Interview with Author Adiba Jaigirdar

Adiba Jaigirdar is the critically-acclaimed and bestselling author of The Henna Wars and Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. A Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher, she has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she is probably ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, or expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! I’m a Bangladeshi-Irish author and former ESL teacher. I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but have been living in Dublin, Ireland since the age of 10. I love reading and playing video games in my spare time. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?

I’ve always loved storytelling since before I could even read. So once I learned how to read and write, writing stories seemed only a natural progression of my love of storytelling. Some of the most memorable books I read are from when I was a teenager, many of them being Young Adult books. I think of them as formative to me, both as a person and as a writer. I think this is the case for a lot of people. The stories that we grow the most attached to, the ones that we remember and often go back to, are the ones that we read when we were teenagers. And so, I wanted to write those stories that hopefully help teens see themselves, and that I hope stay with kids for a long time. 

How would you describe your writing process? 

Chaotic. I don’t really have a single writing process. I try a bunch of different things with each book that I write and see what works and doesn’t work. I like to go where the story and characters take me. 

As a queer Jewish person, can I say how cool it is that your books feature complex queer characters of faith. Would you mind speaking a bit about what that kind of representation, or what representation in general means to you?

Sadly, I think a lot of the world views faith and queerness as mutually exclusive. In my experience, when we have this quite narrow point of view, we drive people away from faith, and oftentimes we also make people feel uncomfortable with their own sexuality. I’ve always simply wanted to write stories that feel authentic to my experiences, or the experiences of people that I know, and that includes the representation of people from religious backgrounds who are also queer. And so that’s the representation I often end up writing, because it’s true to my experiences. 

Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing your debut novel, The Henna Wars, and your more recent novel, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

In general, I draw inspiration from anything and everything. For Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, specifically I was inspired by the TV show Faking It. I was a little annoyed at the sapphic representation and the bisexual representation in it, and so I just wanted to write my own version of a sapphic fake dating story, where the representation was more authentic to my experiences, and the sapphic characters got to have a happy ending. 

One of the notable things about your novels, is not only featuring Bangladeshi/Muslim characters but also queer characters from Ireland, something that is still rare (though getting less so) in YA. What do you think are some of the distinctions between US centric and Irish YA/cultures, in terms of queerness or in general?

This is a difficult question to answer because I’m not from the US, so I don’t actually know what US culture looks like in terms of queerness or really, in general. I know America is also hugely influenced by religion, but I do think a big part of queerness in Ireland comes with having to unlearn a lot of the harm that the Catholic church has perpetrated over the years. Most of our schools are single-sex and run by the church, and we often have nuns as teachers and principals, and if not that, then living on school campus. This is the kind of school I went to (and I graduated just a decade ago), and there were no out students during my school years. There was also quite a bit of homophobia which was probably both a result of the culture and the times. Ireland has come a long way in terms of this though, and we were the first country in the world to vote for marriage equality by way of popular vote. 

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

My favourite way to unwind is by playing video games. My favourite video game franchise is probably Uncharted, closely followed by Assassin’s Creed. But I love any good action/adventure game that has a compelling storyline and enjoyable gameplay. I also like to read a lot of adult thrillers in my downtime, and find them very comforting to read when I’m feeling down. 

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

What’s your favourite flavour of donut? I love coffee flavoured donuts. 

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

Later this year, my first YA historical will be released. It’s called A Million to One and it’s about four girls who board the Titanic in order to steal a rare jewel-encrusted book. Next year, I have another romcom coming out called Donut Fall In Love. It follows a Bangladeshi-Irish girl who joins a Great British Bake-Off style reality TV show, only to find that her ex is one of the competitors, along with another girl who she may be developing a crush on. 

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

There are so many I love. I would definitely recommend any book by Alechia Dow, who writes the most wonderful sci-fi books starring LGBTQ+ characters. I highly recommend Ace Of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, which is a brilliant thriller pitched as Get Out meets Gossip Girl. I am a huge Nina LaCour fan, so I would recommend absolutely anything she has ever written, because it’s all brilliant. In terms of romance, I love Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen, and Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa.

Interview With Editor Shelly Romero

Shelly Romero (she/her) was born and raised in Miami by Honduran parents. She now resides in New York City where she is forever chasing the perfect café Cubano and pan tostado. 

She is a member of Latinx in Publishing, People of Color in Publishing, is a junior mentor for the Representation Matters Mentorship Program, and a planning committee member for DVcon. Shelly was selected as Publishers Weekly Star Watch 2020 Honoree, which “shines a light on innovative, talented professionals from all parts of the industry.”

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! And of course! In a nutshell, I’m currently the Lead Editor at Cake Creative. I’ve been in publishing for nearly five years, which feels like a lifetime to be honest. I’m a proud Honduran American, daughter to immigrants. A lot of what drives my work in publishing is the fact that I never saw myself represented in the pages of the books I devoured as a kid and teen. So my aim is to publish stories by BIPOC creators that showcase the range of our experiences. 

Outside of my work, I’m a huge fan of all things horror. I write Ghoul Gal, a horror pop-culture newsletter. Every year, (around this time actually), I begin planning my annual trip to Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. I’m also a big fan of going to concerts, so I try to see as many artists and bands that I love in a year. 

And I’m a Sagittarius Sun, Rising, and Taurus Moon ☺ 

How would you describe your literary/ geeky tastes and preferences?

Oh, that’s such a good question. It’s hard for me to pin-point it because outside of loving horror, I do read a lot of genres. Though, I’m less of a fan of epic high fantasy nowadays. Space operas are also tricky for me. Westerns are definitely a no. But almost everything else is fair game if it interests me enough. 

And despite my goth sensibilities and interests, I love a good, fluffy rom-com or coming-of-age story.

As an editor, how would you describe your journey into publishing?

I always credit joining the staff of Harbinger, Stephens College’s literary magazine, as a catalyst. Before my freshman year of college, I changed my major to English from fashion design. I had wanted to be a designer for so many years but realized that it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had always been a bookworm so switching to English felt like the best choice. 

I didn’t grow up knowing that a career as a book editor was possible. But when I joined Harbinger, I absolutely loved learning about the history of lit magazines, about how to work collaboratively on a team to read submissions and then publish our selections in the new editions of the mag. 

From there, I ended up interning at The Missouri Review for two semesters, as well as continuing my work on Harbinger all the way up until I graduated. I served as the 2017 Co-Editor-in-Chief for our “Face the Strange” issue. 

And from there, I decided that I wanted to move to New York and be where publishing was. I ended up doing the 2017 NYU Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) and a few weeks after the program ended, I received a job offer to be an Editorial Assistant at Scholastic. 

Is there anything you wish you had known when you first entered the field?

I wish I would’ve been told more on what it meant to be in editorial. While we got editors who would speak to us at SPI, they were often higher-ups who hadn’t been an assistant in decades and would call working in editorial, “solitary work.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth. I wish I would’ve known that to be an Editorial Assistant means balancing the work of being an admin assistant with being a burgeoning editor who is learning the ropes of the role. 

It’s a tough position that pays pennies. Not to mention, most houses want you to remain an assistant for nearly five years or so. So as you grow your personal editorial skills and begin to acquire, edit, and manage your own lists…you’re also expected to remain assisting your boss(es). 

It is not solitary work at all, either. As an editor, you’re the point of contact between so many other departments that are all necessary to publish a book and get it out in the world. Which means there’s so many meetings to attend. There are often not enough hours in the day to work on your own editorial work because of this…and the industry expects you to just do your submission reading or editing on your own time without overtime which is absolutely absurd. 

What would you say are some of the greatest lessons you learned about the publishing field?

That this industry weaponizes the whole “it’s for the passion of literature” in order to defend its lack of pay, raises, promotions, etc. And it also weaponizes a lack of transparency on so many levels from people who are wanting to enter the industry not knowing where to find resources on how to make a career in publishing to advances and salary discrepancies as well as lack of information into the “publishing process.” 

That you need to be wary and watchful of the people who say they’re allies and that they’re there for you (especially as junior level employees) in public, but their actions and words behind closed doors speak the whole truth.

That community is absolutely necessary to survive and thrive in this industry. I don’t know where I would be without my best friends, the same ones I’m always in twenty different group chats in. They keep me sane, humble, and build me up when I need it. 

And lastly, that you are your biggest advocate. No matter whether you have decent bosses or a supportive team…you are always your biggest advocate and you have to fight for everything you want in your publishing career. 

As someone who is involved in projects from acquisition to publication, what would you share are of the hardest/weirdest/ and coolest parts of the development process?

When I was acquiring, the hardest part was always the week leading up to acquisitions when I was prepping everything necessary for the meeting, including my speech. I don’t think I talk about it as much as I should, but I actually do get a stage fright for public speaking. Which might be surprising to people who know me since I’m very extroverted and loud. But presenting can be very nerve-wracking. In that acquisitions meeting, I was the one who had to convince the higher-ups of the projects and creators that I was head over heels for. That’s another thing I didn’t know about working in editorial – the amount of public speaking necessary. 

Coolest would definitely have to be the cover. I was so grateful to have worked with incredible designers at Scholastic like Steph Yang and Maeve Norton. They would take my concepts and the ideas the authors would provide and work with an artist to bring them to life. And they always knocked it out of the park. But it was always so cool to review the passes and proofs of the covers and see the layers of specs they would have. Showing the author their book’s cover was also just a special moment, I think. It, as well as saying their designed pages, would cement that “my book is being published” feeling.

As a queer woman of color, you’ve probably noticed quite a bit about the successes and failings of the publishing industry when it comes to promoting diversity. Could you share some of your thoughts on this?

How much space do I have? I mean, I tend to talk a lot about this because it’s so consistent. The conversations seem to come back in cycles and it’s usually everyone who wants to change things at different levels vs. the execs and higher-ups who hold the power to change things but never do. 

I think publishing and its gatekeepers have said “yes, we can have a little “diversity” as a treat” and then have become arbiters of what is authentic or not. We’ve seen how the #OwnVoices hashtag went from a helpful tool of amplifying traditionally marginalized authors’ works to being weaponized against those very authors. Ashia Monet recently wrote about this in her essay “The Curse of Good Representation” and further nailed down the nuances of this topic.

I mentioned earlier that people needed to find their communities but also be wary of people who seemed like allies. With that, I also urge creators to fully do their research whenever these agents/agencies, and imprints/publishers do calls for marginalized creators, especially BIPOC. Often, these calls are for unagented creators and that to me is a very slippery-slope that could lead to creators being taken advantage of and/or not being advocated for properly. I see these calls pop up during major moments of tension or unrest in the world. A lot of them popped up after the protests in summer ’20. Yet a lot of these agents, editors, and imprints calling for Black authors or authors of color are filled with all white teams and/or have never really had any BIPOC on their editorial or client lists. So how do you expect BIPOC creators to trust that you’ll take care of them and their writing if you haven’t even shown you can actually support them? Most of the time, I think these calls can do a lot more harm than good. Because support or calls for traditionally marginalized creators shouldn’t only occur during these very traumatic moments if you’re actually wanting to do this work.

Aside from reading and editing books, what are some of your other interests and hobbies?

I love playing video games. I don’t play nearly as much as I used to as a kid, but I’ve grown up with consoles. My first one was a Nintendo GameCube and I was just hooked from there.

Does shopping count as an interest? Haha! You asked me about my style below and this is truly how I feed my wardrobe. But it does stem from my love of fashion and failed childhood dreams of becoming a fashion designer. 

I’m also an avid moviegoer. I have the Season Pass for the Alamo Drafthouse so I tend to watch a lot of movies in the theater. 

Also, how do you have such an immaculate style and where did you develop your gothic aesthetics?

Ah! Thank you so much! That really means a lot. It’s taken me quite a bit of time to find that style. I’ve always been a goth/alt person but now that I’m making my own money, I’ve really been able to experiment with my style as well as support some amazing small shops in the process. I tend to describe my look as “corporate goth.” But I do have quite a mix in my wardrobe which is reflected in my style. That mix includes: alt, Victorian goth, chic, dark academia, vintage (typically 1940s/50s), and 90s in my wardrobe. I do also love corsets and leather-wear like harnesses. 

Now that I feel like I’ve nailed down my clothing, I’ve been buying a lot of accessories (jewelry, hats, bags) and adding them to my outfits of the day to amplify my looks. 

I’m not going to lie…it’s taken me a while to find both the aesthetics that work for me and the confidence to wear those pieces. 

What advice would you have to give to aspiring creatives, both who wish to enter the publishing field and those who wish to be published?

For those who want to enter the industry – protect yourself, pick your fights (unfortunately), be your biggest advocate, and find your community. This industry is not easy and it will try to break you down in so many ways. 

For creators – also find the people who are going to be your advocates. If you’re looking for agents, be sure to research and research and research. If you’re looking for editors or a house to be published at, also do your research. Always do your research. And know that while there are not a lot of us in the industry who are BIPOC or queer, we are here…and we are trying our hardest to fight for your books. 

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)?

This is so hard, but probably what my favorite tattoos are? Which is also a hard question to answer since I currently have 15 (with the 16th scheduled for early April). So, I’ll give you three:

  • I have the lyrics “You, in somber resplendence, I hold” written in my mom’s handwriting on my right arm. The lyrics are from AFI’s “Silver and Cold” which is her favorite song from my favorite band. 
  • On my left arm, I have this really cool vampire kind clutching this sun in the American Traditional style. I was like “I can’t do anymore lyric tattoos!” but I wanted a tattoo based off of my favorite My Chemical Romance song, “The Sharpest Lives.” So, I ended up emailing my artist Brendan Haehnle the lyrics from the chorus and that I wanted a vampire and then to just have at it. The design was a complete surprise until the appointment. And it was just such an amazing piece that was well worth the pain.
  • One of my biggest pieces is a scarecrow –based off of the scarecrow briefly seen at the beginning of Sleepy Hollow (1999)– with a murder of crows all surrounding it. It’s gorgeous and done in the signature style of the Murray twins who own Black Veil near Salem, MA. They have been dream artists of mine and I got to have Ryan Murray tattoo me in December 2020.

Are there any projects you are currently working on (professional or personal) that you feel free to speak about?

Professional – I cannot say too much other that there are some coming down the pipeline that are projects of my heart and I am so excited for them. Y’all will have to wait and see 😉

Personal – I’m trying to focus on my own writing when I can. I love writing Ghoul Gal because it feels very much a thing for me. It would be great to grow but I’m just happy to be writing about the genre that I love so much. 

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

For authors, I highly recommend: 

Aiden Thomas

Ash Van Otterloo

Racquel Marie

Leah Johnson

Julian Winters

Ashley Woodfolk

And Claribel A. Ortega

For books: 

THE WITCHERY by S. Isabelle – which I had the honor of editing and it publishes this coming July!

Interview with Graphic Novelist Jessi Zabarsky

Jessi Zabarsky lives in Chicago with her cat and forty three plants. She was raised in the woods and will one day return there. Her first graphic novel, Witchlight, was published by Random House Graphic in 2020. You can find her online at @jessizabarsky.

I had the opportunity to talk with Jessi, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your latest book, Coming Back?

Hi, I’m Jessi! I make comics with a lot of plants, magic, food, and big difficult feelings in them. Coming Back is about two young women, Preet and Valissa, who love each other very much but still have trouble navigating each other’s desires and beliefs. A threat appears in their isolated community, and soon afterward they each have to depart on separate journeys, both of which strike at the heart of their respective anxieties.

What drew you to comics? Were there any comics or artists you believe who inspired you and/or influenced your own personal style?

I’ve read comics from a pretty early age, but I think reading the first volume of Ranma ½ was when it clicked for me that comics were something that I could make, too. Takahashi’s work in general is a big influence on me, plus Miyazaki movies, the Nausicaa manga, and YA fantasy authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce. I also have a deep love for picture books, especially ones with lots of little fiddly bits to look at in the illustrations.

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on? What are some of the hardest?

Writing is really fun and inking is so satisfying to me. Thumbnails are the hardest! There’s so much to keep in your head at once, it takes a ton of focus and mental effort. Good thumbnails also make penciling easier, so I have to try extra hard at them. 

In addition to your latest book, Coming Back, your debut graphic novel, Witchlight, is also known for its beautiful queer characters. What does representation on the page (queer or otherwise) meant to you as an artist and reader?

I mostly want to reflect all the different kinds of people I see around me, it just feels natural. I also get bored of drawing the same type of person over and over very quickly! I love fantasy and sci fi, and when I started Witchlight, I wasn’t seeing a lot of comics with queer characters in those settings. I want to make and read the kinds of fantastical stories with rich worlds that I love, with different types of people as the leads. I want so many varieties of queer stories that it stops feeling like its own genre. I want fantasy that happens to feature queer people, and for that to feel completely unremarkable.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? 

The process varies person to person and project to project, but generally I start with a script, then do thumbnails, then page layouts and pencils on paper, and inks directly on top of the pencils. Then I scan the pages into my computer, do digital cleanup and fixes, lettering, and finally, color. With a publisher, they’ll want the front cover figured out earlier in the process, so that gets worked in around halfway or a bit later. It’s a long road and requires a lot of different skills!

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives who would want to create their own comics, whether as artists, writers, or both?

Start making comics. Use whatever paper you have on hand and whatever you have to draw with (I made my very first comics in lined notebooks with regular pencils). Start with something low pressure, like a gag comic or journal comics. It can help to give yourself constraints, like the same panel structure every time, at first. Read lots of comics formats- newspaper strips, webcomics, manga, superhero comics, YA comics- check your library, most now have at least one comics section, if not several. Read critically- what do you like/dislike and why? Where do you get confused and what would you do to fix the problem? What works really smoothly? What stands out?

If you’ve already been making comics for a while, find tricks and shortcuts where you can. Making comics takes a lot of time and effort and you are one finite person! Remember that people read comics very quickly and no one will notice if every panel isn’t perfect. Work hard but make sure you’ll also be able to work for a long time! Do your stretches!!

Are there any other project ideas you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’ve got secrets in the works but for now you can check my social media (IG @hug_box, Twitter @jessizabarsky) for weekly journal comics where I draw myself as a small rabbit.

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

‘Hey, Jessi, why do you draw the moon as full in nearly every instance regardless of the time that’s passed in the story?’

Thank you for noticing, it’s because circles are a great design element and I love the moon and she deserves it.

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

I really love the Hakumei & Mikochi manga! It’s plausibly deniable in its queerness, but it centers two tiny “roommates” who live in the base of a tree and cook, shop, eat, and explore together (they’re wives). There are also several other female characters who definitely don’t have crushes on each other. 

For more direct queerness, I’ve been really enjoying the book series that begins with A Memory Called Empire, a space opera about colonialism and selfhood. And an all-time favorite of mine, Ursula Le Guin’s short stories are really excellent for imagining different ways of thinking about sex, gender, and relationships!

Interview with Authors Katherine Locke & Nicole Melleby

Katherine Locke (they/them) lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of The Girl with the Red Balloon, a 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and 2018 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book, as well as The Spy with the Red Balloon. They are the co-editor and contributor to It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories, and a contributor to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and the forthcoming Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They are also the author of Bedtime for Superheroes and What are Your Words?. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairy tales in disguise. They can be found online @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.

Nicole Melleby (she/her/hers), a born-and-bread Jersey native, is an award-winning children’s author. Her middle grade books have been Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections, and have earned the Skipping Stones Honor Award, as well as being a 2020 Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. Her debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She currently teaches college literature and creative writing, and spends most of her free time roller skating. She lives with her wife and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. You can find her on Twitter @NeekoMelleby.

Katherine and Nicole co-edited the short story collection This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories Of Her, Him, Them, And Us which is available now. I had the opportunity to interview them both, which you can read below.

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

KL: Hi! I’m Katherine Locke, co-editor and contributor to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW, a queer anthology for readers 9-12 years old, as well as the author of WHAT ARE YOUR WORDS?, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, and the forthcoming THIS REBEL HEART, amongst other titles. I’m a nerd, a cat lover, a horse lover, a writer, and a huge fan of naps. 

NM: Hi! I’m Nicole Melleby, and I am a New Jersey native who spends way too much time by the ocean. I currently teach creative writing and literature classes with a couple of New Jersey universities, and I spend most of my free time roller skating. My debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary finalist, and I live with my wife and our cat, Gillian, who is basically a puppy. Seriously—she even plays fetch!

How did you find yourself becoming an author? What drew you to telling your first story and what makes you keep going? 

KL: I have been writing ever since I was a little kid! My earliest stories were essentially fanfiction about my life where my mom and I had a farm, I was an only child, and there were plenty of animals. It was true wish fulfillment writing. I wrote my first novel in high school (it was very bad but I’m impressed I finished it!) and kept going. I love stories. I see the world in stories and I hear stories and I’m always dreaming up stories. I think it’s so fun to explore new worlds and new characters, and I find myself learning how to deal with this real world through fiction. I can’t imagine my life without writing, so I guess that’s what keeps me going! 

NM: When I was eight, I saw the Nickelodeon movie Harriet the Spy. I was obsessed, I loved everything about it, but I especially loved the main character, Harriet, and the way she always carried around a notebook to write things in. I used to beg my parents to buy me marble composition notebooks just like the one Harriet had every time they went to a store that carried them, and I would fill those notebooks up with everything. I started off by taking notes about the people around me much like Harriet did while spying, and from there I started writing stories instead. I’ve been writing stories ever since.

Katherine Locke

A good number of your books are queer middle-grade fiction. Was there anything that drew you to writing for this age group? Is there anything about writing middle-grade to you that is distinctive than writing for other age groups?

NM: I actually started with writing young adult. I got my MFA for young adult literature and then slowly found my way to middle grade. I have more of a middle grade voice; I don’t know what it says about me that my natural voice is that of a 12-year-ol, but it’s true! The more I started writing about that age group, the more it felt right, especially because all of my characters are queer and I think that’s such an important time to see that reflected in these books, as you’re slowly understanding who you are. I read once that young adult novels have the characters trying to explore themselves outside of their friends and family, but for middle graders, it’s about exploring who you are within your friends and family and within the people around you, because you’re too young to really have that independence, and I like that. I like being able to write about these characters within the world around them. That’s really what I love about middle grade books.

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any patterns or habits you have to help with inspiration or productivity? 

KL: I like to work around other people! If my bed is within reach, I will nap (see also: the first question.) So I tend to write at cafes (pre-COVID) and when I’m on writing retreats, I like to write in a busy room with headphones on. I usually like to have a hot beverage nearby (tea or chai lattes). I write with and without music, depends on my mood. My writing process is a lot of trial and error. I like to know a lot of emotions and moods and vibes of the book before I go in, but all the nitty gritty details come to me as I work. I go through many drafts to get to the book I want to write.

NM: When I write, I like to be as comfortable as possible—usually with a soft blanket wrapped around me, a huge cup of coffee, and my cat Gillian awkwardly splayed out in my lap. I don’t write to music, I find it distracting, but I do usually have the Food Network on in the background because I can’t write to silence, either. I’ve also always been a “character first, plot later” kind of writer—which I think I get from my love of soap operas and their focus on character and relationships.

As a writer, you have explored themes tied to both Jewish and queer identities in your characters, as seen in The Girl with the Red Balloon and It’s a Whole Spiel. Can you discuss your connection to that? 

KL: Yes! I am both Jewish and queer. It’s really important to me to share those identities on the page, both together and separate. It’s how I connect to the kinds of stories I want to tell. 

What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns features a young non-binary child discussing switching pronouns. As a non-binary author yourself would you say this story might be a bit personal to you? 

KL: Though I’m nonbinary, I’m not as genderfluid as Ari, the character in the story, is. Ari’s pronouns change, but mine stay they/them. But Ari’s feels about how pronouns feel when they aren’t the right pronouns is definitely personal. And I hope to grow up to be as supportive and affirming as Uncle Lior in the book!

Nicole Melleby

Your latest book, How to Become a Planet, deals with the sensitive issue of mental health, specifically depression and anxiety. What drew you to writing about this topic?

NM: I wanted to show that mental illness can be a lifelong issue. I wanted to let Pluto explore what it meant for her, now that she has this diagnosis, moving forward. How does it change her? Does it change her? What does it all mean? Getting a diagnosis isn’t the end for Pluto—it’s a new beginning, like it ends up being for a lot of kids (and adults) struggling with mental illness. And it can be scary! She’s got all of these big emotions, and her depression has set her back in a lot of ways while she and her mom were trying to figure out what was wrong, and now that they know what is wrong, where do they go from here? Ultimately, I wanted to show my readers that it’s okay to have these diagnoses, that it doesn’t change who they are, and I wanted to show them that despite it feeling so hard, there is always hope.

What advice would you have to give to other writers starting out as well as those looking to finish their first book? 

KL: Learn to finish books. Unfinished books don’t get published (if that’s your goal). Even if publication isn’t your goal, the art of telling stories relies on the completeness of the telling. Learn to finish books. Even if it feels bad and messy. You can’t fix what you haven’t written.

NM: You don’t have to write every day—I see so many writers wracked with guilt over how much or how little they write day-to-day, and it’s hard! Write how much you want to write, how much you need to write. You decide what those answers are. 

Also: If you’re facing a rejection? I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

What’s a message something you directly want to give to the readers of your books? 

KL: I hope you carry that story with you into the world, even for a little bit, and that it stays with you, even for a little bit.

NM: I really just want them to know that they’re not alone, that there are other people who are struggling and that I see them and I’m listening.

Aside from writing, what do you like to do in your free time? 

KL: I ride my horse, take wayyyyy too many photos of my cats, try to remember when I last watered my house plants, read, and spend too much time on the internet!

NM: I love to roller skate with the New Jersey Skate Collective and play roller derby with my Central Jersey Roller Vixens! 

Is there a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked? If so, what is the answer to that question? 

KL: I don’t think so, but thank you for asking this!

NM: Yes! Is there a connection between my (standalone) middle grade novels?
The answer is yes! All of my books (and my short story in This Is Our Rainbow) all take place in the same area of New Jersey—where I call home. Because of this, I make references to my books in my other books: background characters, schools, teachers, locations. I won’t tell you what—you’ll have to read and see if you can spot them yourself! 

Are there any project ideas you are incubating and at liberty to speak about? 

KL: Oooh, great question. I have a project I can’t speak about yet, but I can tell you that I’m working on a Jewish historical portal fantasy with queer characters, and it’s a bit of a glorious mess right now but I’m extremely excited about it. No release date yet! My next books are a picture book called Being Friends with Dragons out now and This Rebel Heart, a queer Jewish historical with a fantastical twist, out April 4, 2022. 

NM: My next book is called The Science of Being Angry, out May 10th, 2022. It’s about an 11-year-old girl named Joey who has anger issues she’s trying to understand. She throws temper tantrums and sometimes gets violent and gets in trouble a lot in school and at home because of it. She’s a triplet, and her brothers never get angry like she does, and neither does her mama, the one of her moms she shares DNA with. In her search to figure out why she is the way she is, she and her best friend (and crush) end up turning to 23-and-Me to try and find out information on the sperm donor her moms used to conceive the triplets. It’s a messy story about family, as Joey tries to fix things so that her mom (the one she doesn’t share DNA with) will love her anyway, and Joey won’t keep hurting the people she loves most, either.

What queer book recommendations would you have to give to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

KL: COOL FOR THE SUMMER by Dahlia Adler is a super fun book about a girl who falls for a girl over the summer but then comes home to start school to find the boy of her dreams is into her—and her summer fling is the new student. And THE CITY BEAUTIFUL by Aden Polydoros is the queer Jewish gothic light horror of my dreams—and it’s historical, which is truly the icing on the cake for me. The writing is *chef’s kiss* perfect. And forthcoming, I would highly recommend FROM DUST A FLAME by Rebecca Podos out now!

NM: Some recent queer middle grade books that I loved are: A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo, The Best Liars in Riverview by Lin Thompson (out March 2022), and Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith (out Spring 2022). 

Interview with Author Freya Marske

Freya Marske lives in Australia, where she is yet to be killed by any form of wildlife. She writes stories full of magic, blood, and as much kissing as she can get away with. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, and several anthologies. In 2020 she was awarded the Australian National SF (Ditmar) Award for Best New Talent. Her debut novel, the queer historical fantasy A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, is available now in hardcover.

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

Sure! I’m Freya Marske, a writer and podcaster based in Australia. I’ve moved through various flavours of geekdom in my life (shout out to my high school self, who was passionately into anime and also first in line for the opening screenings of the Lord of the Rings movies) but I’ve always been a reader of fantasy, so I’m delighted to have my debut fantasy novel published this year.

Where did you get your start in writing? How did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller?

I can’t recall a conscious choice being involved; I had a poem published in the newspaper at age 5, and never looked back! By which I mean I wrote on and off for years, including a lot of time in my twenties writing fanfiction and building my skills before I actually finished my first original novel.

Where did the idea for your latest book, A Marvellous Light come from?

The first seed of an idea that grew into the book was the question of who would liaise between a hidden magical society and an unmagical civil service, and what would happen if the wrong person ended up in that job. Because I always knew it would be a romance, too, I began to build the two protagonists—their backgrounds, their personalities, their relationship—at the same time as building the plot outwards from that initial idea.

What was the process like working on this story? Did you consult any resources while developing the background of your Edwardian magical fantasy?

I did quite a bit of reading about Edwardian society at the time, especially the daily life of the upper and upper middle classes and the kind of country manor house party that the book features. Plus I had to look into a lot of nitty-gritty details as they arose: the sort of cars that were popular, what the London Underground looked like in 1908, what a young man in mourning for his parents would have worn, etc. I enjoyed the process of learning about that time period and then weaving my own magical worldbuilding through it!

Regarding magical systems, oftentimes writers will build one based off familiar magic systems used in the past, i.e. magic schools, or fuse it with various other ideologies or systems, like Maggie Tokuda-Hall, author of The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea, fusing her magic system with marine ecology. Which makes me wonder how di you approach your worldbuilding?

…improvisationally.

Honestly, the magical system was the part I had the most fun with during the drafting process. I’ve always enjoyed those magic systems that don’t necessarily come easily to practitioners, and which have rules or constraints on what can and can’t be accomplished, but which also allow for creativity and wonder. The idea of using cat’s cradle string as a building block for gesture-based magic was my own, and I enjoyed teasing out the implications of it as I went through the book.

In a genre like historical fiction (much less historical fantasy), it can often be tough to describe queer identities without the queer language we have today. How did you work your way around that?

Absolutely—neither of my protagonists would describe themselves as gay, the word homosexual was I believe only just coming into English parlance, and they would feel uncomfortable with the word queer as it was used then. Despite having sexual experience with other men, neither think of themselves as part of a queer community, and a lot of their awareness of their own sexuality is around the necessity of it being secret. With all of that said: I wasn’t interested in telling a story about internalized homophobia or shame. Robin and Edwin take some time to recognize this aspect of one another, but once they do, the barriers to their love story unfolding are related to who they are as people, and the ways they’ve been hurt in the past. Not the fact that they’re both men.

What are some of your favorite parts of the writing process? What do you feel are some of the most difficult or frustrating?

I love the very beginning: when the outline is done and I’m leaping into a first draft, wrapping prose around my ideas and characters for the first time. And I find the final round of editing to be very satisfying, too. As an over-writer, I will always end up needing to trim unnecessary sentences and stray words, and I enjoy the process of making the end product as lean and punchy as possible.

There’s always a frustrating time for me around two-thirds of the way into a book. Now that I’ve written a few, I’ve learned to look out for those 66.6% doldrums! Somewhere around there I will become convinced that the book is terrible, I’m terrible, the entire thing is a waste of time, and nobody will ever enjoy it. It always passes. I just have to grit my teeth, trust the process, and write through it.

What can we expect from the main characters of A Marvellous Light?

I’ve been affectionately referring to Robin Blyth as a ‘sunshine himbo jock’, which tells you most of what you need to know. He’s good-hearted and straightforward and spent his university years on the cricket pitch or the river rather than studying hard, and he sincerely believes in punching his problems.

Edwin Courcey, the magician assigned as his liaison, is prickly and self-protective and vastly prefers books to people. With an analytical mind and a weak magical gift, Edwin has always been both interested in how magic works and frustrated by how little of it he can do.

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

In my spare time I can be found having strong opinions about wine, gin and whisky, lurking in art galleries, and figure skating. Everyone always seems keen to hear about that last one—it’s certainly an unusual sport to have chosen in Australia! But I did it as a kid and then picked it up again as an adult. I love how it calls for the slow improvement of individual skills, but also demands musicality and performance.

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

Don’t give up! You’ll write thousands upon thousands of words as you’re honing your craft, and you’re always going to be looking ahead at the people who you admire and want to emulate, and feeling frustrated with where you are in comparison. It’s human nature. And remember that any book you read has been meticulously revised and polished: first drafts are allowed to be, supposed to be, a bit of a mess! Let yourself have fun discovering your own stories.

And finally: write exactly the kind of book you most want to read yourself.

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

Hmm! Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked which books I’ve reread the most times in my life. I’m a huge comfort rereader, and there are some books I return to again and again. Topping the list are: Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia, and Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

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

I’m about to get started on book 3 of the Last Binding series; I can’t say much about it yet, except to say that one of its protagonists appears briefly in A Marvellous Light. But I’ve also written a couple of contemporary romance novels which my agent has just taken on submission—it’s very exciting to be back at the beginning of the process in a new genre!

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

This year alone I’ve really enjoyed Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (m/m Southern gothic horror with fast cars and revenants) and The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (engrossing high fantasy with a central f/f pairing). In the romance sphere, married cowriters Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta brought out an amazing celebrity fake-dating story in The View Was Exhausting, and my favourite romance author KJ Charles finished up her Will Darling Adventures (a 1920s adventure series with stabbing, spies and m/m romance) with Subtle Blood.

However, to finish us off: one of my favourite books of all time—Regeneration, by Pat Barker—is a historical novel set just after the time period of A Marvellous Light. It’s about gay war poets, and trauma recovery, and no magic beyond that of kindness.

Interview with Author F. T. Lukens

F.T. Lukens is the author of In Deeper Waters and five young adult novels published through Interlude Press. Their book The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction, the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Winner for YA fiction, the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction, and on ALA’s 2019 Rainbow Book List. F.T. lives in North Carolina with their spouse, three kids, three dogs, and three cats.

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

Hi. Thank you for having me! My name is FT and I’m an author of young adult speculative fiction.

How did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?

Reading and writing have been part of my life since I was very young. I daydreamed a lot when I was a kid and had a big imagination. I would plot out whole stories on the ride to school, but it wasn’t until about 3rd grade that I started writing them down. My first short story was about a knight rescuing a princess from a dragon and my teacher in school loved it so much, she printed it out and hung it in the computer lab. That was the first time my writing and imagination were validated. From there, I just kept writing. Short stories and fan works and journaling. But it wasn’t until much later that I gathered my courage and decided to try and write professionally.

As for speculative fiction, I’ve always been drawn to fairy tales and stories with magic and comic books with superheroes. I’ve always loved Star Wars which the original movies had just released when I was growing up in the 80’s. The story reflects many of the classic elements of young adult fiction – young hero on a coming-of-age, self-exploratory journey which I also found in many of the books I was reading at the time. Between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation and then the wave of popular sci-fi & fantasy media in the 90’s (X-files, DS9, Highlander etc), there really was a variety of speculative media to enjoy.

And I enjoy writing for an audience of young adults. The themes that young adult novels explore are important and relatable across a wide range of ages.

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched or inspired you as a writer, or that you felt personally reflected in?

For my thirteenth birthday, my brother gifted me The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the more than complete version that had the first four books and two short stories) and from there I was sold. That book really influenced my sense of humor and how language could be used in different ways. Books by Mercedes Lackey and Brian Jacques and Robert Jordan and Ursula K Le Guin followed for my next several birthdays and I would read the first in the series and then go to the local library and check out the rest.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest book So This is Ever After? What inspires you in general as an author?

So This Is Ever After was inspired by a conversation I had with another author at a convention. Julian Winters is an amazing author who writes young adult contemporary and several of his books are romantic comedies. And we were talking about how I wanted to write a romcom but I’m just not a contemporary writer. And he said something along the lines of, well write it in a castle or a spaceship, and thus the seeds of the story were planted. I started thinking about the setting and the characters and the set-up on the drive home and then within about a week I had a whole plot and the first chapter written. The book really is an homage to everything I love – romance tropes and role-playing games and comedy.

Inspiration really can come from anywhere. For So This Is Ever After it was a conversation. For In Deeper Waters it was a fairy tale that I loved growing up. A few years ago, I was driving across a mountain and saw a lone electricity pole on the side of a steep incline in the middle of nowhere and I was like, how did that get there? And that started a line of thought that became a world-building element in something else that I’m working on.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of the best/most difficult parts for you?

I start with the big picture and then work my way down to smaller details as the creative process progresses. Once I have the world building elements that I want to include, then I plot out scenes. I’m very much a plotter. I write scenes and details on notecards and place them in sequence. That way when I do have time to sit down and write then I know what scene I’m working on next and what needs to be included in the scene. The hardest part for me is staying focused while I’m working and maximizing the limited time I have to write and create.

Since GeeksOUT is a LGBTQ+ centered website, could you maybe tell us what queer representation means to you?

There was a second part to the question above about if there was a book that I felt myself personally reflected in when I was growing up. And while I can’t say a solid ‘no’ because there were characters that I related to and there were definitely stories that I loved, there wasn’t a singular character that I could point to and say, ‘yes, that character right there.’ Because while I’m certain there were books being written with queer characters, I didn’t have access to them. I didn’t know where to look for them. And even in spec media, where boundaries could be pushed, a lot of times it was always the alien, or they were only in the background, or they died, and that didn’t feel great at all. So it’s important to me that I write stories where queer young adults can see themselves as heroes and can have a happy ending and can be their authentic selves.

Besides writing, what are some of your other interests?

I love to crochet. I make amigurumi and post pictures of them on my Instagram. The first one I ever made was a little Yoda from a crochet kit and from there I was hooked (literally). Then I made a yeti from a pattern I bought on etsy and over the past several years I’ve made hundreds of projects ranging from dragons to unicorns to octopods and cacti. I love finding new patterns and working with different yarns to create something. My yarn collection rivals my book collection.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Be patient. Don’t rush into things and know that processes in publishing can be slow. But keep working. Keep writing the books and stories that you want to see in the world. Persevere. You’ll get there and I can’t wait to read your books.

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

I’ve not been asked about a playlist yet for this book. I don’t normally make playlists despite almost always listening to music while I write but I listened to so much pop punk while writing this story. And I did because that music was popular when I was really into role-playing games and in a sci-fi club which is where I learned about RPGs and character roles/tropes. So there was definitely some nostalgia when I was writing. Also pop punk songs are usually fast, short, and energetic, which really helps me with motivation and writing speed.

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

I’m currently working on edits for Spell Binder which is my 2023 release. It’s a young adult urban fantasy-esque book about magic rivals who have to work together to save their mentors. It has a character that is probably my favorite I’ve written thus far and explores some themes that were really important to me the past few years.

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

I love this question. Here is a list of authors that everyone should absolutely check out: Julian Winters, CB Lee, Julia Ember, Ryan La Sala, Aiden Thomas, Maggie Tokuda Hall, Zoe Hana MikutaZoraida Córdova, MK England, and Steven Salvatore.

Interview with Author KD Edwards

KD Edwards, author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transgender Day Of Visibility 2022

March 31st marks the 14th annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Founded by Michigan based trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, Transgender Day of Visibility serves as a day of celebration to give transgender people proper recognition. LGBT organizations including GLSEN and the LGBT Foundation provide additional information and how to get involved.

In an effort to highlight the achievements of trans people, Geeks OUT would like to highlight multiple interviews of trans authors and artists that were conducted by our own Michele Kirichanskaya we’ve linked to below.

Interview with Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
Interview with Ryka Aoki
Interview with Author Ash Van Otterloo
Interview with Author H. E. Edgmon
Interview with Author Aiden Thomas

Interview with Author Amanda DeWitt

Amanda DeWitt is an author and librarian, ensuring that she spends as much time around books as possible. She also enjoys Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragon-ing, and also writing, just not whatever it is she really should be writing. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Masters in Information and Library Science. She lives in Clearwater, Florida with her dogs, cats, and assortment of chickens.  Aces Wild: A Heist is her debut novel.

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

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

Hey, thanks for having me! My name is Amanda DeWitt and I’m a public librarian and author! So most of my time is spent around books, which I think is a pretty good way to spend it. Aside from books, I love playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and learning all sorts of different arts and crafts. My favorite genre to read is science fiction/fantasy in any age group, but I also like to read a little bit of everything! 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but I know I’ve been interested in writing ever since I was a kid. I remember role-playing Warrior Cats on the family computer, being absolutely obsessed with the idea of making my own stories and characters. From there writing became pretty inevitable, because it’s always been something I love to do! When I started getting serious about drafting a novel, I was drawn to young adult fiction because I was a young adult at the time, so it really made sense, but I’ve stuck with it because I love it, and because I feel like the themes you find in young adult fiction are things you can find yourself facing again over a lifetime. In a lot of young adult fiction you’ll find stories about finding out who you are and where you fit in the world, but it’s not something you figure out by a certain age and then remain that way. People grow and change over the course of their entire lives, and I love that when writing young adult fiction it can be stories that anyone can see themselves in and connect to.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Aces Wild: A Heist? Where did the inspiration for the book (and the title) come from?

Aces Wild: A Heist follows Jack Shannon as he tries to prove that his mom, a Las Vegas casino mogul, was arrested because she’s being blackmailed by Peter Carlevaro, a rival casino owner who has been obsessed with her for years. Jack recruits the help of his four friends from the information asexual support group that formed after meeting on fandom forums—Remy, Gabe, Georgia, and Lucky—to break into Carlevaro’s inner sanctum and sabotage his nefarious plans. All of which, between a colorful and meddlesome family and online friends meeting in person for the first time, does not go entirely as planned. Especially when a mysterious girl shows up to throw a wrench in Jack’s plan. It’s a fun, heartful, and chaotic little book, and I can’t wait for people to read it! 

I actually started with the title, because a book with asexuals and playing cards is too good of a pun to pass up, and Las Vegas is the perfect backdrop. I actually started thinking about it while watching a (not very good, so my mind was wandering) magic show, but the thought of cards = magic quickly evolved into cards = poker. I was a little afraid to write a contemporary book—I’d never done it before, and I wasn’t sure I knew how—but the pieces just all came together. I was definitely hugely inspired by my own friends, many of whom I met online, and I was surprised by how much online friendships became so central to the book. A lot of Aces Wild is about different kinds of love and how equally valuable they are, and I definitely put a lot of love into writing it! 

Do you have any personal experience or interest yourself in casino or card games?

My favorite story about this is that I actually learned blackjack in elementary school, from my 4th grade teacher of all people. We used to play blackjack as a class—we were playing for extra time to play outside, and our teacher was playing for extra quiet time. I was totally into it for a summer. I remember teaching it to my friends in Girl Scouts and we’d play sitting on the floor, betting jelly beans. Which is pretty funny in retrospect, but we had a great time. Otherwise, I never gamble—Jack’s high risk/high reward mindset is totally opposite of me. I’m more of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush kind of person, and I definitely like to keep my money in hand!

As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what representation in general means to you?

My motivation was that I’m also always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world! I first connected to the word asexual through asexual interpreations of fictional chracters (Katniss Everdeen, aroace in my heart forever) and I know how special it can be to see someone like you reflected in the books you’re reading. There’s a sense of validation in seeing characters you can relate to and knowing that your perspective and experiences are things other people feel too. Talking about being ace was always difficult for me, and I considered it a very quiet part of myself, but seeing these characters and narratives be embraced, and being able to write about them myself, has gone a long way in my relationship with myself.

When I first started exploring the idea for Aces Wild: A Heist, I wasn’t really sure what was ‘allowed’ and I was nervous about it. I knew I didn’t want to write a book about asexuality—I didn’t want to write about characters struggling with their asexuality or discovering it, I wanted it to just be another part of them. I wanted them to go on an adventure, while also being asexual! I wanted them to be the main characters, and I wanted there to be more than one of them! It’s what I, as an ace reader, wanted to read, and I hoped that it was something that would resonate with other people, especially aspec readers, too. It was a little nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, but seeing how excited people have gotten about it has made it all worth it!

What kind of things can we expect from the characters of Aces Wild: A Heist?

You can expect messy families and goofy friends and just so many characters lying to each other for different reasons. I’ve met some of my best friends online, so it was a lot of fun writing a friend group as chaotic as mine, including stealing bits of their personalities like a raccoon digging through the trash for jokes (I say this with love). With Jack, I wanted a character that has that cool outward confidence and competence of Kaz Brekker, but the insecurities and obstacles of a modern teenager. He’s playing high stakes trying to get his mom out of jail, but he’s also figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. I went for a mix like that for all of the characters—a larger than life kind of exaggeration, but with a grounded center. I want the complexities of Jack’s family life and the relationship between the friend group to be relatable and sincere, but, well, also they’re staging a heist in Las Vegas. Relatable, but also a little more exciting than real life! 

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

Compared to some people, I think my writing process is pretty straightforward! I always write chronologically and I never skip over scenes or write placeholders—they work for some people, but it just mixes me up if I leave something unwritten. I’m basically allergic to outlining, so the first draft is basically me discovering the characters and the story as it unfolds. 

I always joke that my favorite part of the process is whatever I’m not doing at the time, but I think my favorite really is writing the first draft. I tend to start a lot of different ideas, so sometimes it takes a bit to find the one worth writing all the way, but once I do, it’s a lot of fun. First drafts for me are all about potential—I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet, so that means it could go anywhere, and that creative freedom is so exciting. Sometimes editing can be fun too, because it’s a bit like a puzzle where you’re moving around pieces and changing shapes so they all fit together in the best way. Buuut editing can be frustrating too. Now I have to fix all the problems I left for myself while drafting!

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

This was the hardest question! One of my friends joked that I should ask myself ‘did you have fun?’ so y’know what—I DID have fun. This is my first time giving an interview, so I super appreciate the cool new experience! Writing is such an important part of my life, I love talking about the process and it’s awesome to get to talk about my book, even if it’s still a little mind-boggling to think that people are actually going to be reading it. You spend so long writing books, querying them, sending them on submission, and then all that hard work pays off and you’re like whoa, I still have something more to learn! 

What advice would you give for aspiring authors?

Love your story, even when you don’t love the process. Once you’ve reached one step—the agent, the book deal, the whatever—it’s tempting to look back at all the steps leading up to it and be like ‘wow all the blood, sweat, and tears shaped me into who I needed to be for this step, the stars have aligned to bring me here right now’. And sometimes that’s true! The timeline of my career hasn’t gone like I daydreamed about, but each setback and disappointment was an important part of the process. But also the process sucks! It’s torture! And it doesn’t so much get easier as it gets hard in new and creative ways. 

That’s why it’s so important to love your story, because the story is what it’s all about, and that relationship between author and story is where you’re going to feel fulfilled, even when everything else sucks. Love it when you’re drafting, when you’re editing it, even when you have to set it aside and move on to the next story. Because you’re going to have to read it so, so, so many times.

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

I’m always working on something! The nature of publishing means I don’t know if they’ll ever see the light of day or when, so I’ll keep it tantalizingly vague, but I’ve got a lot of projects at different stages that I’m excited for, and excited that they’re all a bit different from each other. Aces Wild: a heist is my first contemporary, and it taught me how much fun I can have in a contemporary space. I’ve got an asexual romcom that was a lot of fun to work on, and I’m hoping to work on an aromantic romcom sometime in the future too. Right now I’ve been working on a YA scifi, but I’ve got thoughts about trying my hand at adult fantasy in the future too. I love trying out new genres and exploring their possibilities, so you might see just about anything from me in the future!

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

In recent memory I really enjoyed Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White and May The Best Man Win by ZR Ellor, which are very different but both very good books. Coming up I’m also looking forward to Funeral Girl by Emma Ohland and A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy! 

Interview with Author Skye Quinlan

Skye Quinlan (she/they) was born in California during an earthquake and raised in the Midwest, where cornstalks outnumber people. Forward March (Page Street Kids, March 8th, 2022) is her debut novel. When she’s not writing, you can catch her at the nearest metaphysics or craft store, dressed up in cosplay at the nearest convention, or ruining antique furniture with epoxy resin and paint. Skye still lives in the Midwest with her wife, their two dogs, several lizards, a snake, and the occasional little human (their niece). She is represented by Moe Ferrara at BookEnds Literary Agency.

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

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

Thank you for having me! My name is Skye Quinlan, and I am the author of Forward March, a queer young adult novel centered around a high school marching band. Most of my free time is spent writing, but I’m also a huge nerd who cosplays with my wife and niece, so you can usually catch me at the nearest anime convention or comic con! I’m also really into gardening, so you can always find me at the nearest plant nursery as well.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?

I’ve been writing since a very young age; I distinctly remember being six or seven years old and letting a friend read the first story I’d ever written, which was a Pokemon fanfic (oof – that’s embarrassing to admit). She got so angry with me for having Pikachu evolve that she stood up on the bus and threw the notebook over the seat at me, screaming something about, “how dare you?!” I’ve been writing ever since, but  for a long time, I dabbled in fandom and fanfic, which was already heavily rooted in YA subculture, so making the transition from fanfic to original young adult fiction felt the most natural. I’ve stayed in YA because I love it—I love the books, the authors, the fandom, and it’s something that I want to be a part of. 

What can you tell us about your debut novel, Forward March? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

The inspiration for Forward March came from my days as a high school band geek. I played the clarinet for 10 years, and as a teenager, my entire life revolved around marching band—ask anyone who knew me back then, and they’ll tell you that I was the kid who took band way too seriously. I was a menace my senior year when I became section leader, always calling for extra rehearsals and making my clarinets march and play until they were blue in the face. In Forward March, Harper is very much the same way, and I used both her and her story as a way to memorialize my days in band, from some of our old traditions to a few beloved memories spent performing in the rain and snow.  

What can we expect from the characters of Forward March?

I’d be lying if I said that my characters weren’t a bit overdramatic, but that is why we love them. From Harper in particular, you can expect to see her journey of self-discovery, which includes coming to the realization that she’s an asexual lesbian with a thing for punk drummer girls in combat boots. You can also expect a dive into complicated family dynamics, friendship break-ups, and miscommunication—my characters are all teeangers, and they’re messy. Very, very messy, and they don’t always make the best decisions. 

Like the main character, Harper, have you ever had any experience with marching band or music in general, or was this something you had researched for the book?

Going into Forward March, I was very fortunate in that I didn’t need to do too much research where music and band was concerned—I always knew that my days as a band geek would pay off someday! 

As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction, especially aspec Sapphic fiction. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what queer representation in general means to you?

Teenagers are the target audience for Forward March, and as an aspec lesbian author who never saw myself represented in the media until I was in my early twenties, queer representation means everything to me. I want my readers to be able to see themselves represented in my books, and that has always, always been the primary goal for me when it comes to my writing. If I can give my readers what I never had, then I’ve done my job.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?

My writing process is chaotic, and I think the people who’ve worked with me in publishing would probably agree. I don’t like writing outlines for my books (I tend to deviate from them when I do), and I often edit my work as I go—that’s probably the most frustrating part for me, editing as I go, but mentally, for whatever reason, I have to do it that way. So I’ll write a few paragraphs, open up a new word document, and then keep re-writing those same few paragraphs until I’m satisfied. It’s not the fastest way to write a book, but it works for me. My favorite part, though, is getting to create new characters and then bring them to life on the page. I probably spend more time writing character profiles and creating their backstories than I do writing the actual book.

Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing your debut novel, Forward March, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

For Forward March, my biggest inspiration came from my days in marching band. I really wanted to preserve those memories and traditions. In general, I draw a lot of inspiration from music, and you’ll almost always catch me listening to different soundtracks while I’m writing. For each new book I start, I create a different playlist on Spotify, and that’s what I have on while I’m working. For Forward March in particular, I listened to a lot of drum cadences, and I always had on the soundtrack from Drumline. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The advice that I would give to aspiring writers is this: keep writing. Your story, your voice, and the pieces of yourself that you’ll leave on the page are equal parts important and valid, and you yourself are worthy of a place in this industry. Publishing has a way of making even the best of us doubt ourselves, but the important thing to remember is never, ever give up. 

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

There isn’t much else to know about me other than that I cosplay and love gardening, but let’s see… I crochet, I love crystals and geodes, and I taught myself how to ice skate by watching youtube videos. 

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

I always wish someone would ask me about my cosplay goals! My very first cosplay was Lexa from The 100, and I would LOVE to re-make that costume and do it again. My wife and I are dying to be Vi and Caitlyn from Arcane, Korra and Asami from ATLA: Legend of Korra, and Adora and Catra from She-Ra. Someday, I would also love to be Loki, because like…Loki.

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

I have a few projects that I’m working on, but nothing too concrete right now, so it’s probably best to keep them secret! 

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

I recently read Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin and absolutely loved it, and I’m currently reading A Lesson In Vengeance by Victoria Lee and have enjoyed it so far! I’m really excited for Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us, F.T. Luken’s So This Is Ever After, and Maya Deane’s Wrath Goddess Sing