Interview with Author Daniel Aleman

Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and Mexican food. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. You can connect with him on Twitter (@Dan_Aleman) and Instagram (@danaleman). I had the opportunity to talk with Daniel, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your new book, Indivisible! Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Thank you so much! This story came from a deep desire to tell a story about immigration in my own terms. I wanted to write a book about immigrant characters that felt human, compassionate, and sincere, and which showed us a perspective that is different from what we tend to see on the news.

I feel as though representation of immigration in media tends to focus on the political and legal dimensions of this crisis, and I wanted to talk about it for what it really is: a human issue.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How did you find yourself coming into the creative writing field?

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. I started writing short stories when I was seven or eight years old, and I went on to write full-length novels by the time I was a teenager. Writing has always been such an intrinsic part of who I am, and the thought of becoming a published writer has always been in the back of my mind.

I started pursuing the path to publication when I was in college, which was when I began to learn about the process of finding a literary agent. It took me four different manuscripts and many years to sign with my agent, but ultimately, I feel like all the rejections I received helped shape me into the writer I am today.

What books or authors inspired you growing up? Who and what inspires you now?

I have deep admiration for series like Twilight and The Hunger Games, which sparked in me (and millions of other readers) a huge passion for young adult literature.

Nowadays, a couple of authors I absolutely love are Angie Thomas and Jodi Picoult, who have inspired me in more ways than I can count. I love books that tackle complex topics in a human, nuanced way that is accessible to broad audiences, and that is something that both Angie and Jodie do flawlessly.

The book’s focus on deportation and inequality in America’s treatment of immigrants is a truly relevant issue for all of us to focus on, especially now. As an immigrant, do you feel like have own life experiences have influenced your process writing this book?

Absolutely! There are many pieces of myself and my family in this story. Many of the emotions that the characters experience in INDIVISIBLE come from a very personal place, and I do believe I was able to portray a unique experience in this book, seeing as my own family immigrated from Mexico.

There is a famous quote, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” What are your thoughts on the ability of fiction as a medium for truth-telling and activism? 

I adore that quote, because I believe it’s so accurate. I find that fiction can reveal so many things about ourselves and the world around us. In my case, I use fiction to understand myself better. In my writing, I explore many of the things that I fear and that I wish to change in the world, and my characters often mirror my own identity and experiences. 

I also think that, as readers, fiction has a way of opening our eyes to the realities of people who are different from ourselves. Books have the enormous power to build empathy.

Besides being an author, what are some other things you would want people to know about you?

I am absolutely obsessed with Mexican food — particularly tacos. If I could pick a single food to eat for the rest of my life, that would definitely be it (particularly Al Pastor tacos, which remind me so much of Mexico City, where I grew up). I am also a dog person and an avid coffee drinker.

In regards to the realm of LGBTQ+ narratives, there are still many narratives that haven’t been told yet. As a queer person, would you say you intentionally sought out to write a story that you personally wanted to see in the world?

Definitely! With Indivisible, I wanted to tell a story that was a bit different from what we’re used to seeing. I think that stories that center queer issues have always been and will always be deeply relevant, but I also think that we need stories where we see queer characters dealing with issues that don’t necessarily center their queerness. With Mateo, I wanted to write about a boy who is loved for who he is and who is accepted by his friends and family — and who is also faced with challenges and ambitions that are unrelated to his identity as a gay teen. 

What advice would you want to give other people who want to tell stories, especially their stories?

I think it’s so important to lead with honesty. As writers, we often feel pressure to adapt to what other people expect from us, but I think that the stories that come from a deeply personal, honest place always have a way of standing out.

It’s also important to persevere through rejection. Keep writing, keep creating, and eventually you will find someone who believes in your story as much as you do.

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

Yes! I’m currently working on my second young adult novel, which is somewhat similar to Indivisible in terms of themes and tone. Though the plot and characters are entirely different, this will be another book about immigration, identity, family, and growing up too quickly. I am also working on a third young adult novel, which is a departure from my first two novels. I can’t say much about that project yet, but I’m really excited about it!

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

I always recommend Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, which I feel is sharp, poignant, and compulsively readable. Other recent favorites are Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore and Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June. If you haven’t read these books yet, you need to add them to your TBR now!

Interview with Author Jay Coles

Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, and invites you to visit his website at jaycoleswrites.com.

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, Things We Couldn’t Say! How did you find yourself coming to write this story? 

Thank you, thank you. Gio’s story came to me quite easily during the period of time I was stuck in my house in quarantine this past year. I knew that once Gio first popped into my thoughts, that his story was one about love, parental abandonment, forgiveness, second chances, and all the ways that family can hurt each other. Gio’s story is one that I can really empathize with because a lot of Gio is actually, well, me. 

What drew you to writing when you first started? What keeps you motivated to keep writing despite the challenges? 

I’ve always been a writer. Before I wrote books, I wrote instrumental/symphonic music. The idea of telling a story (whether it’s through words or music notes) is the joy of my heart. Also, I love the idea of starting a task and completing it. There’s no greater feeling, in my opinion, than finishing a draft of a book. I feel like that’s an easy motivation for me to finish writing, but to start? That’s a whole other thing. 

Your book explores an interracial relationship between the two characters, Gio and David, who come from very different places mentally? What were the hopes in writing a relationship like this? 

I wanted to show just how two VERY different people can come together and love each other well, to reveal layers of each other they didn’t know they had, and to show how even people who feel like love aren’t meant for them or in the cards they’ve been dealt are worthy of love, of any kind, if they want it. Also the trope of unlikely romantic love interests will forever have my heart. Wait. Is that even a real trope? 

Part of the book’s beauty in navigating family, navigating the pain caused by those you love as well as the joy in found family? Was this always something you wanted to explore? 

I looooove talking about found family and how family can be those we are born into or those we walk into later in life. Long story short, family can be complicated. Family are the people who know us the most and who are supposed to love us the most, but they can also be the ones who hurt us the worst and cut deep wounds into us that last years and years and years. I feel like this is super underexplored in YA, so I’m very glad to continue that conversation through Things We Couldn’t Say. 

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

I wish people asked me about the playlists in the book. Now, I know, I know. The book isn’t out just yet, but I’m hoping people ask me about the music in the book. 

Besides being a talented author, what are some things you would want readers to know about you personally? 

I’m a professional musician! I play drums!

What advice would you give to other writers on their own writing journeys, especially QPOC writers? 

I hate when people give advice to write every single day; that’s SO unrealistic. The only thing I’ll say to young writers is to enjoy the journey – enjoy the initial drafting stage, the editing, the querying, the eventual publication, etc. We are all somewhere along in the journey of life together, let’s enjoy the little moments, even the ones that feel incredibly hard to enjoy. 

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

I am working on SEVERAL projects, but sadly none I can talk about just yet. But stay tuned!!

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUTJay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June, Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve, The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer, and Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson! For middle graders, I’m a big fan of GEORGE by Alex Gino.


Cover photo of Jay Coles by Victoria Ruth Photography

Interview with Author Julia Drake

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare’s best heroines in her high school theater program, and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned. Her debut novel, The Last True Poets of the Sea, is available now. I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia, which you can read below.

First of all, when did you want to be a writer? What drew you to creative writing?

I have always written, though it wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I took my first creative writing class and started taking writing more seriously. Writing for me was always a balm, and a way of thinking, a way of slowing down and sorting out the chaos of my inner life. I have always found Joan Didion’s assertion in “Why I Write” to be relatable: “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.”

What were some of the first books you fell in love with and why? What were some of the first queer books the clicked with you?

As a child, I read and re-read Charlotte’s Web a thousand times. It’s such a beautiful story of friendship, change, and the passage of time, and I returned to it during the pandemic and found myself completely undone. When I was a little older, I loved books by Sharon Creech, especially Absolutely Normal Chaos and Mary Lou Finney’s hilarious take on the world. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of queer lit growing up, but I remember a short story called “Cowgirls & Indie Boys” by Tanuja Desai Hidier (author of Born Confused) in an anthology called Sixteen: Stories About that Sweet and Bitter Birthday. I must’ve been thirteen or so when I read it, and it was remarkable to me at the time because it was a short story that ended happily in two girls kissing, and no harm came to them. It was the first time I’d seen queer young women validated and celebrated, and I found myself so moved by it without quite being able to express why. 

Where did the inspiration for The Last True Poets of the Sea? Were there any authors or books that influenced you while writing this novel?

The original inspiration for this book was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which has long been a favorite of mine. Viola and Olivia are both such great characters, and I wanted to explore their relationship through a queer lens. I thought a lot about Sharon Creech’s books while I wrote, and how she manages to create stories that are both extraordinary and ordinary. 

So the title, why the sea? Why poetry?

The title comes from a line from Jacques Cousteau’s Diving for Sunken Treasure, a book that the character Sam adores. I don’t want to spoil the meaning, but the line felt applicable for many reasons. While the book isn’t expressly about poetry, it felt fitting to me: Violet finds herself moved by an Adrienne Rich poem and later winds up writing song lyrics; Toby, her uncle, reveals he writes poetry.   

Often for queer fiction, there’s almost this pressure to write “clean” sanitized narratives where the characters are morally unambiguous and practically perfect, and your story and characters are anything but. Was it always your intention to write this kind of messy queer character in this messy queer story?

Absolutely! Who among us is perfect? I’m extremely interested in characters that make mistakes and don’t have things figured out, because those are the only kind of people there are (especially true when writing about teenagers). At the same time, it was important to me with this book that Violet’s messiness not come from her queerness, but rather exist alongside it. She’s not messy because she’s queer, she’s messy and she’s queer. 

Mental health/illness is a strong theme within this book, and the spider-like-threads it weaves between the different characters in the book. Was this always something you wanted to cover and what would you say about the process/trials of discussing mental health in YA?

I truly did not set out to write a book about mental health – I wanted to write a whimsical book about having a good time in an aquarium! But mental illness found its way in because it’s been so much part of the fabric of my life, both in terms of my personal history and family and friends. Writing about mental health is for me, always a balance between being authentic and vulnerable, but also about not being afraid to invent and fictionalize. The trick comes in being empathic towards and honoring characters whose experience differs from your own. 

As a queer woman, would you say you have incorporating any of your own experiences/memories as a queer person navigating their identity?

I am very lucky in that Violet’s experience of being met with love and acceptance has been my experience as well. I’m very straight-passing, and I share in Violet and Liv’s discomfort when others make assumptions about their identities. Liv’s parents, for instance, suggest that both girls will eventually meet a nice man someday, and Violet finds herself thinking something along the lines of, or person, or no one at all

Aside from writing, what hobbies/interests do you enjoy exploring in your free time?

This past year, watching TV and going on masked walks were my principal interests. But I’m excited to get back into swimming this summer, and maybe even read a book or two if I can muster the focus! I also have an extremely handsome bunny who I spend a lot of time with and discourage from eating my houseplants. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers, especially those trying to finish their first books/projects?

Commit to small and consistent goals, especially when you’re starting out: thirty minutes a day, and you’ll get to the end eventually. Learn to be patient with yourself and your progress – if it takes a long time, you’re doing it right. There really is no shortcut. 

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

I wish someone would ask about the great mind behind the amazing fish puns in the book, because the majority of them come from my brother-in-law, the incomparable BJ Thompson, who also took my author’s photograph. I am forever in his debt! 

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

Yes! I’m working on a second book that will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2022. There’s a road trip in it, and a dog. 

Finally, what queer books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 
Ashley Herring Blake writes heartbreakingly beautiful, moving young adult and middle grade novels that I wish had been around when I was growing up – I would have devoured all of them! Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh was another book I really enjoyed this past year. And James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room should be required reading for everyone, everywhere.

Interview: Lilliam Rivera

Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, “Move over, Nancy Drew – there’s a new sleuth in town! Inspired by the beloved comic series, Goldie Vance is ready to sleuth her way through never-before-seen mysteries in this original novel series by Lilliam Rivera featuring 16 full-color comic pages!

Geeks OUT’s own Michele Kirichanskaya got the opportunity to chat with author Lilliam Rivera about her involvement in the Goldie Vance universe and more!

How did you get involved with the Goldie Vance universe? Did someone from BOOM! Studios reach out to you? Were you a reader of the comics prior to signing onto Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit? Who pitched the idea for the story?

I remember when Goldie Vance comics first appeared back in 2016. I wasn’t well versed in the world but I was definitely a fan of Hope Larson’s work and the lovable Goldie Vance character. When I was approached by Little, Brown for Young Readers about their joint project with Boom! Studios, I was totally game for it. They allowed me full reign to come up with the story idea and it’s been a blast work with both Boom! and Little, Brown.

Prior to this book, you had already written critically acclaimed stories of your own, including The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams. What was the process like writing a story with an already established universe? What elements felt different or the same versus your usual mode of writing?

Not only was I stepping into a well-created world, it was also my first venture into writing a middle grade. I was definitely a little nervous. I immersed myself in reading everything I could about Goldie Vance and that time period the comics are set in. If you think about it, I’m writing historical fiction middle grade novel so I had to make sure I did research but it was fun learning about the late 1950s culture, the music and fashion. I loved all of it.

What are some of your favorite parts about the Goldie Vance comics and characters?

Goldie is such a go-getter. She doesn’t let anything stop her from solving a case. I love that energy. I need that energy! Her family and friends also just want her to succeed. It was a very different vibe from my usual teenage angst fair I write about in my young adult novels. 

Credit: Lilith Ferreira/Las Fotos Project

Would you be interested in writing novels for any other established universes, i.e. other comics or television/movie projects?

I definitely love exploring other worlds. It’s a challenge I love to take. I’ve written comic books before and I’m currently working on a secret graphic novel so writing for television/movie is inevitable.

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

It would be pretty amazing if Goldie Vance can find herself somehow working alongside literacy’s famous detectives like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or Sir Anthony Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. They probably wouldn’t know what to do with Goldie because she’s all sunshine and determination! 

As a writer, what advice would you give to others, especially diverse writers, who are just starting on on their journey?

My one advice is to finish your projects. I think most people give up before the miracle happens. To consistently write in spite of so many obstacles is the true test. I’m a writer not because of my prose. I’m a writer because I refuse to give up and I know my voice is needed. You have to believe that.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ comics or books you would recommend to the readers of Geeks Out?

There are so many great novels and comics out there but I would love to recommend Gabby Rivera’s (No relation to me!) new comics b.b. free, Adam Silvera’s young adult novels, and Hurricane Child by Kacen Callendar.