penguin Teen on September 12th. It’s a witty, fun Slasher that’s a Queer Scream meets Clueless, and I cannot wait for more people to read it this fall.

Last, but certainly not least, is Godly Heathens by H.E. Edgmon, which is coming in November from Wednesday Books. H.E. is also one of the contributors in The White Guy Dies First, so I know first-hand how adept they are at crafting gripping, visceral experiences that still hold tight to you long after you finished the last word. Can you tell I’m excited?

Header Photo Credit Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT

Interview with Jen St. Jude

​Lambda Literary Fellow Jen St. Jude grew up in New Hampshire apple orchards and now lives in Chicago with her wife, daughter, and dog.  Their debut YA novel, IF TOMORROW DOESN’T COME, will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s (US) and Penguin Random House (UK) in 2023. 

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

CW: Discussion about mental illness and death.

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

Thank you so much! I’m a big fan of your organization, so this is fun for me. I’m a queer YA writer who truly loves to geek out about anything I love. That includes books, of course, but also women’s sports, pop music, and queer-coded action films.

What can you tell us about your debut book, If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come? What was the inspiration for this story?

I’ve been working on this novel for over a decade now, and for so many years it was just a constellation of thoughts. Hard to say which one was the true start of it all, but I wrote my way into this story because I had so many questions. If we’re all going to die, why don’t we live that way? Why don’t we treat each other better, chase the things we want, experience every big and beautiful thing that we can? I also live with depression and when I started this book I was in some of my worst stretches. For many moments and years it was too debilitating to write. But when I could, I put these scenes and characters on the page in an attempt to ask why Avery felt the way she did, and could she ever feel better? Could people in the very worst circumstances still find some light?

Mental health is a big part of the conversation within and around this book. If you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about that means to you?

To this day, I feel shame around my mental illness, even though I know I shouldn’t. Even though I have been working on it so hard and for so long. Sometimes it’s romanticized in media and I was very aware of that in my writing; I didn’t want to do that. But in real life, it often looks like self-destruction, and worse, it impacts other people in a negative, devastating way if left unchecked. There is absolutely no shame in struggling, and if more people talked about this, more people would get help. Maybe everyone would hurt just a little less. This novel is my way of talking about it.

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

When I was a little kid I would play with dolls for hours, or with my brother and the other neighborhood kids, imagine we were the characters from Power Rangers or Captain Planet and run around the yard making up stories about ourselves. I really think that was the beginning of it; writing fiction is play (even when it’s not feeling very fun). Speculative fiction in particular feels very liberating to me because we can explore our reality through a lens that makes us question our day-to-day, just a little. It also lets us feel ever so distant from the events happening in the story. It gives us perspective.

On our website, we’ve featured a few other writers who have Lambda Literary Fellow, such as Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson. Could you maybe touch upon your experiences within the program?

Oh! The best question. I attended the Lambda Literary retreat for emerging writers during the summer of 2018 and was in the YA cohort. Like any writing workshop, it takes quite a bit of luck for it to work. It’s always about the chemistry and personalities of the group. But it was also the first time I was in an all-queer space for writers (actually maybe the only time I’ve been in that space), so it was transformative for my work. I used to be adamant that Avery wasn’t depressed because of her queerness, because I knew people were looking for queer joy and I didn’t want to imply being queer makes you mentally ill. In that workshop it became clear we all shared similar experiences and it shaped my perspective on the novel. No, Avery isn’t depressed because she’s a lesbian, but it’s also true that living in a family and culture that tells her she’s wrong, that she may go to hell, that she might lose everything she holds dear if she comes out…yeah, that’s not going to help.

The people in my cohort were the real magic of Lambda, though. emily danforth was our workshop leader, which was an entire dream come true. She was generous with her time and advice, and offered to read every single one of our novels if we completed them that year. The other writers in my cohort included Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson, as well as Jas Hammonds (We Deserve Monuments), J.D. Scott (Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day), Avery Mead, Tia Clark, Amos Mac, Amal Haddad, Kirt Ethridge, and Caitlin Hernandez. I’m still in touch with everyone, but a group of us still talk every day (pretty much all day). It’s become one of my most treasured families.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll admit I’m still figuring it out. I’m working on a new project for the first time in a long time, and just trying to let myself have some fun and lean into the character dynamics and play around with setting and voice. Jas has said If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come is my winter book, and this next one is summer.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

 I actually pursued my master’s almost completely because I just needed structure and help finishing a draft. I was having such a hard time on my own. Tip one: Did you know if you work at Harvard you can take classes at the Extension School for $40?! But tip two: You don’t need a master’s to finish your novel, but you may need some structure. You could create that through taking classes, joining a writing group, or finding a friend to hold you accountable. You’re not lazy and you’re probably not even uninspired, you might just need something to keep you on track. I’d also say that sometimes novels *should* sit dormant for a while. You collect live experiences and change as a person, and so your writing changes too.

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

You know, not really? The first time I really saw myself on the page was when I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post as an adult. This is so completely embarrassing but I cried while telling emily that Cameron was the very first character I felt truly represented by. I could relate so much to the voice, so much to Cam’s desire, gender expression, and sense of humor. It took me a long time to realize I’m not alone in the way I thought I was.

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

I really love sharing my work with my trusted peer readers. It’s such a joy to read their raw drafts and see how their brains work, and what their first instincts are. I also really appreciate their feedback on my work. I never know if scenes or lines or even specific words aren’t working until I get to see them through the eyes of someone else. I’m always deeply grateful for the time people spend in my messy drafts. I think one thing that’s really frustrating is how patient you have to be. I’m sort of a fixer by nature, so I want to just sit down and bang out a draft and know every answer. I’m always so embarrassed to not have the answer! But the truth is, it may not exist yet. I might need to go for a walk, read a beautiful book, or talk to a friend. Not everything I need to write exists in my head, and I always feel so frustrated until I remember I have to go out and find the tools and words I need.

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

 Forgive yourself. For taking too long, for not writing, for not being perfectly polished. Forgive yourself if you don’t have time to read or write during a season in your life. Forgive yourself for your typos and your weaknesses. And find strength in that forgiveness. It all means you’re trying. It all means you’re wanting. I’m saying this because I need to hear it too.

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

 I’m currently working on a second novel that is tentatively coming out from Bloomsbury in 2025. It may change completely, we’ll see. But right now it’s about a high school soccer team, climate change, and the way we keep people in our life when things are destroyed and shifted. And, yes, everyone’s gay.

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

Oh, I could be here all day! I read all genres and all age levels. Jas Hammonds, Lin Thompson, and Sacha Lamb are must-reads. But just a few more: In the adult romance space, my editor Camille Kellogg’s book Just as You Are. It’s a hilarious and deeply queer Pride and Prejudice retelling. I found it incredibly healing. I’m currently reading Alex Crespo’s San Juniper’s Folly and loving every minute of it—I keep pitching it as Practical Magic meets Cemetery Boys. Adrienne Tooley’s The Third Daughter is out this summer and it completely blew me away. Jenna Miller’s Out of Character is out now and it’s the role-playing romance you absolutely need.I so love Justine Pucella Winan’s Bianca Torre is Afraid of Everything, and they have a middle grade book out this fall too with Bloomsbury called The Otherwoods. Each book is so different but so playful and wonderful. Other MG favorites include Ellie Engle Saves Herself by Leah Johnson, Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon, Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley, and The Song of Us by Kate Fussner. And I am DYING to read Vicki Johnson’s picture book, Molly’s Tuxedo. A few more adult recs: Marissa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, Ruth Madiesky’s All Night Pharmacy, Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly. I’m incredible excited for The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson. And finally (I am forcing myself to stop) I am writing this from Des Moines, Iowa where I met an author named Anya Anya Johanna DeNiro whose novel, OKPsyche is forthcoming from Small Beer Press. Their pitch: An unnamed trans woman is looking for a sense of belonging, a better relationship with her son, and friends that aren’t imaginary in this playful and aching short novel. I mean, yes! Sign me up. I cannot wait to read it.

Interview with Claire Winn

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through video games, books, conventions, and her own stories. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with LARP swords. Her next book is City of Vicious Night (sequel to City of Shattered Light), a queer YA sci-fi adventure coming May 2023.

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

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

Hey, thanks for inviting me on! I’m an author of YA sci-fi, and I’m working on fantasy and adult-category manuscripts as my next projects. My first published duology is the Requiem Dark series, which began with City of Shattered Light and finishes with the upcoming City of Vicious Night (May 2023). I’ve told stories through tabletop role-playing, LARP storylines, and now books!

I love writing large casts of characters with lots of queer rep—this reflects my experiences and the friend groups I’ve made in nerd circles. Storytelling has always been a safe avenue for me to explore my thoughts and interests, and it helped me to understand and recognize my own bisexuality.

What can you tell us about the series, City of Shattered Light and its upcoming sequel City of Vicious Night? What was the inspiration for this project?

City of Shattered Light is a neon-drenched YA sci-fi adventure that’s often compared to Six of Crows and Netflix’s Arcane. It’s led by two fierce girls—a runaway heiress, Asa, who’s fled home to save her test-subject sister, and Riven, a gunslinging smuggler who needs a heck of a bounty to secure her place in one of the city’s matriarchal crime syndicates. The girls clash when one kidnaps the other, but they end up with bigger problems when a brilliant, tech-corrupting A.I. monster locks down the city and begins pursuing them. It has two bisexual leads and major themes of found family, body autonomy, and questions of technological dependencies.

My initial vision for the story was a girl on a rickety transit ship, hiding her identity and concealing a strange alien heart in her backpack. I worked backwards to determine who Asa was and what had happened to her. I determined that her backpack contained a piece she needed to save her sister, but what piece of her sister was missing? Who’d done this to her? All sorts of awful answers came to mind, and eventually I wrote the lead-up to that scene.

Aside from this, a few other pieces came together for the initial concept. Riven was a space gunslinger with a strange neuro-spore illness; because she felt she was running out of time, she was desperate to make her mark on the world. I also wanted to explore the damage a superhacker could wreak as more devices go online, so I imagined a nasty, sentient A.I. that had taken over a high-tech city and could hack anything as it pursued the main characters.

The setting and aesthetics were inspired by lots of video games and anime, but the emotional basis for the character arcs was a bit personal. Asa’s arc is about fiercely resisting what the world expects of you and finding happiness on your own terms, while Riven’s is about finding something to fight for despite an uncertain future.

The sequel City of Vicious Night was so much fun to write. I had years’ worth of ideas simmering after writing the first book, and I knew the characters and world so well before I even started it. It almost felt like writing fanfiction of my own work. Having the world and characters already established in readers’ minds meant I could deepen everything in unexpected ways.

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

I’ve always loved the exploration and escapism of other worlds—video games, in particular, are a storytelling medium I can’t get enough of. Sci-fi and fantasy are exciting because they allow me to build new worlds, play with exciting scenarios, and challenge characters in ways that aren’t possible in our current reality.

The manuscripts I’ve finished have been YA because I was a teen when I started writing, and I love the fast pacing and character-driven stories YA allows. I’ve also found that I have an easier time writing character perspectives and experiences that are firmly in the rearview mirror; I feel I finally have enough perspective on being a young adult to write convincing characters and meaningful arcs! I do have several adult projects in progress, but I really enjoy being part of the YA community as an author, since YA fans are unapologetically enthusiastic about books they love.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? 

I grew up in a small conservative town, and this meant queer media was either discouraged or inaccessible. It took me a while to discover my own identity, which I did through nerd spaces and the safety of creating my own stories.

I love the found-family trope (especially featuring queer characters!) because it reflects much of my experience in nerd culture. These communities celebrate individualism and acceptance, so they tend to have a higher concentration of LGBTQ+ people.

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

Gaming has been a big one for me, since I love the immersive, player-driven exploration of RPG video games and the collaborative storytelling of tabletop and LARP. You learn a lot about yourself and your friends while gaming—you’re creating characters that aren’t quite you, and reacting under pressure to a variety of fictional scenarios. While these scenarios haven’t directly influenced my stories, they’ve provided a great perspective on developing characters and their interactions.

When it comes to writing style and storytelling, I adore the work of Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab, Tracy Deonn, Brandon Sanderson, and N.K. Jemisin.

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

I love writing big action, fight scenes, and snappy dialogue! It’s also fun to explore nooks and crannies of worlds I’ve built, and to set scenes through vivid descriptions.

The hardest part for me is pacing it all out. I tend to write plot-heavy stories with lots of content, so I often slam into YA word count limits. It requires a careful strategy to engineer the best possible scenes to make the plot, character development, and world-building unfold at exactly the right times. Weaving together all these plot threads is a challenge, and it’s one of the reasons I’m a bit of a slow drafter.

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

I’ve had a lot of miscellaneous hobbies outside of writing, and I think these experiences have been important to keep my creativity fresh (and to take the pressure off writing). I used to do hip-hop dance. I sometimes create cosplay of characters I love. I have a B.A. in history and political science. I lift weights. Most days, I explore running trails at a nearby park. I do much of my brainstorming while out in the woods alone, and it’s been great for my writing process.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Start writing for yourself. Writing a book is a long, uncertain, and lonely path, and the only guaranteed fan you’ll ever have—the one spending the most time with the story—is you. There’s so much work involved that it’s only worth going the distance for a story that resonates with you. Plus, writing something you love also means there’s a greater chance it’ll find readers who love it. So start with an idea you’re passionate about and pour your heart into it, even if it feels daunting.

Also, don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your art when you need it. Unless publishing is already paying you a living wage, or you’re under contract, you don’t owe this industry anything. It’s not worth sacrificing your mental or physical health to push creative work that doesn’t have your full heart.

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

There’s a small but exciting thing for the Requiem Dark series that I hope to announce soon! I also have a dark fantasy and a science-fantasy project in the works, both with queer lead characters. I hope to share those with readers someday.

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

A few recent faves are Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake.

Interview with Alex Crespo

Born and raised by the Great Lakes, Alex Crespo writes about queer love, magic, and all the ways they intersect. When not writing, you can find him making art or daydreaming about Mothman. He currently lives in Chicago with an endless anime watchlist and his black cat Hex. You can find him on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram as @byalexcrespo.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a trans Mexican-American author based in Chicago. I love writing coming of age stories centered around queer love, friends who are really like family, and small towns that are more than what they seem.

What can you tell us one of your debut novel, Saint Juniper’s Folly? What was the inspiration for this project?

Saint Juniper’s Folly is described as Cemetery Boys meets The Haunting of Bly Manor, a queer haunted house mystery that’s perfect for found family fans, romance lovers, and anyone who likes a spooky thrill. It follows Jaime, a Mexican-American teen who returns to his hometown only to get trapped in a haunted mansion in the woods. He begrudgingly accepts the help of Theo, the local type-A golden boy, and Taylor, a Puerto Rican girl attempting to unravel the mystery of her mom’s sudden death, to learn the truth about the estate and set him free.

The book alternates POVs between the three main characters, and they all have drastically different backgrounds and perspectives on this stressful, bizarre situation. On top of the supernatural dangers in the book, they’re each grappling with their own personal struggles. They feel suffocated by grief, other people’s expectations, and anxiety about their futures. I wrote the bulk of this book during the first covid lockdown in 2020, and I really wanted to play with this idea of how different teens might react to feeling trapped—physically and emotionally.

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

I grew up an avid reader and continued to love young adult fiction well past my teens, so when I thought about writing my own books, YA felt like a really natural choice. I was drawn to speculative fiction in particular because it allows you to explore conflict through a larger-than-life lens. For a lot of teens, the struggles in their lives feel monumental—they’re experiencing so many big changes and interpersonal issues for the first time, and that’s terrifying. Amplifying those everyday emotions through magic and metaphor is a great way to honor and validate those big feelings, and I love that specfic allows me to do that.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer?

Honestly, I don’t remember reading many books with queer or latino representation when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw more titles with characters who shared my identity popping up, and that was a game changer for me both as a reader and aspiring author. Now I’m really excited to carry that torch and bring more diverse representation to readers through my own writing.

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

The biggest influence on my writing right now comes from TV. A lot of times I’ll start watching a show to unwind but end up taking notes on characterization and pacing instead. K-dramas in particular have taught me so much about concise storytelling and the elements of swoon-worthy romance. I’ve also watched a lot of seinen anime recently. I love how the genre unpacks moral dilemmas and philosophical themes with a lot of nuance.

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

I have the most fun writing dialogue and intimate, emotionally-charged moments between characters. I try to write chronologically, but sometimes I jump ahead to write banter and tension because it feels like such a treat. On the flip side, sometimes choreographing movement during scenes feels like a drag. Hats off to authors who love writing action sequences, please teach me your ways.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m making art. It’s one of the only things that fully quiets my brain and lets me relax. That, and reading copious amounts of fanfiction.

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)?

Oh, that’s so fun. I wish someone asked what song I’d choose as the theme for Saint Juniper’s Folly. It would definitely be “Frozen Pines” by Lord Huron. I listened to Strange Trails nonstop while writing the book, so that album will always have a special place in my heart.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Make time for daydreaming in your day to day life. It’s really hard to fill your creative well if you don’t give your brain time to breathe and wander. Also, never be ashamed of having lofty goals when it comes to your art. Own it and don’t be afraid to be seen trying.

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

Yes, I have another queer paranormal mystery coming in spring 2025! Four teens track down a local cryptid that’s feeding off secrets before their own hidden truths are exposed to their coastal Oregon town. It’s got a full cast of messy, lovable lgbt+ characters that I can’t wait to introduce to readers.

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

I just read A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, a historical romance featuring a trans heroine, and it blew me away. Every facet of the story is handled with so much care and tenderness, I’m already itching to reread it. Racquel Marie and Jonny Garza Villa both have YA romances coming out soon that look incredible, so those are next on my list.