Interview with Author Gary Lonesborough

Gary Lonesborough is a Yuin writer, who grew up on the Far South Coast of NSW as part of a large and proud Aboriginal family. Growing up a massive Kylie Minogue and North Queensland Cowboys fan, Gary was always writing as a child, and continued his creative journey when he moved to Sydney to study at film school. Gary has experience working in Aboriginal health, the disability sector (including experience working in the youth justice system) and the film industry, including working on the feature film adaptation of Jasper Jones. His debut YA novel, Ready When You Are, will be published by Scholastic in the United States in February 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

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

First of all, congratulations on your debut book, Ready When You Are. Could you tell us a little about yourself and the book?

I was born in a little town called Bega in country New South Wales and moved to Sydney when I was 19. Ready When You Are is a story about an Aboriginal boy named Jackson who is also growing up in a small country town. Jackson meets a boy named Tomas who begins to awaken all these hidden feelings in Jackson – feelings that terrify him and excite him at the same time. It’s a story about falling in love for the first time and accepting who you really are. 

Where did the inspiration for Ready When You Are come from?

The inspiration for the book came from my own teen experience of growing up in a small country town as a closeted gay Aboriginal kid. I was really inspired to start writing after reading Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. 

What drew you to writing? Were there any stories or authors you felt inspired you or touched you as a reader?

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. When I was nine years old, my teacher had me read a story I wrote in front of the class and I think that seeing my classmates’ reactions – laughing hysterically and rolling on the floor – really made me realise the power of writing. I loved books as a young kid as well. I loved Australian books by authors Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths, I loved the Goosebumps books but my favourite was Captain Underpants. 

As an Aboriginal queer author of a book centered around an Aboriginal queer teen, this story seems like an intimate story for you. Were there any challenges, benefits, or unexpected discoveries in drawing from such personal experiences?

This is a really personal story for me and it was so important to allow myself to be vulnerable when I was writing, because I really wanted to articulate how I felt when I was a teen. It was challenging at times to explore the racism Jackson experiences in the book and hone in on those emotions, but by being vulnerable as a writer, I was really surprised by the authenticity I was achieving and how true to my experience the story began to feel.

Are there any other books you think stands in conversation in yours, in terms of queer or Aboriginal representation?

To be honest, I have rarely seen any books featuring queer Aboriginal characters. The only one that comes to mind while I’m typing this answer is Songs That Sound Like Blood by Jared Thomas.

Aside from writing, what are some of your other hobbies and interests?

I love watching Rugby League and have recently fallen in love with walking. I listen to at least twenty minutes of Kylie Minogue music each day and I’m a filmmaker as well, so I love watching movies and making them.  

What advice would you have to offer to aspiring writers?

Just keep writing. I believe you have to get through a lot of bad writing before you get to the good stuff, and that was certainly true for me. Just keep writing and reading and writing!

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’ve never been asked for my top three favorite Kylie Minogue songs. They are: 1. Your Disco Needs You. 2. On A Night Like This. 3. Get Outta My Way.

Are there any projects you are currently working on that you feel free to speak about?

I’m currently working on another YA novel as well as a MG fantasy! Both feature Aboriginal protagonists and explore growing up Aboriginal in Australia.

What are some things you hope readers will take away from reading Ready When You Are?

I hope readers will feel both hopeful and satisfied when they finish the book. The most important thing I want readers to take away is that it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to love yourself and love who you are.

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

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard.

Loaded by Christos Tsoltakis 

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertally

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

Interview with Ryka Aoki

Ryka Aoki is a poet, composer, and teacher and author of Seasonal VelocitiesHe Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song)Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul and The Great Space Adventure. Her next novel, Light from Uncommon Stars is forthcoming from Tor Books September 2021.

I had the opportunity to interview Ryka, 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! It means a lot to be chatting with the folks at Geeks OUT. I’m Ryka, and I write, compose, and teach martial arts and self-defense to queer and trans women at the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles. My favorite composer is Chopin and since COVID, I miss eating hot pot with friends. I think everybody reading this should watch “Yuri on Ice.” I have a pet python named Peppermint. And my latest novel is Light from Uncommon Stars!

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

I can’t ever remember not being a writer. It always just seemed to be that thing I did. Even when I tried to do something else, I always came back to writing. 

Growing up, I enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. Magazines like Analog and Amazing made me fall in love with the short story. Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” was another one. But I also felt there was something self-assured in that writing—it seemed almost overly indulgent—in a way that I wasn’t allowed to be. When it came to my own writing, I was quite aware of my own nonwhite background and outsider identity…and I realized that people like me were not meant to save the Universe.

Instead, I found much more resonance with writers like Toni Morrison and the late Primo Levi who wrote of worlds much closer to us, sometimes tragically so. So, I channeled my writing into poetry and literary fiction and essays. In fact, I still love all three.

What brought me back into speculative fiction was a short story I wrote for the trans speculative anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere. I didn’t expect it, but writing a science fiction short story gave me a very familiar thrill. I wanted more,

And I as started watching anime and manga like “Aria,” “Space Battleship Yamato,” and “Sailor Moon” and “Macross” I realized, in a very SMH way, that there was more to speculative fiction than what was being produced in the United States. 

And so, I took everything that I knew, and channeled it into imagining what I wanted to know. I’m very happy with the result. ☺

Music and food seem to be pretty strong elements of your latest book, Light From Uncommon Stars. What prompted you to write with this in mind?

Culture is conveyed so often and so well through food and music, yet there’s comparatively little cooking and music in science fiction. Yes, I know there’s some, but compared with space battles and aliens and epidemics and geologies…not too many depictions of rice porridge. 

More personally, unlike a lot of my friends, I don’t have the constant “internal monologue” that people were talking about so much a year or so ago. So nonverbal forms of communication such as food and music feel very close and real to me.

I tell people that I love them with my cooking. And sometimes, I don’t need to watch a movie; all I need is the soundtrack.

When I write, I have music playing and I have rice cooking. I have images and smells and tastes and dreams of where I want a story to go. But words on the page can feel almost after-the-fact. I have these feelings and they go on the paper and everything that I was feeling at the time—the music or the food or the way my feet feel on the floor—makes their way into my work.

But often, I don’t even know how the words are going to be coming out. Of course, later I’ll go back and edit them. But the way the words form is still a mystery to me. 

On that note, what would you say are some of your favorite things to eat and favorite artists/ types of music to listen to?

I’m particular with the music I listen to as I write. I use a lot of YouTube. I search for what would make a great soundtrack for the story or chapter that I’m writing. For example, the novel I’m working on right now has a lot of wistful, slightly mysterious music because I’m hoping to put some of that into the book. In general, I like music that’s not too percussive, because it startles me, and I try to avoid piano music because when I hear piano, it just makes me feel guilty that I’m not practicing.

Also, some music is just too emotional. If I am listening to the soundtrack of “Your Lie in April” I’m not going to get any writing done. I’m just going to be crying.

With food? Even though I talk about them all the time in Light from Uncommon Stars, my main writing food is not donuts. It’s potato chips. I have to be careful when I’m writing because if I’m not careful, I can cut through an entire big bag of potato chips while I’m concentrating on work. So instead of buying a big bag of potato chips, I have to buy small bags of potato chips so I can keep track of all the potato chips that I’m eating.

At least that’s the theory. What usually happens is that I just eat all the small bags of potato chips anyway.

When many people think of science fiction, many often think old white cis men. Yet as a genre, science fiction has always attracted marginalized writers, from female authors such as Mary Shelley and Octavia Butler (who also further revolutionized the field as a woman of color) and Jewish science fiction writers who invited new realities outside of the hostile ones they inhabited, as seen in the various Jewish comic book makers who were drawn to the field due to anti-Semitic hiring practices in other fields. What’s your take on this as a trans woman of color? 

This is not an easy question to answer. On one hand, so many amazing female writers and artists have done brilliant work before me, and it feels natural to want to continue this legacy. 

However, there are in cases where some of my writing role models have said damaging things to queer and trans women. And there’s always the possibility of anti-Asian sentiment. So, I will always respect and admire the work, but will also be careful not to idealize the creators themselves.

I guess that’s just another way of saying that I try to keep grounded and focused on own universe and my own writing, because I know that here I can find inclusion, possibility, and love—at least in a way that works for me.   

What are some of your favorite elements of writing?

Besides the potato chips? I love the first part of writing, when there’s a blank page in front of me and I have pretty ink and a nice fountain pen.

And I love all the middle parts, and the frustration when something’s not quite working because then I just laugh at myself and say, “You asked for this! You’re the one who wanted to be a writer—now look at you!” I love writing a scene and crying while I’m writing, and thinking, “Gosh, I don’t know for certain, but think my readers are really going to like this!”

I also love people-watching, and going to places that I’m writing about to catch a scene, maybe taking a picture. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to catch. Maybe it’s just a color or maybe it’s someone pushing an ice cream cart. And then it’s going to show up in the book, and that’s the best thing.

And I also love the last part of editing, where I’m just tying up those little loose ends here and there. But each time I do it, the manuscript shines—it’s amazing how much like poetry a late-edit novel can behave.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers, especially other queer writers?

It’s good to be queer. It’s good to be trans. It’s good to be beautiful. It’s good to be badass. It’s good to be a pillar in the community. It’s good to be a good friend. (Actually, it’s really great to be a good friend.)

But if you’re going to be a writer, what’s most important is to be good with you. Sometimes, even though you are part of a queer chosen community, you must consciously disengage from that queer chosen community. And you’re going to feel guilty sometimes. 

But please try not to. 

Yes, there are so many compelling stories around you, but as a writer, you desperately need time and space to listen to your own.

And I know that can suck, because being queer or being trans is lonely all on its own. I know all about that one. 

But nobody else can write your story—the one only you can write. The one that the world needs to read. When they talk about bravery as a writer, I found where I’ve had to be the bravest is where I’ve had to be alone. But so many readers have been grateful for what that loneliness produced. 

So, is it worth it? For me, absolutely. 

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

“So many of the bonds in Light from Uncommon Stars are maternal. What does motherhood mean to you?”

One of the toughest parts about my being a trans woman, taking hormones and doing all the medical things that one does, is that I sterilized myself. Sure, I can bank my semen, but even then, I’m never going to be able to physically give birth. Speaking for myself, because all trans women are different—but speaking for myself—this is emotionally the most difficult part about being trans.

However, life goes on. I teach, and I have these books, and in these books, I can write characters who are mothers. I think I’m always going to have mother figures in my work. I’d like to say it’s for altruistic reasons, but some of it is envy. I so wish I could be a mother.

And yet, my books are like my children, and seeing them out in the world interacting with folks that I will never meet making new friends…that makes me so very, very proud.

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

Gosh, the whole point of being a writer is that it helps me interact with people. I don’t know where I would be without writing. 

Let’s go with this—I am very grateful to be able to pursue something that I love very much. However, being transgender in this country remains precarious for all trans people. It seems that every time we relax, someone wants to take one of our human rights away or another. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to speak with you, and even more so to have this opportunity to become a writer. I am very, very grateful. 

However, having this sort of opportunity and feeling safe are two different things. 

So, I encourage non-trans-identifying people to get to know more of the trans people in your community. Maybe first as allies, but as later friends–even as family. Not the lip-service kind, but the real kind. There’s a lot there to love. I think your life will be so much better for it. And, if enough of y’all do this, I think it’s going to be easier for trans people like me to exhale and sleep at night.

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

I’m deep in the middle of my next novel. It’s not a sequel, but it’s going to take place in the same universe as Light from Uncommon Stars and there may even be a couple characters that carry over. I can’t talk about it too much, but, as I told my editor, if I can write the story that’s in my heart, I’m going to be thrilled and proud to bring it to you.

I’m also writing a weekly newsletter called “Ryka’s Most Excellent World” ( where I can explore topics that might seem random, even contradictory, to uncover insights and relations that may be hidden in plain view. One of my recent essays discussed supermarkets and supersymmetry and makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. 

And, because of COVID, I’ve not been able to have self-defense classes in person. so, I’m working with two of my senior students to create a manual of everything we teach for the TransLatin@ Coalition. It’s exciting because we’re going to be writing it in Spanish and English. 

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

Sure! The first is Samuel R. Delany. A good place to start is Dhalgren. The second is Rachel Pollack, with Unquenchable Fire or Doom Patrol. Both Delany and Pollack are in their 70s—Samuel Delany will be 80 next year. 

With so much beautiful queer (and BIPOC) and trans literature being produced, by so many beautiful LGBTQ+ writers, Delany and Pollack remind us that so much of what we think is new today was also new years ago. 

And that’s the way it should be, because as long as humans have been able to see the stars, LGBTQ+ people have been there to fill the skies with stories amazing and profound. 

Interview with Author Jason June

Jason June (it’s a two-name first name, like Mary-Kate without the hyphen or the Olsen twin) is a writer mermaid who loves to create picture books that mix the flamboyantly wacky with the slightly dark, and young adult contemporary queer rom-coms full of love and lust and hijinks. When not writing, JJ zips about Austin, Texas, with his Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw.  His work includes the queer-inclusive Valentine’s Day picture book, Porcupine Cupid; the whimsical chapter book series, Mermicorn Island; and the YA rom-coms, Jay’s Gay Agenda (out now) and Out of the Blue (May 31, 2022).

I had the opportunity to interview Jason June, 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! My name is Jason June (it’s a two-name first name, like Mary-Kate but without the hyphen or the Olsen twin), and I’m the author of Jay’s Gay Agenda and the upcoming Out of the Blue. I love writing YA featuring the love lives and shenanigans of queer characters!

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to Young Adult Fiction?

I’ve been writing my entire life! I actually started by writing down word for word the dialogue in the movie Labyrinth starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. I was probably seven years old and completely robsessed with that movie. But in that moment I realized the magic of a movie started with the words in a script. And then I became completely smitten with words in general, and read like my life depended on it. My love for YA came about a few years ago, after a few failed attempts at publishing middle grade fantasy. I needed a palate cleanser to just clear my mind, and became totally wrapped up in contemporary YA and how there is magic in real life that doesn’t have to be literal fairies or witches or potions, but the sort of electric buzzing that occurs when we’re creating strong connections in our teen years. 

Where did the inspiration and the impetus to write your debut book, Jay’s Gay Agenda come from? (Also I’m very curious how you came up with the title.)

JGA is very loosely based on my experiences as the only out queer kid at my rural eastern Washington high school. While I didn’t keep my gay hopes and dreams in a list, I did have a diary that detailed all I couldn’t wait to experience when I finally met another gay person. I didn’t get to jump into a queer community until college, but I used that diary as the seed for the book along with my Type-A Virgo tendencies of list-making, which led to the creation of the titular Gay Agenda. I specifically wanted Gay Agenda in the title because I think it’s hysterical that some people think there is this Queer Master Plan, and instead wanted to show how each person in the LGBTQIA+ community has their own individual relationship wants and goals, and the chaos and joy and magic that can come about when you actually start accomplishing them. 

One element that people have seemed to responded to is the open discussion about sex positivity in Jay’s Gay Agenda? (Also on a small note, as an asexual person, thanks for the brief asexual acknowledgement.)

I’m really happy that people have responded so well to the sex positivity in the book. Going in, I knew that was something I wanted to include in this story because starting around the age of 15, I was thinking about sex constantly, but everywhere I looked I was told that my desire was wrong. So JGA was made to be an antidote to that, to show gay teens that as long as everything is safe and consensual, their physical desires are just as beautiful as anyone else’s. It’s part of human connection for so many of us! And thank you for the thanks! I think it’s important to note in any sex positive discussion that all sexualities are fabulous!

Something I’ve noticed with a lot of queer authors is often they write the books that they wished their younger selves would have wanted. Was this in any way true for you?

Absolutely! I needed to know I wasn’t alone when I was a teen in my relationship and physical hopes and dreams, but minus a selection of books I could count on less than one hand, I couldn’t find many books that I felt truly represented me. It’s why I pretty much stopped reading for enjoyment in high school and didn’t really get back into it until after college. It’s now super important to me to write stories that will always center a queer protagonist and queer relationships.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way?

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez was the first time I read a book where I was like, “Okay, wait! I relate to this!” It’s actually one of the books I was thinking of above where there was representation I could connect with. And there was Marco on Degrassi

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

To keep at it! You’re going to hear no so many times. No, an agent doesn’t want to take you on as a client; no, an editor doesn’t think your story is right for their imprint; no, a reader doesn’t like your book. But you’ve got to keep going! There are going to be those times that people say yes, they absolutely love what you’re writing, or relate to your story, or can’t wait for what you’re coming out with next. So anytime you hear a no, know that a yes is out there for you too, and you’ve got to keep writing for those yeses. 

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

Chikorita is the best Pokémon and that’s all there is to it. 

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

I honestly can’t think of one! Interviewers like you are so good at coming up with questions that let me discuss the heart of my work, so I don’t feel like I haven’t been able to talk about the things that mean the most to me. So thank you! 

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

Yes! My second novel with HarperTeen comes out in May and it’s called Out of the Blue. It’s a contemporary YA with light magical elements featuring queer merpeople! It’s dual POV between a merperson (Crest, pronounced like the actual sound of a cresting wave, which is impossible for humans to say, so they go by the human name Ross while on land) who has to come on land for a month to help a human, and the recently dumped lifeguard (Sean) that Crest fake dates to help Sean save face in front of Sean’s ex. And we all know what happens when fake dating ensues! This is about romance helping us discover parts of ourselves we hadn’t yet realized, and it also explores the whole emotional journey of having to choose between love for a person and love for your home when you literally have to choose one over the other. I’m so excited for it! 

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

I love love love book talking! Here are a few that I have absolutely adored this year:

Jonny Garza Villa’s FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN. It follows Julián as he gets drunk and accidentally comes out online, unleashing a whole storm of excitement (a Cutie McCuterson DMs him after coming out) and anxiety (having to still stay in the closet when it comes to his dad). Jonny has so perfectly found that balance of jubilation at being yourself after you come out that can come hand in hand with fear when we’re still in an environment that’s not safe. It’s so beautifully done, with both laugh-out-loud and heart-clutching moments.

Ashley Shuttleworth’s A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR. It it is an epic high fantasy told from four POVs, and they’re all queer! It was so amazing to get all this magical action and high stakes and be surrounded by queerness!

Emery Lee’s MEET CUTE DIARY. In this we follow Noah, a transgender teen, who runs a blog full of trans happily ever afters. But, all the stories are fiction. And when a troll calls Noah out for making up stories, Noah starts a whole fake-dating escapade to get real-life material that teaches him so much about relationships and what makes a good partner. I loved it so much and everyone should read it!

Stephan Lee’s K-POP CONFIDENTIAL in which we follow Candace as she moves to Seoul to train to become a K-Pop idol! I loved every last second of this and felt like I could see the choreography and hear the music. And I just finished the sequel, K-POP REVOLUTION, which comes out in spring 2022, and everyone should preorder it now!

Interview with Author Ashley Woodfolk

Ashley Woodfolk has loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked in children’s book publishing for over a decade. Now a full-time mom and writer, Ashley lives in a sunny Brooklyn apartment with her cute husband, her cuter dog, and the cutest baby in the world. Her books include The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, and the Flyy Girls series. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @ashwrites. 

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, Nothing Burns as Bright as You? 

Well hello. I’m Ashley. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I’ve been lucky enough in the last few years to have a few different YA novels published. My latest, NOTHING BURNS AS BRIGHT AS YOU, is my feminist manifesto and the queer novel of my heart, and as much as I love this book, everything about it terrifies me. NOTHING BURNS is about two messy girls in a tumultuous relationship—they’re friends but also more than friends, with hardly any boundaries. On the day they set a fire, their relationship spirals out of control, and as the truth of their history is unraveled, their future is revealed.

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

I’ve been writing poetry and stories since kindergarten, and I can’t say I was specifically drawn to YA on purpose. It’s just that when I sit down to write I almost always have young characters in mind. I think it has something to do with how unique the teen years are. They’re the first time you’re able to make your own decisions and yet, there are still so many freedoms you don’t yet have. It’s a time full of firsts and rife with opportunities to make mistakes while also being full of second chances. Teens can be so messy and so brilliant in the space of a few hours, and I find that resilience and versatility so fascinating—it’s such a cool thing to play with when writing stories. I also just think teenagers are the best people: so much more passionate and kind and motivated than anyone else I know.

In a beautiful essay you wrote for Catapult, “How Writing My Young Adult Novel Helped Me Reclaim the Queer Girlhood I Lost,” you talk about how writing a queer young adult story allowed you to access a version of queer youth you yourself didn’t get to have? Could you expand on this and the vicarious power of fiction?

I think that essay says it all. I didn’t see my own queerness for years despite the signs being everywhere. Attraction to multiple genders? Check. Romantic entanglements with multiple genders? Double check. Queer besties? Celebrity crushes across the gender/sexuality spectrum? Undying empathy for the queer community as an “ally”? Triple check. I have always been who I am, I just didn’t have a name for it, didn’t recognize it for what it was until I was well into my adulthood. And the pain I feel for what was lost—people I didn’t pursue or maybe didn’t even notice, relationships I destroyed because of an idea I had in my head about who I was…it troubles me sometimes. Through writing I’m able to work through some of that grief, some of my sadness about what I missed out on. I’m able to explore feelings that I suppressed without even realizing I was suppressing something. Through my own powerful imagination, I can write the stories I wish I had read; stories that may have helped me see myself more clearly years earlier. I felt invisible for decades. I just hope that the things I write are able to help someone else feel seen.

What are some of your favorite elements of craft?

Coming up with and building characters is by far my favorite part of writing any book. 

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

I’m on a mission to help kids (and adults!) believe they’re worthy of love and acceptance simply because they exist. I try to plant that message in the heart of everything I write and say and do. Other than that, I’m a mama to a toddler and a pittie, a wife to a very cute guy I’ve loved since I was 19, and a lover of good food, emotional books, indie movies, and all kinds of music. I’m a card-carrying member of the frequent criers club, and I believe therapy should be free and widely available to everyone. But until then, I’ll keep writing books that I hope help people feel a little less alone.

What advice might you give to other aspiring authors?

Be relentless (you only ever need one yes to move forward at every step in this process, so don’t be too discouraged by rejections), and write like no one’s watching.

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

The characters in NOTHING BURNS don’t have names. Why not? 

Names felt too restrictive, too tied to a single identity. I want these characters to be anyone. I want them to be everyone.

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

Working on lots of things, but nothing else I can talk about right now. ☹

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

Anything by Leah Johnson, Kacen Callender, Nina LaCour, or David Levithan

Odd One Out by Nic Stone. 

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow.

Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda & Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli.

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Interview with Author Bill Konigsberg

Bill Konigsberg is the author of six books for young adults, which have won awards including the Stonewall Book Award, the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and the Lambda Literary Award. Bill lives with his husband, Chuck, and their two Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Please visit him on Twitter @billkonigsberg.

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

CW: Discussion of mental illness and suicide.

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

Thank you, and sure! I’m the author of six young adult novels, all of which explore the lives of LGBTQ characters. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, with my husband, Chuck, and our Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Before turning to YA lit, which I did by publishing my first novel in 2008, I was a sports writer for ESPN and The Associated Press. In fact, I became the first openly gay man at ESPN when I wrote an essay called “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays” in 2001.

As a journalist for websites for ESPN, how would you describe the transition from sports writer to young adult author? Would you say there are any times where your former writing experience bleeds into the other?

It’s really a different world. With sports journalism—any journalism, really—you’re looking to be as concise as possible, using an economy of words. Creative writing allows me to really branch out and explore language in a way that journalism never did. I would say that a bunch of my novels include athletics, and (hopefully) I do that well. ☺

Where would you say your ideas for books usually come from? Do you look towards anywhere specific for inspiration while writing?

It’s kind of all over the place. Sometimes, like with my most recent, THE BRIDGE, I get inspired with a concept and move forward from the idea. More frequently with me, I want to write about a specific character whose voice I hear in my head. It’s like I’ll get a line of dialogue or something that triggers me to explore more, as if a character is leading me and saying, “Hey there, come see about me!”

Some of your books, including The Music of What Happens, deal with the subject of masculinity, of characters trying to figure out what it means to be a “man” as well as navigating toxic masculinity. Could you lend us your thoughts on this?

This has been such a huge theme in my life. Maybe because of my youth, in which I played a lot of sports but was also dealing with what was at the time a secret, that I liked other guys? I think over time I began to really focus in on those questions about what it means to be a man, as opposed to the lessons we learn from media, or in our society. I think standing up and being counted even when you’re different is more courageous than so many of the toxically masculine attributes—violence, being taciturn—are. So yes, I seem to come back to that issue a lot. I think it’s important that we allow boys to be who they are, and not try to live up to some bogus and false vision of masculinity that breaks down the more you look at it.

Your latest book, The Bridge, deals with some very strong subjects, including suicide and depression. What drew you to writing about this? Is there any advice you would want to give to other writers writing this topic?

I was drawn to write about suicide and depression because of my own history with both. I have been dealing with chronic depression since I was a teenager, though at the time I don’t know that I knew what that was. In my mid-to-late 20s, I attempted suicide by taking pills. The pain in my life was just too much for me to bear, or that’s what it felt like at the time. It took me a long time to write about these things, because it’s such a vulnerable thing, talking about mental health. I didn’t want people to judge me based on that, but really over time I began to realize that was the same thing as not wanting to be judged for being gay. My life’s work, it seems, is to keep uncovering the things I’m not supposed to talk about, and writing about them in great detail. 

As for advice for someone writing about this topic: I would stress the importance of not glamorizing suicide. Suicidal feelings can be so powerful, and what is most helpful, in my opinion, is letting people know that they are not alone, that other people have felt the same way. The most dangerous thing we can tell people who are struggling is that something good comes from completing suicide. We need to stress how important it is for all of us to stay another day, even when it’s really hard.

What advice would you give to writers in general, especially those looking to finish a book?

I’d stress that when we talk about finishing a book, often we are talking about finishing a first draft of a book! And by that, I mean that novels generally take at least three rounds of revisions to get really good! So instead of comparing your first draft to someone’s third (or eighth, you never know!), just get the words down so you can see what you have and get into revision, which is where a lot of the magic happens.

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

I love spending time with my dogs, and I love spending time with good friends. Those are probably the things I spend most of my time doing, and I really enjoy both.

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

That’s a tough one. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years! Maybe something about legacy, about what I hope I have given to young readers. And the answer to that would be that I hope some young readers have seen their own hearts in my writing. That they have recognized something innately wonderful in my characters that they can also identify in themselves, and feel really good about.

As a writer who has been in the game for a while, how have you seen the landscape of young adult literature change since you first entered and today, or even since you were a young adult yourself?

In the 13 years since my first novel came out, the landscape of young adult literature has changed drastically. I remember winning the Lambda Literary Award with that first novel, Out of the Pocket. There were maybe 25 books that year to choose from that had LGBTQ protagonists. Now, on a yearly basis, there are probably 300! I think the quality of writing has improved a lot. I think the diversity of voices has grown significantly, though we are still working on that. I think the types of intersectionality seen in these novels today dwarfs anything that was happening 13 years ago. In short, I think we’re in a YA renaissance, where some incredible work is being done.

Are there any questions you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I have a novel coming out next May called DESTINATION UNKNOWN. It’s about two boys meeting in 1987 New York City, with the AIDS crisis looming all around them. I have read so many books about AIDS, and have always dreamed of writing one. Having grown up in that time and place, it has been a huge issue in my life, and I think I’ve needed to write about it for a long time.

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

So many! 


TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE… by Benjamin Alire Saenz

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian


FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Calendar

To name a few…

Interview with Author Daisy Hernández

Daisy Hernández is the author of The Kissing Bug: A True Story of an Insect, a Family and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease. She is also the author of the award-winning memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed and coeditor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. The former editor of ColorLines magazine, she has reported for National Geographic, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Slate, and she has written for NPR’s All Things Considered and CodeSwitch.

Her essays and fiction have appeared in Aster(ix), Bellingham Review, Brevity, Dogwood, Fourth Genre, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, Juked, and Rumpus among other journals. A contributing editor for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle, Daisy is an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Miami University in Ohio.

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

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

Sure! I am a queer Latinx author from Jersey. I’ve been writing and editing work about the intersections of race, immigration, class, and sexuality for almost two decades. My first book was the anthology COLONIZE THIS! YOUNG OF COLOR ON TODAY’S FEMINISM. I’ve also written a memoir and my new book, THE KISSING BUG, is about science, medicine and public health. I live in Ohio where I’ve just adopted my first (and probably only) puppy named Lula! 

Could you explain to the readers of Geeks OUT where the unique title of your books come from? 

Some people are born with a talent for writing titles, and then there’s the rest of us. In my case, titles “find” me. So, COLONIZE THIS! is actually the title of an essay in the anthology by the incredible Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez. A CUP OF WATER UNDER MY BED is the title of my memoir and refers figuratively to the resources that my immigrant mother and her sisters had while raising me in the United States. My new book’s title is THE KISSING BUG, which is an insect, only found in Latin America and the US, that can transmit a deadly disease that disproportionately affects Latinx people.   

In the book, you navigate through your writing the complexities of your intersectional identity, from your Cuban and Colombian roots to your queer identity. Has that ever felt like transcribing a spiderweb, in which each tread can’t be untangled from the other?  

What a beautiful image! Even though I wrote a book titled THE KISSING BUG I am not a fan of the insect world so I don’t usually reach for analogies like this but you are so right and I’ll keep going with this — if you touch one part of the spiderweb, one part of your identity, you feel the vibrations elsewhere on the spiderweb, for all other aspects of your identity. So a situation that touches on issues of ethnicity also brings up emotions in terms of gender and sexuality and class.  

While reading your book, one of the quotes that most stood out to me was the one where you describe your bisexuality, “As if I am learning that I can shift my weight from one leg to the other, that I have a second leg. Kissing women is like discovering a new limb.” Could you expand on this? 

At the time I felt that I had representations of lesbian identity, narratives about lesbian identity and life, but I didn’t have narratives or language about bisexuality. Movies or TV shows often just represented us in love triangles. So I wanted new language and started thinking about what bisexuality felt like in my body and that image came to me — probably it came to me because when I was fifteen I was in a terrible car accident and ended up breaking my left leg in a bad way. I was hospitalized for weeks, had to get a blood transfusion. It was bad. Then I was on a walker, then crutches. Healing took months which for a teenager is years. But I remember slowly being able to bear weight on my left leg, and it was felt like a new limb to me, like I had never thought about my leg until that moment and how wondrous it was. And I guess I think of bisexuality and pansexuality like that: wondrous.    

One of the most prominent parts of the book was you exploring your family’s belief systems, including Santería, including the reconciliation between the hidden and the open. Would you mind discussing that a little here and the relevance of your decision to include that?  

I often find myself obsessed in my writing with what is hidden, forgotten, or silenced. People tend to hide what is tender, vulnerable, wounded and also powerful….I knew that I had to write about the Ocha religion because after I left home the religion became more important to me as a way to stay connected particularly with my father. And in the memoir I realized that showing readers my father in a spiritual context would help somewhat in having empathy for him despite the alcoholism and abuse.

In an interview you’ve done with Ms. Magazine, you had mentioned this really cool thing about how writing empowers you, saying “people can ignore me for whatever reasons—’cause I’m Latina, ’cause they have ideas bout me—but when I’m on the page, no one ignores the page.” What do you think about the written word and why it holds so much power?  

I love that you found this quote! I don’t remember saying it but it sounds like me. We are a culture that values the document. When I say “we” I mean the Western world, the United States. We value ink and paper. So on one hand, the written word has power because of historical and collective decisions, and on the other hand, I also think the page has power because whether that’s a page in a book or a page on Instagram it can be shared and so the written word can move so far beyond the community in the context where is written. And I think many of us have had the feeling when you read a page and you think: this is me, this is my life. There’s a thrill unlike any other in that connection. 

One section of the book that I’m sure many people appreciated was your internal conversation on language, on speaking both Spanish and English, and how we demonstrate different parts of ourselves depending on the tongue we use. In addition to race and class, do you believe language has any effect in how we conceive our own queer identities? 

Absolutely! When the book was translated to Spanish, I had a passionate email exchange with the translator about the word “butch”. I was trying to explain to him that the word is understood in a Spanish-language context here in the US, and I didn’t want to use the word marimacho in Spanish because I grew up hearing people say that as an insult for butch women. So I wanted to keep butch even in Spanish. In the queer spaces where I came of age, if you said “Ella es butch,” people immediately understood you — and femmes understood the desire that word invoked. 

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

I don’t think that I’ve ever been asked what books I read as a child. It’s not a question that I necessarily wish I had been asked but I do find it interesting that it doesn’t come up. I might be thinking about this because I was supposed to do a podcast about young adult literature. The answer: I read a lot of Sweet Valley Twins in elementary school and I read a lot of Harlequin romance novels. In other words: all fantasy and now I write nonfiction. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers, especially those seeking to go into the field of non-fiction literature and journalism? 

You don’t need talent. You don’t need to come from a literary family. You don’t even need to have read the literary canon as a child. You just have to want it, and you have to be clear about what you want to say. That’s it. Wanting to write and that sense of purpose will keep you going through rejections and anything else that comes up, and it will also ensure that you find a community of support. 

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

I am working on my first collection of essays. At least I think I am! I always like to let a book project change over time. 

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

I love all of Carolina DeRobertis’s novels, and CANTORAS is the one that I would recommend as a must read for anyone queer on the planet. All of Rigoberto Gonzalez’s books too, and I’m partial to his memoir Butterfly Boy and his book Autobiography of My Hungers. I often teach We the Animals by Justin Torres. And, of course, every book by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.

Interview with Author Jonny Garza Villa

Jonny Garza Villa is a product of the great state of Texas, born and raised along the Gulf Coast, and a decade-long resident of San Antonio. They are an author of contemporary young adult fiction that maintains a brand of being proudly Latinx, and the most queer, and embracing the power and beauty of the chaotic gay. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is their debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview Jonny regarding their debut novel, which you can read below.

CW: Discussion of toxic relationships/parental abuse.

First of all, congratulations on your debut novel, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun. Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?

Thank you so much! I like to call Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun part of my own adolescent traumas, part Selena’s “Dreaming of You,” and part Patrón. It’s a coming of age, contemporary romance that follows Corpus Christi, Texas teen Julián (aka Jules) Luna, who’s just trying to have a lowkey senior year, hang out with his friends, get into UCLA, and finally be able to move away from all the environments that have kept him closeted his entire life. That is, until he accidentally comes out as gay on Twitter after getting tremendously drunk at a party. And in the days and weeks and months that follow, Jules will realize all the good that comes from allowing ourselves to live openly and authentically—like having a long distance Twitter crush slide into his DMs—as well as the bad, like figuring out how to come out to his extremely machista dad.

Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Were there any books/media/music that inspired you prior to or while writing it?

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun was hugely influenced by Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, as well as its film adaptation, Love, Simon. I love both of them so much, but they also left me with the question of what would Simon Spier’s journey look like if he was a Chicano kid living in a socially conservative, Mexican, Catholic household in South Texas? Because there would absolutely be drastic differences, and I felt like there needed to be something that gave queer Chicane and Mexican American youth the same chance to see ourselves as Simon did for so many.

Also, specifically with characters, On My Block had a lot of influence on a couple in particular. I like to say that Jules is very much like Ruby meets Simon Spier, and his friend Lou takes a lot of influence from Jasmine and how wildly and wonderfully chaotic she is.

How would you describe your writing process?

Constantly changing. I pantsed Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, which basically means I came into it with a very vague, basic idea of what I wanted the story to be and then just started writing it without any sort of outline. Even my second book, Ander and Santi Were Here, was largely pantsed. However, I have started embracing the idea of outlining and, I think, all of my current projects have been plotted and thought about much more intensely before just going at it. In the end, I’m a fan of both and figuring out what works best for you, whether it’s one or the other or somewhere in the middle.

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

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is the very first book I’ve ever written and only the second idea I’d ever attempted, so I definitely went into it with very little knowledge on craft or best practices. But what I think helped was that I had a deadline. I drafted it during National Novel Writing Month, so having that set, last day of November deadline to get as much of this idea out onto a page helped keep me focused.

I’m also a big advocate of things that aren’t writing but are still absolutely creative productivity. If I was having a hard time thinking of words, I’d spend the afternoon creating playlists or listening to music that felt close to the vibe I was going for in the next scene. I’d go on Pinterest and make mood boards. I’d cook. I’d think about any random situation and how these characters might react.

A significant part of the book involves exploring toxic bonds, including family ones. If you feel comfortable would you mind discussing that a little?

Yeah, of course. So, while I love writing about the cool and beautiful parts of my culture and being Chicane, I also feel compelled to write about the not so great aspects of my community and, specifically here, that meant calling out how harmful machismo philosophy is and specifically its prevalence when it comes to raising sons or AMAB children.

Also, while I get it, I’m not huge on crappy parents in YA suddenly becoming this embracing or even at least tolerant person. Like, realistically, just because we ourselves decide we’re gonna stop hating this specific part of ourself, that doesn’t mean everyone around you jointly decides they’re going to stop hating that part of you too. And I think that needs more attention. I think it’s okay to recognize those relationships that are going to always be bad for us because that then allows us to rely on those that are good for us.

What are your favorite parts of this book and of the writing process in general? What message did you want to send with Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun?

I love those specific scenes where Jules is with just one of his friends. Those times with Jordan or before Homecoming with Lou or that one scene with Rolie or in the days after his birthday with Itzel. Friendship and platonic relationships were, for me, as important as the romantic plot between Jules and Mat, and in those times of intimacy between Jules and his friends, they were and are so incredibly special and meaningful for me.

My favorite part of the writing process is revisions. That feeling of knowing I’m getting closer to what a book is supposed to be is such a driving force for me.

And the message I wanted to send with Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, specifically to anyone who knows what it is to be in Jules’ shoes, is that I hope you find love and acceptance in this story, even if it’s alone, in the quiet of your room, between just you and Jules and Mat and Jordan and Itzel and Rolie and Lou and Piña and Xochi. And that I hope you know that you are enough for this world just as you are.

Upon reading the book, the reader tends to notice a moon and sun theme coming up, especially with the lotería themed character art cards of Jules and Mat drawn by Mars Lauderbaugh? Where did that symbolism come from?

In all honesty, at first I thought it was just a very clever thing, personally. Like, oh what if there’s moon in his name and sun in his name? That would make me the greatest writer of all time. I’m obviously the first person to ever be this creative with language. But as Jules and Mat’s personalities began to really take shape and then I learned that there’s actually a trope that is literally sun type and moon type (absolutely crushing my ego and idea of originality), I ran with it and embraced it.

What’s a question that you haven’t been asked but wish you were asked (along with your answer)?

One thing I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about is Jules relationship with religion and specifically as a gay Catholic. While I’m not anymore, I was raised and was pretty devoutly Catholic, which left me with an appreciation for what it is at its best while also with the ability to be critical. From the beginning I knew that I wanted Jules to, one, not be a character who was trying to convince himself he isn’t gay but instead just a closeted gay boy waiting for his chance to not be closeted, and, two, that I didn’t want his sexuality to be a hinderance in his personal relationship with his beliefs. Originally there were at least a couple of scenes with him actually at Mass and pretty committed to practicing his faith. I wanted the God he believes in to be one that doesn’t care who Jules loves. I wanted to show the difference in those who believe religion to be a tool of love, like his Güelo, compared to those who use it to oppress, like his dad. And, ultimately, I didn’t want it to be a story of someone running away from their faith but as someone who knows he can exist as he is. That it was never God who was withholding love, but those who believe to know God best who are the ones withholding love and, in the end, we don’t need it from them.

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers? What advice might you have to give as a debut author specifically?

To aspiring writers, I would say to not listen to anyone who says you have to write every day. Write when you’re able. Write when you feel like it. Don’t push yourself. Don’t create a relationship with writing that makes it into something you force on yourself.

And to debut authors, don’t procrastinate! Got a cool preorder idea? Want to get with a local indie for a virtual thing? Get on that now; do not wait.

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

One project I’m currently (slowly) revising is a rivals to lovers story that centers around high school mariachi. Big ego, Leo sun main character and a love interest who will not be pushed into the background. Less coming of age feels and more strictly romance, which has been pretty cool to write, as much as writing coming of age stories is my favorite.

And I feel like I can mention these because they’ve been brought up publicly already, but I am putting some thought into what happens after the end of Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun; also, there is some pondering going on about a potential co-written YA gay cowboy story with one of my favorite people that I’m very excited about.

What books would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

For contemporary, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera; Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram; Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee; The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters; and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp.

For contemporary fantasy, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas; Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz; and The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon.

For fantasy, We Set the Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia; Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro; and Crier’s War by Nina Varela

For speculative contemporary, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante

For romance that’s not YA but still has that coming of age feel, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Interview With Author C. L. Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and study what you read.

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author and literary agent at Rees Literary Agency. She is the author of six novels for young adults and middle grade readers, as well as the adult romance novel Delilah Green Doesn’t Care. She lives on a very tiny island off the coast of Georgia with her family. I had the opportunity to interview Ashley, which you can read below.

First of all, where did you first discover your love of writing? What stories made you fall in love with the art of storytelling itself and when did you realize that was something you could do as well? 

I’m not sure exactly when I discovered writing, but I do remember that I’ve always done it. Poetry, little stories when I was a kid, it was always a part of my life. I didn’t really think I could do it for real as an author until I was past 30 years old. I was at a point in my life where I really wanted to go for everything I wanted, so I devoted myself to trying to write fiction. It worked out pretty well, I think. 🙂 

How would you describe your crafting style? How do you go about writing on a continual basis while balancing day-to-day life or stresses? 

I think of my craft as a connect-the-dots method. I know the big plot points I’m going to hit, where my character starts and ends, but how I get to each major plot point, I don’t plan out. I connect those dots as I go. I have two other jobs other than writing, so balance is key. I’m not always actively writing, but when I am, I try to write a little each day, or I set a weekly word count goal and make sure I hit it by Sunday, but day-to-day goals work best for me. And I stop pretty soon after hitting the goal–I don’t push it, I just do what I can each day.

Where do you find your story ideas? Are there any particular sources you go to draw inspiration from, i.e. movies, authors, etc.? 

I don’t know specifically where I get my story ideas and there’s not a set place I get inspiration from. Really, and simply put, I write the kinds of stories I’d like to read.

Two of your recent books, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World stand out as two additions to the field of LGBTQ+ Middle Grade. What is your take on this still growing field and the importance of younger queer representation? 

I think it’s extremely important. Even since writing IVY, there have been so many more queer middle grade books released, which is wonderful. We still need more though, particularly from authors of color. We also need a variety of queer experiences and intersections. We need coming out stories and stories where queerness is simply part of the character’s life already. We need queer stories with diabled characters, neurodiverse characters, and characters of color. 

One of the lovely themes I noticed in your book The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, was how the physical struggles paralleled the protagonist’s internal struggle, i.e. Sunny’s heart troubles paralleling her emotional vulnerability or ability to be “open with her heart.” Was this intentional? 

I’d like to think it was. 🙂 I think more often than not, external events do mirror internal events, even in real life, so I think it’s only natural that that comes out in fiction as well. 

Romance is often a tricky thing to describe, much less write about. Part of what makes middle grade stand out is the way it handles romantic narratives, usually those in which the protagonist experiences romantic attraction for the first time via crushes or beginning to understand their own romantic orientations. How did you find yourself tackling this particular narrative element through such a young lens?

For me it was much more about identity. “Am I okay and will someone love me?” That’s a question I think a lot of young people ask themselves, particularly when it comes to first crushes. It’s not so much about actually making out in middle grade, but about the possibility of romance that you now have as a young person and how you perceive yourself being perceived by others. 

Do you ever experience writer’s block, and if so what methods do you use to combat it? 

I do, but I don’t think it’s a “block.” It’s usually because I need a break–I need to input to output–or because there is somewhere in the draft where I’ve gone wrong and it’s “blocking” forward progress. I usually go back to where it felt right in the draft, and retrace my steps, see if there’s anything I need to change. 

As a writer, what advice would you give for writers who are looking to explore identity in their craft? 

Keep writing and keep reading. I learned how to write from reading great writing. And I learned by writing a lot myself, even if it’s bad. Because it will be bad at first. It’ll get better. 

How do you establish first meetings between characters (both platonic and those who will have a future romantic connection)? How do you set things up? 

It all depends on what my main character needs/wants and why they can’t have it. Often, the major secondary character (particularly romantic) is going to be in direct opposition to this, or challenge this in some way. I want their first meeting to set this foundation. 

What are some tips for writing dialogue? 

Read dialogue that you love and try to model that. Read it out loud. Only use the dialogue tags “says/said” and “ask/asked.” Sure there are some exceptions, but most often, you don’t need “bellowed, snarked, whined, cackled” or what have you. Your dialogue itself and the context around it should show how they’re saying something.

Finally, what books would you recommend to other aspiring writers? 

I’m not sure if this means craft books or just books to read in general, but I don’t really have any craft books to recommend. I’ve heard great things about Save the Cat Writes a Novel, though I haven’t read it. As far as other reading–read what you love!

Interview with Alyssa Zaczek

Alyssa Zaczek grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where she spent her childhood writing stories about nervy girls and slowly amassing a landslide of books beneath her bed. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting, which she uses to justify her love of banter. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, curating vintage clothing and making her partner laugh. She currently lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with said partner and their four animals. MARTIN MCLEAN, MIDDLE SCHOOL QUEEN is her debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come into writing? What draws you in most about the craft, be it middle grade or other genres?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I only began to explore it seriously when I merged it with my love of theatre in college and majored in Playwriting. Interestingly, coming back to prose in adulthood, I’ve found that the aspects which draw me in the most are also the most theatrical aspects — the ways language can be used to reveal or conceal elements of character, the way a story can set a scene and keep you there, fully immersed in that world. Writing middle grade in particular, I’ve found a great deal of joy in exploring those difficult emotions of that age and expressing them in ways that feel true. It’s a wonderful age group to write for, because it is so inherently full of tension — these kids are not quite as “grown-up” as high-schoolers, but they’re also not exactly “children” any more — and tension makes for dynamic, emotionally rich stories! 

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, Martin McLean, Middle School Queen, come from? Was there some impetus for writing queer middle grade book as a queer writer yourself?

When I began to consider writing my first novel, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be middle grade. Middle school was a deeply formative — but also deeply difficult — time for me, and I think it’s a season of life where we tend to feel lonely, and stories can be an incredible comfort in loneliness. I also knew I wanted it to incorporate the performing arts in some way, because discovering theatre in my middle school years was so pivotal for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself strictly to theatre. Drag, which is so inherently theatrical already, seemed like a perfect fit, both for its inextricable ties to the queer community as well as its joyful exploration of self. 

I identify now as a queer person, but in middle school, I wasn’t even aware that there was a spectrum of queerness. As far as I knew, there was gay and straight, and that was it. None of the books I had access to at that time had queer protagonists, and if a queer character did appear, they were always a supporting character and always either the butt of the joke or a caricature of  an ultra-femme gay man. When I began to explore my queerness as an adult, I reflected often on how differently my experience as a young, questioning person would have been if I’d been exposed to books with queer protagonists — particularly ones that were diverse and complex,  who questioned and lingered in that uncertainty. That was a huge driving factor in creating Martin as a character and as a narrative. I wanted to show kids that not only is it okay to be different, it’s okay to not be sure where you fit in. 

Martin McLean, Middle School Queen centers an Afro-Cuban-American queer boy. What concerns did you have with writing a character outside of your own identities, including consulting sensitivity readers?

As a white cis woman, I knew that writing a BIPOC protagonist outside of my own gender identity would be hugely sensitive, and I wanted to approach those aspects of Martin’s identity as a listener, not a speaker. The BIPOC experience, the Afro-Cuban experience, the mixed-race experience, the queer man experience — these are all well outside my own lived experience, so I knew going in that I wanted to do a great deal of listening to others who have lived those experiences.

Martin’s Afro-Cuban identity was inspired by the roots of drag; drag was built by Black and Latinx queer men, and I felt that having anything other than a POC at the center of this story would be doing a disservice to the institution of drag. His father being Irish-American is a nod to my own roots, but from a story standpoint, Martin’s mixed background serves to highlight that sense of not really fitting in anywhere — having one foot in one world, and one foot in another. Choosing an Afro-Cuban background was also a conscious choice. I’d noticed that in popular queer media, the queens that received the most attention and the most opportunities were almost always Black, white or white-passing, while queens from Latinx backgrounds were pushed aside, teased for their accents, etc. It never sat well with me, so I wanted Martin to offer some positive representation for young Latinx queens.

But therein lies the question I asked myself repeatedly in the writing and publishing of MARTIN: As a white woman, can I even offer that kind of representation? Would it be accurate and authentic? The answer is no — not without a lot of help. Knowing that, I was passionate about finding sensitivity readers, paying them for their work and expertise, actively listening to their feedback and making changes accordingly. I was humbled and blessed to have been able to do exactly that. We worked with sensitivity readers on every single diverse identity in this book. I was honored to listen to their feedback — from the Spanish language and Cuban turns-of-phrase throughout the book to the mechanics of Violet’s motorized wheelchair — to make this book something I’m proud to put in the hands of readers. 

With the emergence of younger drag artists and more queer middle grade fiction, it seems like there’s more exploration of queer identity in all-ages audiences. What are your thoughts on the current state of LGBTQ+ literature and how do you think we can do better?

I’m delighted to see young people feeling the validation and safety they need to express themselves with curiosity and joy, and that there are more queer stories on the shelves than ever before to reflect their experiences. As a young reader, I don’t think I could have fathomed that queer literature would move into the mainstream the way it has even in the last 5 years or so. 

Personally, I’m excited by queer literature that very mindfully moves past the coming-out narrative. MARTIN was specifically written to be an exploration narrative, not a coming-out narrative, because I felt — and still feel — that the questioning phase of queerness is one not yet richly explored in our books for young people. I also love books that are moving past queer pain and into queer joy. In 2021 and beyond, I’d love to see more books with queer characters at the center of a story that is not driven by their queerness — that is to say, more books about queer people simply living their extraordinary lives! I’d also like to see publishing steer away from queer retellings and start putting some significant resources behind original stories by queer authors. Don’t get me wrong — I love a retelling, especially a queer one, and I think examining classic literature through a queer lens is both important and just plain fun to read! — but the fact remains that queer people are good for more than simply stepping into stories already validated by history. Ultimately, my feeling is that true equality is only achieved when queer readers can see themselves represented in the same depth and breadth of literature as straight readers — so I’m excited to see more original queer narratives emerge across every genre and age group! 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet or wish you were asked?

So far, I’ve not been asked why I chose to have Martin’s two competitions turn out the way they do. [In the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, I’ll stay vague as to what those outcomes are, but if you know, you know!] I’d love to talk about why I made those decisions. 

Learning to cope with failure was a massive part of my middle- and high-school experiences. I’m naturally ambitious and competitive, and I threw myself into theatre and the speech team in a big way. Experiencing failure — bombed auditions, coming this close to landing a role, not placing at a competition — was extremely hard for me, but eventually I learned how to process it without derailing my mental and emotional health. Middle school is a time where a lot of kids experience their first significant failure, be it a low grade on a test or a lost championship game, so it was important to me to show that, even with all his talent, preparation, support, ambition and positive attitude, Martin could still fail. But — and this is the most important part — he learns from it, and doesn’t let it crush him. That’s a huge lesson at that age. 

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from?

Martin would definitely want to hang out with the Marvel heroes, that’s completely his jam. I could see him really enjoying time with Miles Morales, or the Tom Holland iteration of Peter Parker. Carmen would want to be thrown into the world of a musical — maybe Prom Night or something classic, like Grease. I could see Pickle in the world of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as all the characters on that show are very erudite and clever, just like him. 

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

My next middle grade project, which I’m working on currently, is a dark fantasy retelling of Peter Pan that transforms Peter into a monstrous antagonist and sends Wendy on a quest through Neverland’s creepy shadow world to rescue her little brother with the help of Captain Hook and her flying pirates. 

It is very different from MARTIN, and intentionally so. Authors, especially in the middle grade and YA spaces, are often told that it’s best to find their particular niche, but I have interests coming out the wazoo! I couldn’t possibly pick a single age range or genre to write in, so I’m quite happy to write whatever tugs at my mind and my heart at that moment in time. I hope that you’ll see many different kinds of novels from me in the future, especially in middle grade and YA. 

What advice would you give for writers who want to attempt to write middle grade or just in general?

The hardest part about writing is getting started. If you have a story that’s been nagging at you to get out, or even just an inkling that you’d like to write a novel, start! Start today! Start right now! 

After that? Listen to what interests you. If you don’t feel like you know what you might like to write about, make a list of your favorite books, TV shows and movies. Then look at each title and ask yourself: What exactly about this do I like? What makes it interesting to me? Write those things down, too. Soon enough, you’ll have a list of story elements that could help inspire your first (or second, or third, or thirty-third) novel. 

Finally, don’t listen to the people who insist “real writers” write every day. That’s a privileged, nonsense point of view. It doesn’t matter if you write every day — it only matters that you write. Whenever you write, you’re a “real writer,” and you don’t stop being one just because you’ve walked away from your laptop or notebook for a while. I promise, your words will still be there when you get back. Take your own time and run your own race. 

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

I read James Howe’s THE MISFITS when I was in middle school, and it was a major influence on MARTIN all these years later. There are now several books in the series, and I love them for their frank, empathetic approach to difficult issues, like Joe’s queerness or Addie’s insecurities. 

Other recent middle grade books I love that fans of MARTIN will enjoy, too, include the ALAN COLE books by Eric Bell and the BETTER NATE THAN EVER series by Tim Federle, STAR-CROSSED by Barbara Dee, LILY AND DUNKIN by Donna Gephart, and IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS by Nicole Melleby.

For young lovers of graphic novels, I recommend NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson, THE DEEP & DARK BLUE by Niki Smith, THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY by Katie O’Neill and LUMBERJANES by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson. For grown-up graphic novel lovers, SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan makes my heart sing.