Interview with Author Adib Khorram

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, which earned the William C. Morris Debut Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor, as well as a multitude of other honors and accolades. His followup, DARIUS THE GREAT DESERVES BETTER, received three starred reviews, was an Indie Bestseller, and received a Stonewall Honor. His latest novel, KISS & TELL, received four starred reviews. His debut picture book, SEVEN SPECIAL SOMETHINGS: A NOWRUZ STORY was released in 2021. When he isn’t writing, you can find him learning to do a Lutz jump, practicing his handstands, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), or Instagram (@adibkhorram).

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

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

Sure! My oldest fandom is probably Star Trek, followed closely by The Transformers, both of which I was introduced to around second or third grade. As I got older I fell into Marvel (specifically the 90s cartoons) HARD but I fell right back out of Marvel when I realized how expensive collecting comics can get. Like many people, Yuri!!! On ICE was the only thing that got me through the darkest part of 2016, and during the pandemic, I plunged headlong into obsession with The Untamed. Also, I still think Chrono Trigger is the greatest game of all time.

How did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller and what do you think attracted you to young adult fiction?

I don’t think I ever had the conscious realization that I wanted to be one, so much as I accidentally fell into it. I had a dayjob with occasionally intense bursts of hurry-up-and-wait time, where I couldn’t leave but I couldn’t do anything else, I was stuck at my desk or at a computer, and I found myself writing. When I was younger I wrote some fanfiction with my friends, and as I got older I dabbled in playwriting and screenwriting, but novels really felt like the right fit. YA in particular is such a vibrant, exciting space. Adult life can often feel painfully pretentious; YA is visceral and honest.

How would you describe your writing process in general? What inspires you to write and finish writing?

Bold of you to assume I have a process! So far every book has been different. But for the most part, what I try to do is write from about 1:00 to 5:00 PM every weekday, because that’s when I feel most creative, and give myself the weekends off. I’m a pantser by nature but I sometimes try to plot things out if the story seems to require it. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. And my bills inspire me to hit my deadlines! I got laid off from my day job during the pandemic so I’m a full-time writer now.

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

I love, love, love the initial ideation process—when a story starts coalescing in my brain, in random notes scrawled in notebooks or my phone. And I really like revision (usually)—taking something that’s not working and making it better. First drafts, especially beginnings thereof, are always difficult for me. Of all the books I’ve written (both published and unpublished), I can only think of one that I got the right opening on the first try.

Something that many people admire about your work is your honest and touching portrayal of mental health, specifically depression in your first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay. When you first started writing the Darius books was that something you had always wanted to explore or did it just organically evolve that way?

I wouldn’t say I knew it right from the start, but very early on I realized I wanted to explore depression. I started drafting the book in 2015, right when a whole bunch of books involving suicide came out, in ways I felt both romanticized and stigmatized it. I wanted to push back against the narrative that depression (or mental illness) is or should be the defining characteristic of a person, a life, or a story.

When we think of Hollywood’s or any mainstream corporation’s idea of “relatability” their first go-to is the average relatable “Joe” who’s usually a cis white guy of no particular origin. Yet (and this is on a quick personal note) as a queer person coming from another diaspora background reading Darius the Great is Not Okay felt so familiar in the sense of being able to relate to Darius’s struggles to balance different cultures while never feeling quite “enough” in certain ways and always feeling out of place. What are your thoughts on cultural specificity reaching the universal?

This is such an interesting question. On the one hand—the US, where I live, is becoming less and less cisgender and heterosexual and white. And so what was once marginalized is now majoratized. (Spell check informs me that this is not a word, but it’s too late now.) But more to your point, I think there is something special that happens when you showcase a specific experience, even if it’s foreign to a large portion of your audience. For example, literally, no one is a half-Vulcan, and yet Spock continues to be one of the most beloved and related-to characters in modern geekdom. Because even if people can’t relate to his Vulcanness, people can relate to feeling like the other; or to being torn between two cultures; or to having a fraught relationship with one’s father; or to having best friendship laden with homoerotic tension. And so I think Darius draws on that—that through being hyper-specific, different readers can find different ways to relate.

A while back you wrote a children’s book called Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story about Persian/Iranian New Year. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and process behind the book if you wouldn’t mind sharing?

No thoughts, only vibes! To be honest, I owe a lot to my agent, Molly O’Neill, for inspiring this story. She mentioned to me one day that many readers seemed to love the celebration of Nowruz in Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and noted that there wer-en’t many picture books on the subject, and asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at one. What followed was a crash course in the subject (I read over a hundred picture books over the span of about two weeks!), and what I would consider a decent attempt at a first draft. Process-wise, it’s shorter: no matter how you size it up, no matter how much deep thinking goes into the best-crafted picture books, at the end of the day there are less words and that means less physical typing. But what surprised me most about picture book writing was how it related to my screenwriting days: leaving room for a collaborator to interact with the text, embolden it, elevate it.

And, aside from that: children are the toughest audience! I wanted to do right be them. And also make them laugh so they didn’t think I was boring.

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

In my thirties I’ve become a Vinyl Person™ in that I’ve started collecting vinyl records. Some of my favorites are video game soundtracks, Studio Ghibli soundtracks, and of course the discography of Pink Floyd, which for some reason I resonate with, even though it was recently described to me as “dad rock.”

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

I’m always wary of giving advice. Everyone is unique, as a person and as a writer. So instead I tell people: try taking a lot of advice, but on a limited timetable. Try lots of things: where to write, when to write, how to write, how often to write. See what feels good to you. See what sparks joy. And reevaluate often. Every book is different. Sometimes, within a book, every draft is different!

And the one universal piece of advice I give is: don’t let your sense of self come from your writing. You are a full, complete, fabulous human being, whether you never write another word or not. Whether you ever get published or not. 

Can you tell us about your latest book, Kiss & Tell?

Kiss & Tell has had a long journey. From when I first conceived of it in 2014 (when it was concerned with coming out, and murder!!) to 2020 (when it became concerned with the pressures of being out, the performance of queerness for the masses, and what it means to be an ally), my own life changed drastically, both personally and professionally.

As someone who both exists in fandom spaces, and is occasionally the object of those spaces, I’ve become increasingly aware of the way that identity, queer identity in particular, can be commodified and consumed. And I wanted to interrogate that.

And, also, I love boy bands, and music in general. I wrote the book in 2020 and revised it in 2020 and 2021, and writing about concerts and travel when I was cooped up at home was quite a balm.

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

I just announced my next picture book, Bijan Always Wins, about a boy who turns everything in life into a competition to be won—and the toll it takes on his friendships. It’s really cute and I’m so excited for it!

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

I will literally always recommend Julian Winters’ complete bibliography to anyone and everyone who asks. His latest, Right Where I Left You, was luminous: friendship and love and lots of fandom and super-geeky and happy, happy, happy in the way only Julian Winters books are.

Tessa Gratton’s Moon Dark Smile comes out later this year, sequel to Night Shine. I’ve said it before, but if you ever wondered what would happen if you put Spirited Away and a bunch of rainbows into a blender, Night Shine is it. And Moon Dark Smile expands upon that world, introducing even more queerness, and at the end, leaving this beautiful message about how love can transform us in ways we never anticipated.

And my latest bookish obsession is Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby, which is about music and anime and internet friends and toxic masculinity and the way that as we grapple with our queer selves, our anger can explode outward and hurt the people that we love (and that love us in turn) the most—and that there’s a way back, if we can be honest with each other, offer and accept grace, and always try to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.


Header Photo Credit Afsoneh Khorram

Interview with Author C. L. Polk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Header Photo Credit: Mike Tan

Interview with Author Alison Cochrun

Alison Cochrun is a former high school English teacher and a current writer of queer love stories, including her debut novel, The Charm Offensive. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon with her giant dog and a vast collection of brightly colored books.  She controversially believes Evermore is the greatest Christmas album of all time, and she’s probably sitting by a window right now hoping for snow. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @AlisonCochrun.

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

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

Yes! Hello! I’m Alison and my pronouns are she/her. I live outside of Portland, Oregon, and I was a high school English teacher for eleven years, but I’m currently experimenting with writing full-time and seeing how that goes! 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically romance?

I’ve always been obsessed with happily ever afters in stories. My dad raised me on While You Were Sleeping and Sleepless in Seattle, and I just love the magic and joy that comes with a well-earned happy ending. I also began writing my own stories when I was nine and first started struggling with depression. Fiction became a safe way to explore my emotion when I was too young to fully name them. These two things sort of dovetailed into my passion for writing love stories, but it wasn’t until I discovered the romance genre in 2018, and then read my first queer romance in 2019, that I fully grasped the power of storytelling. 

What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, Kiss Her Once for Me? What was the inspiration for this project? What tropes can we expect?

Kiss Her Once for Me is about a bisexual artist named Ellie who is in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, working as a barista and barely getting by financially. So, naturally, when the wealthy and charming landlord of the coffee shop where she works, Andrew, proposes a fake marriage so he can access his inheritance, she agrees (in exchange for a chunk of the money, of course). But when they agree to spend Christmas at his family’s cabin to maintain the ruse, Ellie discovers Andrew’s sister is the woman she fell in love with last Christmas. It sounds ridiculous, but my inspiration for this book came from the movie While You Were Sleeping, and the fact that Bill Pullman looks like a hot, butch lesbian in it. So, this is my homage to the fake-engagement, sibling love-triangle shenanigans of that movie. You can expect all the classic tropes: only-one-bed, snowed-in, second-chance romance, hurt/comfort, forced proximity, idiots in love. 

Since the protagonist Kiss Her Once for Me is involved in animation, I was wondering if there were any animation projects you yourself personally loved? 

I mean, I love Laika Studios and all of their films, especially Coraline. I reference them in my book in a more negative context, but I am a genuine fan! I also read Heartstopper for the first time in the summer of 2020. It was the first queer graphic novel I’d ever read, and it really ignited my interest in visual storytelling. I now have a large collection of queer graphic novels.

Your debut novel, The Charm Offensive, in addition to being a story about queer people in a dating show, was praised for its mental health and Aspec representation. How did you approach writing these elements into your book?

To be honest, neither of these elements were planned when I had the initial idea for the book. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a story about what would happen if someone like me went on a show like The Bachelor, so I disguised myself as a handsome tech genius with abs and began writing. The first draft of the book literally poured out of me– I wrote seventy-thousand words in six days. And when I awoke from that creative fever dream, I found a story staring up at me that was different than what I expected. I’d written about my own experiences with anxiety and depression, and I’d written about a questioning twenty-eight-year-old coming to understand his queerness, which included being on the asexual spectrum. I had drafted the book so fast, that I couldn’t filter myself. What I wrote was honest and deeply personal, and I was proud of myself for sharing those parts of myself. So, through the revision process, I nurtured those elements of the book. I did a lot of research and worked with beta readers to ensure I was handling those topics as sensitively as possible.  

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

I can’t think of a single story I consumed in adolescence that centered on a queer woman, which definitely impacted my personal identity. I grew up thinking there was only one kind of love story, and it involved heterosexual, neurotypical people. But ironically, I had my “Ring of Keys” moment when I saw the play Fun Home in Portland. The way I felt watching a lesbian coming-of-age story was not a straight girl’s response, and it came at the time in my life when I was finally ready to start questioning my sexuality. 

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

The romance community is such a beautiful, inclusive space, and I take so much inspiration from my fellow authors and the vulnerability they show as writers. Especially Casey McQuiston, Mazey Eddings, Chloe Liese, Jasmine Guillory, Helen Hoang, and Rachel Lynn Solomon. I’m also inspired by the queer media I consume like Our Flag Means Death and A League of Their Own. Finally (and narcissistically), I draw a lot of inspiration from my own life and my conversations with my therapist. 

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

I love when the writing is good– when the words come so quickly and so easily, it feels like I’m nothing more than a conduit for the story. I love when I can get so immersed in the fictional world I’m creating, I write scenes in my sleep. I love when I can sit in front of my computer for five hours and it feels like it’s been five minutes. Writing is frustrating when it’s not good. When it takes an hour to write a single sentence (that I just delete anyway). When I sit in front of my computer for five minutes and it feels like five hours. When every single word is ridiculously hard and none of the pieces are fitting together as they should. I think being a writer is about accepting both sides of writing as part of the process and figuring out how to keep going anyway. 

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

Sometimes, I think there is this illusion that once you get published, everything is easy. The truth is, writing is challenging no matter what stage of the publishing process you’re in, and I would want readers to know that I struggle, too! I don’t have some magical talent, and writing doesn’t come effortlessly to me. But it’s something I love, so I have to find ways to push through the hard times as much as I savor the good ones. 

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

Oh gosh! I feel like I’ve been asked so many good questions. But Kiss Her Once for Me takes place in Portland, Oregon, and features a reference to the famous VooDoo donuts. So I wish someone would ask me: Who makes the actual best donuts in Portland? And I would happily inform you, it’s Angel’s donuts on Alberta. Their blueberry old fashion is the actual love of my life. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Find a writing community! Find other people who are passionate about writing to share your joys and sorrows with you during the journey. Get on Twitter and find online friends who can beta read for you, and find critique partners whose feedback seems authentic to your voice. Write together and brainstorm together. Writing can be incredibly lonely and isolating, and I didn’t have a community of writing friends when I started. Now, the friends I have are sometimes the only thing keeping me afloat. Don’t try to go at this alone! 

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

My third book was just announced! I call it my “sapphic road trip romcom about death.” Its actual title is Here We Go Again, and it’s about two childhood best friends-turned-rivals who agree to team up to fulfill their former English teacher’s dying wish by driving him across the country. It’s kind of a romdramedy, but I love it and I’m so excited to share it with readers! It comes out spring of 2024.

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

So many! In terms of queer romance, some of my favorite authors are Timothy Janovsky, Ashley Herring Blake, Kosoko Jackson, Alexandria Bellefleur, Talia Hibbert, Anita Kelly, and Casey McQuiston. If you’re looking for more sapphic holiday books, check out IN THE EVENT OF LOVE by Courtney Kae and SEASON OF LOVE by Helena Greer! 


Header Photo Credit Hayley Downing-Fairless

Interview with Author Melissa Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

Interview With Author Raymond Luczak

Raymond Luczak (he/him/his) is the author and editor of 29 titles, including Flannelwood: A Novel (Red Hen Press) and Silence Is a Four-Letter Word: On Art & Deafness (Handtype Press). His book once upon a twin: poems (Gallaudet University Press) was a Top Ten U.P. Notable Book of the Year for 2021. His work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. An inaugural Zoeglossia Fellow, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter or through his Facebook page.

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

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

I’m a Deaf gay writer and editor of 29 titles, including my latest book A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Gallaudet University Press). I lost most of my hearing at the age of eight months due to double pneumonia and a high fever, but this was not detected until I was two-and-a-half years old. After all, I was just number seven in a hearing family of nine children growing up in Ironwood, a small mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Forbidden to sign, I was outfitted with a rechargeable hearing aid and started on speech therapy immediately. After graduating from high school, I finally learned American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet University.

How would you describe your upcoming book A Quiet Foghorn? What was the inspiration for this project?

When I put together my first essay collection Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay, I had chosen not to include a number of arts-related pieces that had appeared over the years. This time around I wanted to pull the various threads of my interests—the arts, the political, and the personal—into a single book. By then I had amassed more published pieces, so it made sense to include most of everything this time around.

As a gay D/deaf writer, you write on the intersection of queerness and disability. Was identity something you had always intended to explore within your writing, or was it simply a natural evolution? At any point during your life have you found media (i.e. books, film/television, etc.) in which you could see yourself reflected or relating to in terms of personal representation?

It was not necessarily intentional at first, but it became a necessity once I realized that there weren’t any accurate representations of the Deaf gay experience in literature. It was quite obvious that if no one was doing anything about that, I might as well try my best and write about it. You could say that’s been the story of my career. If I couldn’t find anything similar to my experiences in print, I felt obligated to write about them, starting with my Christopher Street magazine essay (“Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer”) in 1990 and continuing with my editing Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (Alyson), which turned out to be the very first published title exploring the Deaf LGBTQ experience in the world back in 1993. I haven’t stopped since!

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

Each piece I write rarely starts in the same place. Inspiration can be found anywhere. It’s best if I don’t think about it too much. Just roll with it and see what happens when I write! I like discovering new things in my work after I’ve written the first draft (and rewritten in subsequent drafts) because it’s almost as if I didn’t really know my inner self was thinking while writing! 

What’s something about deafness you might want someone to take away from this interview?

That silence, particularly when it pertains to the Deaf experience, is a metaphorical cliché that needs to be permanently iced on moratorium. Very few Deaf people have total hearing loss; they can hear some things at certain frequencies and volume, and yet cannot hear other things. Just like there’s a spectrum when it comes to sexual orientation, there too is a spectrum for hearing loss. Reducing Deaf people to just their ears and/or their signing hands regardless of where in the media is incredibly reductive and offensive to the Deaf community. We are not your metaphor. We are so much more vital than that! We are a people, a community.

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

I love to make ice creams and sorbets! 

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

I’d love to have hearing people ask themselves this question: Why do I expect Deaf people to carry the full burden of communication when I interact with them? In other words, hearing people have always expected me to lipread, and they’re too happy to find out that I can speak. And then they get occasionally frustrated if I cannot lipread them well enough, and end up saying, “Never mind,” which ends the conversation. (For the record, even the best lipreader in the world can catch maybe 30% on the lips if they don’t know the context of the conversation.) That line (or variations thereof)—“Never mind”—is extremely demoralizing because I’ve taken sixteen years of speech therapy, but they couldn’t be bothered to try another way to rephrase so I can understand them better? When they say, “Never mind,” they are telling me that their discomfort with the situation is much more important than my desire to fully understand what is going on, and therefore, they are exercising their hearing privilege over me. They do not want to put in the same effort into the conversation that they’ve expected me to do. Communication is a two-way street, and contrary to what the majority would like to believe about us Deaf people, it is not run by hearing people. It is run by both people in the conversation.

What advice would you give for other writers?

Never, never, never give up. Rejection is normal, so you have to learn not to take it personally. I’ve had editors reject my work a few times only to accept this or that piece. (Part of that may be due to luck and/or timing.) It’s more important to keep writing, rewriting, and reading the work of other writers who are better than you so you can improve your craft.

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

2022 has been a very busy year. Two of my full-length poetry collections have appeared in print recently: Lunafly: Poems (Gnashing Teeth), which is filled with queer retellings of Biblical stories, Greek myths, and paganisms, and Chlorophyll: Poems about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Modern History Press), which is a sequel of sorts to my earlier childhood nature poetry collection This Way to the Acorns: Poems (Handtype Press), but this time from an adult’s perspective. These days Rattling Good Yarns Press is finalizing my next novel Widower, 48, Seeks Husband for publication. While the novel covers some 40 years of gay Minneapolis history, the book explores in depth what it means to be a middle-aged gay widower in a community that can be unfortunately lookist and ageist. It’s not necessarily a book for young queer reader; it’s a story written for older gay men who’ve been around the block and then some. The story was partly inspired by my realization and disappointment by how many gay fiction titles often featured young good-looking men on their book covers. Where are all those stories featuring middle-aged gay protagonists? (Andrew Sean Greer’s satirical—and commercially successful—novel Less [Lee Boudreau Books] is definitely an outlier in this regard.) It’s my hope that Widower, 48, Seeks Husband will come out this later this year; if not, definitely next year. As always, I do post from time to time ASL translations of my poems as well as book trailers on my YouTube channel here. [youtube.com/deafwoof]

Finally, are there any books, particularly books about disability/Deafhood, you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Aside from my own collection QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, which I edited for Squares & Rebels, I’d recommend Corbett Joan O’Toole’s Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History (Reclamation Press), Carol Padden’s Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (Harvard University Press), and Harlan Lane’s When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (Vintage). One should also check out the documentaries Through Deaf Eyes and Signing Black in America.

Interview with Author Adam Sass

ADAM SASS began writing books in Sharpie on the backs of Starbucks pastry bags. (He’s sorry it distracted him from making your latte.) His award-winning debut, SURRENDER YOU SONS, was featured in Teen Vogue and the Savage Lovecast and was named a best book of 2020 by Kirkus. THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS is his forthcoming novel from Viking. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and dachshunds.

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

I’m dachshund-obsessed. I’ve got two little ones—Marty and Malibu—with my husband. We just moved back to LA after spending the first year of the pandemic in North Carolina with family. LA is our forever home, though. Something in the air out here just clicks with us. We’re not ourselves when we live anywhere else!

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

I actually started my writing career in movies and TV, so I shifted out of screenplays and into novels when I started reading YA (shout out to Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle!) and fell in love with the imagination and story possibilities I was seeing. Also, I first started writing in the years I was a barista at my local Barnes & Noble. I’d scribble ideas on the backs of pastry bags as I looked out on the bookshelves, imagining my books in there one day.

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

Like most queer people my age, I had to find my queerness elsewhere growing up. Buffy was obviously core, queer-friendly media. Christopher Rice’s books were really important to me in high school. These days, I love seeing queer characters have darker edges to them, even in an unflattering light. I think The Other Two is maybe doing that the best right now.

How would you describe your writing routine or process? What are some of the enjoyable, hardest, and strangest parts of the process?

It’s not just about writing, you have to think as well. A hard and strange part of that process means showing your loved ones that seemingly irrelevant activities are feeding the creative process. For instance, I often do a puzzle while thinking through a story structure problem. 

Your debut novel, Surrender Your Sons, was hailed as a gay thriller novel, dealing with horror, conversion camps, and queer survival. What draws you into to horror and what it been like writing this, including some of the realities of our world, distorted or reflected through the lens of fiction?

Horror helps us express our worst anxieties, and for me, the most therapeutic way to express mine is dig deep inside my terrified heart and spit out what I find there. Surrender Your Sons depicts several cruel people and puts many innocent people through unimaginable horrors, so that was difficult to put down on the page. However, the light in the dark is that I always gave these characters dignity and agency, and sometimes, they got big victories. My favorite part of Surrender Your Sons is the characters and the bonds between my queer teen campers. Writing them, letting them have laughs and sweet moments and kick-ass scenes where they worked together gave me all the joy I needed to survive writing the dark scenes. Surrender Your Sons shows that love and hope can never be killed, not even when everyone and everything seems to be against you.

Unfortunately, censorship of queer books is on the rise, which seems to be a topic you’re pretty passionate about. What are some ways as readers we can fight against us, and what is your take on what representation in books means to you?

Authors can only put the book out—that’s all we can do. Readers and parents hold the power in a way that even librarians and teachers don’t (because their employment is at stake, and they’re frequently a cudgel in this war). Readers and parents must email, call, text, show up in person to voice their support for challenged books and for diverse reads in general. They must do it often and loudly, because the other side never runs out of energy trying to pull us out.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Treat your work like you’re starting a small business, or an Etsy shop. Writing is not a job, a job has health benefits, 401k, and paid time off. You will not have that. Ever. You’ll have to give yourself that, and the way you do it is to understand you are a salesperson. Small businesses take years to take off and require you to put in more money than you get back. For a while! This is the first year where my business has turned a profit, but it took years to get to that point. Don’t despair that you don’t have the respect of a square job. You’re building something else!

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

I’m a theme park fanatic. I collect books about Imagineers and often use their physical space storytelling techniques in my written work.

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

Who is my favorite character I’ve ever written, and without a doubt, it’s Marcos Carrillo from Surrender Your Sons. I miss writing him and his goodness so much.

Can you tell us about any new projects or ideas you are nurturing and at liberty to discuss?

My second book, a YA romcom called The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers, comes out in September! It’s about a queer boy who draws his crushes (and imagines his life with them) before putting them away. When he decides to finally ask one of them out—Boy 100—he has a great connection, but they’re cruelly separated by fate, so he embarks on a quest to find his mystery boyfriend!

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

Jason-June’s Out of the Blue, Dan Aleman’s Indivisible, Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us, and in Spring 2023, keep your eyes out for Terry Benton-Walker’s Blood Debts! All of these show different ways to be queer, different types of queerness, and have us at the center of stories that have little to do with being queer.

Interview with Author Kevin Christopher Snipes

Kevin Christopher Snipes is a New York-based writer who was born and raised in Florida. He spent his early career in the theater writing such plays as A Bitter Taste, The Chimes and Ashes, Ashes. Later, for Gimlet Media, he created the queer fantasy podcast The Two Princes. He can generally be found watching reruns of Doctor Who and The Golden Girls in his spare time. Milo and Marcos at the End of the World is his first novel.

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

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

Hello! I’m a New York-based playwright and novelist, though most people probably know me as the creator of the queer fantasy podcast The Two Princes, which ran for three seasons on Spotify. 

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

My mother told me recently that when I was a child, I used to walk around the house carrying a dictionary that I would study, so I guess I’ve always been curious about language and words. I certainly grew up in a storytelling household. My mother read to me before bed, and my father would make up fantastical stories during long car rides to keep me entertained. Eventually, as I got older, I just started telling my own stories.

For the first twenty years or so of my life, I was primarily focused on playwriting. Theater was my first love. Then one day, about ten years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Andrew Smith’s YA novel Grasshopper Jungle, and it blew my mind. If you don’t know the book, it’s a story about a bisexual teenager who’s having trouble deciding if he’s in love with his girlfriend and his male best friend. On top of that, the world gets invaded by giant killer praying mantises and then all hell breaks loose. I loved it. And it made me realize that I wanted to write stories like that—stories that blended romance, action, sci-fi, and a queer sensibility into one seamless adventure. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Milo & Marcos At The End Of The World? What inspired the story?

Milo and Marcos at the End of the World is about two boys who fall in love and who then have to keep that love a secret from their very religious parents and conservative community. Things get even more complicated when a series of unprecedented natural disasters strike their city whenever the boys touch. This leads the boys to consider the seemingly impossible possibility that maybe God is punishing them for being gay and that if they don’t stop seeing each other, their love might just bring about the end of the world.

The book is primarily inspired by my experiences as a closeted queer teenager growing up in a small town in Central Florida. High school (as I’m sure most people will agree) can be an incredibly fraught period in our lives. We’re still figuring out who we are and what we want, and we’re terrified of getting it wrong. It’s a time when every emotion is heightened. Every choice feels like it’s life or death. You think you’ll die if the person that you like doesn’t like you back. You think the world will end if anyone finds out about your secret. It’s a lot. So I wanted to write a book that captures how exciting/terrifying/earth-shattering that time of life can be for a young person—especially a young person in love who is coming to terms with his sexuality. 

How would you describe your creative process?

As a mild form of insanity. Basically, I hear voices. Most of the time I ignore these voices, but every once in a while, they’ll happen to say something interesting, and I’ll write it down. That’s how most of my plays were born. From conversations or questions that popped into my brain while I was walking down the street, minding my own business. Of course, after that initial gift of inspiration, it then becomes up to me to sit down and build a proper story around it. That’s when the real work begins. Even so, I’ve never written anything that didn’t start as a little voice in my head saying, “What if…?”

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

The first YA novels that I ever read were by Andrew Smith and Adam Silvera, who are both masters of queer speculative fiction, so I can only imagine how much my own writing has been shaped and influenced by their work. I’m also a huge fan of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who. I love his approach to writing science fiction, which is to use fantastical or futuristic stories as metaphors to comment on our world today and address issues of race, class, sexuality, and oppression. It’s science fiction that matters. Science fiction with a purpose. And that’s something I try to emulate in my own work. 

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

Perhaps it’s because of my background in playwriting, but I love writing dialogue. Especially quick, witty banter. For me there’s nothing more enjoyable to write or sexier to watch than two intelligent, charismatic characters engaged in a flirtatious war of words. It’s a great way to show attraction, chemistry, and desire without having to make anyone take their clothes off.

On the other hand, I find actual sex scenes incredibly awkward to write. I don’t think of myself as a prude, but my characters are my babies, so when they start to get amorous with each other, I want nothing more than to give them their privacy. Instead, I’m forced to become David Attenborough narrating some erotic nature documentary. It’s very embarrassing, but it’s part of the job.

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

It’s an irony not lost on me that despite being an atheist, I am obsessed with Christmas. If it were up to me, I’d keep a tree up in my apartment from November to March. I love the decorations, the lights, the music. I love the cheesy but oh-so-satisfying Hallmark movies. I love the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special, especially the character of Hermey the Elf, who’s an OG gay icon if ever there was one. I love it all.

What’s something you hope readers will take away from Milo & Marcos At The End Of The World?

I hope they’ll feel seen. When I was a teenager, there weren’t many books or films or TV shows with queer characters. I almost never saw people like me represented in pop culture (unless it was as the butt of a joke). So my hope is that young people who might be struggling with their identity or questioning their place in the world, will see themselves in my book and not feel quite so alone or out of place in their own skin.

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

Milo, the protagonist of my book, has an obsession with The Golden Girls that very much mirrors my own, though we disagree about who our favorite character is. If you asked Milo, he’d say Rose Nylund. But if you asked me, I’d say Blanche Devereaux. Obviously only one of us can be right. And since I’m real and Milo’s not, I think I win.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

I wouldn’t presume to give anyone advice. I barely know what I’m doing myself.

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

I’ve already mentioned Grasshopper Jungle, which is a great place to start if you’re looking to get into YA. You also can’t go wrong with Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, and Zack Smedley’s Deposing Nathan.


Header Photo Credit Maggie Marguerite Photography

Interview with Author TJ Alexander

TJ Alexander is an amateur baker and author who writes about queer love. Originally from Florida, they received their MA in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. They live in New York City with their wife and various houseplants.

I had the opportunity to interview TJ, 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! I’m TJ, I’m a writer who lives in New York, and I write queer romance books. Lately I have been keeping alive more houseplants than I’ve killed, so that’s going super well. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m told that makes a lot of sense once you get to know me. 

What could you tell us about your book, Chef’s Kiss? What inspired the story?

Chef’s Kiss is the story of an uptight pastry chef named Simone who is working at her dream job, writing recipes for an old-school cookbook publisher. Suddenly she’s expected to create online content, which she really sucks at. But her new enby kitchen manager, Ray, turns out to be a total natural, and they get stuck working together on video projects. They start out really antagonistic towards each other, being complete opposites, but gradually love starts to bloom. I wanted to write a story about food media, which I’m kind of obsessed with, and I really wanted there to be a nonbinary love interest, since I’d never seen that in a traditionally published romance.

What kind of tropes can we expect from Chef’s Kiss?

Role call! It’s got your grumpy/sunshine pairing, your enemies-to-lovers, your slow burn. If you’re into food as a metaphor for love, it’s got that in spades. Oh, and a smidge of found family!

What drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically to the realms of fiction and romance?

I was always making up weird stories as a kid. I think fiction was a safe escape, growing up queer. Love stories particularly drew me in because romantic love was this big, huge, fantastical thing. When I was young and really hungry for those types of stories, the romance genre was Not For Me. I would pick up a romance novel and there would be some very strict ideas about gender that did not appeal to me at all. Still hot, but not for me, haha! So for a long time, I actually avoided romance. I would come up with ideas on my own and think, well, I guess I can just tell myself the stories I want to hear. I’m glad I finally wrote one down and that other people are going to get a chance to read it.

Since Chef’s Kiss is very culinary in theme, I was wondering if you had any personal interest in cooking yourself, and if so if that helped in writing the book?

I’m KIND of obsessed with food? I’m a decent amateur cook, but I’m an expert watcher of culinary media. My favorite thing to do is eat my lunch while watching a YouTuber put together a bento box or bake a fancy cake. I actually have a photo of Ina Garten in my home, hanging on the wall. So yeah! Hopefully I’m bringing a little bit of that unhinged energy into Chef’s Kiss! It definitely helped when I was creating some of the recipes that are part of the plot.

How would you describe your writing process?

I would call it loosely structured. I discovered I write more productively in the mornings, which was a cruel twist. So I wake up early, same time every weekday, I sit down with my tea, I light my little candle that smells nice (non-negotiable), and I work until I reach that day’s word count goal. If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll go a little further than I have to. I usually follow an outline, but again, it’s very loose.

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

I don’t want to sound flip or dismissive but have you seen that meme that was going around awhile back? I think it was a tweet? Make a gay little man and give him a problem? Oh I found it! That about sums it up, I think.

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

My favorite part is hitting upon an answer that you didn’t know you were looking for, those lightbulb moments where you’re like, “Oh, THAT’S why they act this way/feel this way/etc.” Things get easier when that happens. The most challenging bit is probably writing what I call the “tent-pole scenes,” the parts of the story that everything else hinges on. They need to work because otherwise nothing works. That’s a lot of pressure, almost all of it self-made!

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

Gosh, I would actually love to not be perceived at all aside from my work, you know? Haha, I think I’m pretty shy even though I come off as a loud, talkative extrovert. I think those two halves of my personality got divided between my main characters in Chef’s Kiss, to be honest. But even though I’m a ball of anxiety most of the time, I am friendly! Just sweaty about it.

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

My deal with Atria is for two books, so I am working on that second one right now. I don’t know if I can say anything too spoilery about it, though, so I’ll just say it’s very queer and very tasty. There are other things happening too. Secret things. Extremely gay things.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Read whatever you can get your hands on that’s in the same wheelhouse as what you want to write. Even if it’s not an “exact match” for your project, it’s going to help you. As I was working on Chef’s Kiss, I read a ton of YA novels with trans and nonbinary characters because that’s where an amazing amount of that representation was being done. I also read romcoms of all stripes just to get a better feel for that genre. Nothing gets written in a vacuum, it all goes in the punchbowl.

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

OK! If you’re into giant mecha battles/historical retellings, I can’t recommend Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao enough. I still think about that book’s ending once a week or more. If a modern AU/behind-the-scenes story is your thing, my favorite read of last year was Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive. Anything by Malinda Lo–she literally never misses. Cemetery Boys by Adian Thomas was one of those YA books I mentioned reading as research, and it was an absolute joy. Oh, and you know what book would be perfect for those in the queer community committed to advocacy and pop culture? Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore.

Interview with Author Julian Winters

Julian Winters is a bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, and The Summer of Everything (Duet, 2018, 2019, 2020, respectively) received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta, where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow–volleyball and soccer.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been?

I’m great, thank you! Honestly, I’m geeking out at the opportunity to chat with you.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Right Where I Left You? What inspired you to write it?

Right Where I Left You is a geeky, sincere love letter to fandom, friendships, family, and queer teens deserving their happily ever afters. It follows nerdy Isaac, who’s out to spend every waking moment of summer with his gamer-best friend, Diego, before college starts. After an old crush reenters the picture, Isaac’s distracted chasing the love story he’s always wanted for himself, creating friction with Diego. Sometimes, the love we truly seek is right in front of our faces.

The inspiration came in 2018 after I’d seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I remember the overload of emotions (joy, triumph, love) I felt afterward as well as the awe in the younger viewers who’d just seen a hero that looked like them for the first time on the big screen. I wanted nothing more but for queer, geeky teens to experience that feeling in a book.

The cover is gorgeous by the way! What was your reaction to seeing two queer brown boys on the cover of a story you wrote?

Full disclosure: I cried. Happy tears, though! It wasn’t just that the cover had two queer Black/brown boys on the cover, it was that they’re smiling. Laughing. It’s the joy in their expressions. That means a lot to me—to show queer BIPOC readers they can have stories where their happiness is front and center. All the credit goes to the artist, Daniel Clarke, and the cover designers, Samira Iravani and Theresa Evangelista, for creating a cover bursting with love.

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

I was always a writer in some form. Short stories, song lyrics, really bad poetry. I hated reading the books assigned to me in high school. Every character that looked or identified like me had a storyline rooted in their pain, trauma, and eventual death. I needed a way to rewrite that narrative, so I turned to fanfiction. It allowed me to write the happy, impactful endings I craved for people like me.

I was drawn to young adult fiction (and romance) because I remember how difficult it was as a teen to repeatedly read those books. I want young readers, especially queer BIPOC readers, to know they’re more than their pain—they have power, deserve joy, and love shouldn’t be the thing that breaks them or ends tragically. They’re the hero of the story, not the lesson.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite or most challenging parts of writing?

I’m definitely a plotter—I need everything organized before I start. I’m also very big on playlists and Pinterest mood boards. My favorite part of writing is revising/editing. Once all the words are out of my head, it’s easier to piece together the puzzle and see the big picture. The most challenging part is drafting. It takes me so long because I tend to overthink or want things to be perfect instead of simply transferring all the ideas from my head onto the page, trusting I can fix it later.

Since Geeks OUT is basically a queer nerdy organization, how would you describe your own literary/geeky tastes and preferences?

If it’s queer, I’m there. I never had enough queer content growing up, so I instantly pick up anything I know centers queerness, especially if it focuses on queer people experiencing joy, empowerment, and all the other experiences I often saw for straight characters, but never anyone like me. Bonus points if it’s superhero-related or has a thoughtful romance element.

Who are your favorite superheroes?

Definitely Jackson Hyde/Kaldur’ahm. Seeing a queer, Black superhero is always exciting. I’m also a huge fan of Miles Morales, Jonathan Kent/Superman, Wiccan and Hulkling, Tim Drake, Shatterstar and Rictor, America Chavez, Northstar, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Panther, Dazzler.

And what are some of your current favorite fandoms?

Marvel Universe, Young Justice, My Hero Academia, the Untamed.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening to the right and left of you. Where you are versus someone else. But your journey as a writer is unique. It won’t ever look exactly like someone else’s, so take your time. Trust that there are readers who need the stories you want to tell. No one else will write them like you.

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

My next book comes out Spring 2023. It’s a fun tribute to the classic teen movies. Five teens all end up escaping to the same bedroom at a house party, trying to avoid issues from their past and present. There’s promposals-gone-wrong, dares, a lot of comedic moments along with explorations of toxic friendships, identity, queerness, and the weight of expectations.

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

I highly recommend anything by Adib Khorram, Leah Johnson, Kalynn Bayron, Kacen Callendar, Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Becky Albertalli, Alex London, Adam Silvera, Jonny Garza Villa, Jennifer Dugan.Some of my favorite must-read LGBTQIA+ books are: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, the Darius the Great series by Adib Khorram, and the forthcoming Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas.


Header Photo Credit Vanessa North

Interview with Author Claire Kann

Claire Kann is the author of several novels and an award-winning online storyteller. In her other life she works for a non-profit you may have heard of where she daydreams like she’s paid to do it. She loves cats and is obsessed with horror media (which makes the whole being known for writing contemporary love stories a little weird, tbh).

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

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

Sure!

Hi! Hello! I’m Claire Kann, the author of quite a few novels now, including the forthcoming THE ROMANTIC AGENDA (preorder today!). I enjoy watching YouTube essays for hours on end, reading horror novels, and spending time with my cat. 

When and how did you realize you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to Young Adult Fiction and your upcoming Adult Romance?

Well… I haven’t told this story in quite some time so here we go:

Once upon a time… just kidding. 

As a kid/teenager, I was a voracious reader but it never occurred to me that I could also be an author. I thought being an author was something that was only available to other people who were not me. Which is silly. I know. I dabbled with writing poetry for a while, but nothing really stuck.

Fast forward to my college years. I attended right after high school, realized I wasn’t emotionally ready for the dorm environment, and dropped out after a semester. I spent the next few years reading, working, and hanging out with my friends–just normal growing up stuff and really enjoying life as a soon-to-be adult with a lot of hard lessons to learn.

Finally, I decided I was ready… It was time for me to go back to school. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in yet, but I knew I wanted to do something that would lead to a better paying job. To get started, I signed up for general education classes and chose creative writing as one of my electives.

And then everything changed, when the Fire Nation attacked.

The Fire Nation being my fellow students in my creative writing class. I wrote my very first original short story for a workshop and the response was so overwhelmingly positive I started crying. I remember walking to my car and thinking, “This is it. This is what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to be a writer.” I changed my major the next day. 

At that time, I was still a young adult so that’s where I got started–write what you know, and all that. Now, there isn’t really a specific special something that compels me to write one age group over another. I come up with an idea, and the characters who populate the story tell me who they are. I let my agent/marketing decide what it should be classified as. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you to write and keep on writing?

My writing process is both chaotic and repetitive as all get out. There’s a saying “writing is rewriting” which my creative brain took to heart. I always start with a rough outline and create a draft from that, often writing scenes out of order, huge chunks of dialogue, and info dumps galore. I just need to get everything out of my head first. From that draft, I create a new outline and rewrite the entire thing. Twice, if needed.

Usually after that third pass, my manuscripts are good to go. I send them to my editor or agent or critique partners for feedback. Then with their notes I revise, revise, revise…

While I’m drafting I like to have some coffee, crunchy foods like carrots or chips, and music playing. Music is a huge part of my process. 

These days, apart from my contracts, I’m not sure what inspires me to keep writing. It’s actually something I’ve been focusing on finding an answer to for the past year. I think because I started writing after receiving such instrumental positive feedback, I’m always striving for that experience again… which is… not smart. The internet doesn’t care about your feelings and will hurt them in ways you can’t even imagine. I’ve had to learn to disconnect my inspiration, the elation I feel from sharing my writing, from the reader’s response to my work.

I do love writing, though. I don’t think I could ever give that up, its hooks have latched onto my soul, but whether or not I continue to seek publication is another story.

Within the literary community, you’re known for your books featuring asexual representation, including Let’s Talk About Love and your upcoming ace romance, The Romantic Agenda. Just wanted to give a brief thanks for that! Where did you find the inspiration for those stories?

The stories began because both main characters just appeared in my head.

I knew who Alice, the protagonist of LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE, was almost immediately because she screamed a lot–she’s very excitable and chaotic. When I asked her what kind of story she wanted, we went through a few plots I had in my idea bank but she ended up telling me she wanted a romance. I paired her with Takumi, and there was zero chemistry. None. Zilch. The story wasn’t working at all. I wasn’t sure why so I did some character interviews, some research, and what do you know… she’s asexual. It was one of the biggest “AHA! Oh, wait… oh shit” moments of my life. I remember, in startling, visceral detail, exactly how I felt right then. (I often have to throw out a disclaimer here: LTAL is not autobiographical or even auto-fiction. Alice and I land on different spots on the spectrum, something I did on purpose.)

For Joy, the protagonist for THE ROMANTIC AGENDA, it was a bit easier. My agent asked if I would be interested in writing an ace romcom and I said, “I can try!” I knew I wanted to write an older ace character who had almost everything figured out. Joy appeared and was up for the task. Plot wise, I decided on a mashup between the movies The Great Outdoors and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Personally, I don’t see the end result as a romcom. I’d rather call it a contemporary love story.

Looking from your book, it is obvious you are a fan of romance and cute and fluffy content. What draws you in about writing romance?

More than anything else I’m a character driven writer. I do what they want. I tell their stories.

Because my focus lies so heavily with my characters, it’s only natural that their chosen supporting casts have a great impact on who they are, who they become, and why. Those relationships (whether they be romantic, platonic, familial) determine how the story plays out. Labels are decided by marketing–I revise to match genre conventions based on what the primary perception is (if I agree it fits the overall heart of the story, of course).

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

I love listening to music and spend a lot of my time watching YouTube. This year one of my goals is to focus on reading more. I really want to push beyond my comfort zone by reading things I think I won’t like. 

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

Oh, this is a difficult one. I’m a notoriously private person, so I don’t like being asked questions. But in the spirit of sharing…

What’s my favorite color and why? 

Purple because a long, long time ago Howie D. from the Backstreet Boys said it was his favorite so it had to be my favorite. I also love forest green. 

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

Hmm. I truly believe that all the writing advice that could ever be given can already be found on the internet. There’s no such thing as an inspiring writer. If you write, you’re a writer.

But if you’re an aspiring author, as in you are seeking publication, actively or someday,  I’m going to use a quote from ACROSS THE GREEN GRASS FIELDS by Seanan McGuire, from her Wayward Children which series I heartily recommend reading: 

“Be Sure.”

Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?

I am indeed working on other projects! I wish I could talk about them because I’m really excited about what’s coming up next! But alas! I cannot!

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

FIRE BECOMES HER by Rosiee Thor

RISE TO THE SUN by Leah Johnson

THIS POISON HEART by Kaylnn Bayron

GIDEON THE NINTH by Tamsyn MuirA LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers