Interview with Author Kylie Lee Baker

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

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

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

Thanks so much! I’m an author, archivist, and former librarian from Boston, so I deal with books in all the stages of their life cycles. I write dark, eerie fantasy, often inspired by my own heritage. I love watching horror movies, doing escape rooms, and baking more cookies than one human can possibly eat before they go stale. 

What can you tell us about your debut series, The Keeper of Night duology? What inspired it?

The Keeper of Night duology is about the journey of a half British Grim Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami girl who is kicked out of her home in Victorian England and flees to the Japanese underworld with her younger brother, where she makes a dangerous deal with the Japanese goddess of death in exchange for acceptance. 

It was inspired by a dark Victorian English shows like Penny Dreadful and Black Butler, as well as a desire to explore my own heritage through mythology after reading a Vietnamese mythology-inspired fantasy called Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang. 

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

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I filled notebooks with stories as a kid and was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who encouraged it. I always loved speculative fiction because I was captivated by the expansive magical worlds of anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and books like Artemis Fowl as a child and hoped to recreate that feeling of I need to keep reading! that they made me feel in my own work. I actually fell into young adult fiction by coincidence—I started writing my first novel when I was 18, so my characters were also 18. It wasn’t a conscious decision to put myself into a certain marketing category, but I developed an appreciation for it and a good knowledge of the genre after reading YA books my agent recommended. Authors like Melissa Albert, V.E. Schwab, and Neal Shusterman were formative for me when I first started seriously reading YA.

The Keeper of Night duology is said to feature a biracial protagonist, exploring themes of assumed monstrosity through marginalization. What does it mean to you as an writer writing this into your work, especially as a mixed-race author yourself?

It was important to me to offer a take on the “half-magical-creature/half-human” trope in fantasy that is grounded in reality—for people like me, being caught between two worlds isn’t just a fantasy trope. Readers are often willing to empathize with a character who’s white and half unicorn (for example) but not with one who’s half Asian. I wanted to bridge that gap by writing a character who’s two species and also two races in order to really dig into what life is like when you’re constantly told you don’t belong anywhere. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?

My writing process is constantly changing as the circumstances of my life change and as I grow more confident in my writing. These days, I like to write a chapter-by-chapter outline that I feel confident in, quickly write a zero draft where I’m allowed to write terribly, do several passes filling in the missing beats, and finally do a line edit once all the pieces are there. I find ideas everywhere I go—in the media I read and watch that makes me think “I love this but I would have done it slightly differently” or in the history I read about. Anything that moves me is inspiration. 

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

There’s a special moment when drafting every book when I think of the perfect way to resolve a thread, or a great plot twist that fits in perfectly with what I’ve already written, and think Yes, this is exactly what the story needs! That’s the best part of writing for me. The most challenging part of writing is probably when I know the story isn’t working but I can’t figure out why—it just feels wrong. Sometimes there’s truly something wrong with the story, and other times I’m just hungry. It’s hard to tell!

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

The willingness to write imperfectly as well as giving myself hard deadlines is helpful. I use a word count tracker so I can see a line on a graph going up as my word count increases, which is really motivating for me, personally. 

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

No one ever asks me to talk about the romance The Keeper of Night, and people tend to make a lot of (often incorrect) assumptions about my intentions in writing such a strange relationship. Without getting too spoiler-y, I’ll say that I love writing about how powerful yet destructive love can be. In this case, how you can think you love someone but really only love the idea of them, what they represent, what they can do for you, rather than respecting them as a complex person. 

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

This is just a different field of my work, but most people don’t know I work in archives and am incredibly nerdy about archival preservation. I love taking care of historical items and making them accessible to a broader audience than just academics. 

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?

Consume lots of the books and media you love and try to put a finger on what about them moves you, then figure out how you can recreate that feeling in your own work.

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

The first book of my next fantasy duology, THE SCARLET ALCHEMIST, is coming out in Fall 2023. It’s about an orphaned alchemist in an alternate Tang Dynasty China where alchemists have unlocked the secret to eternal life, but only the rich are allowed to buy it. A biracial self-taught alchemist girl has the power to raise the dead, which captures the attention of the royal family and forces her into their inner circle, which is a very dangerous place to be. 

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

There’s so many! Recently I absolutely loved reading Deep in Providence by Riss M. Neilson, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, and Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert. 

Header Photo Credit Greg Samborski

The Queer Poetry of NBC’s Hannibal

Episode 9: “Shiizakana”

Hannibal Lecter: No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them. By that love, we see potential in our beloved. Through that love, we allow our beloved to see their potential. Expressing that love, our beloved’s potential comes true. [cf. Frankl]

(general spoiler warning – this article is intended for folks who have seen NBC Hannibal through Season 3 and and/or are curious about the queer symbolism throughout the show, especially in regards to Hannibal Lecter himself)

It’s no secret that NBC Hannibal took source material that was intensely homophobic, misogynist, and transphobic – and created something both racially diverse and miles away from the panicking-naked-women tropes we’re so numbly accustomed to in the horror genre. 

It’s difficult for fans of the show to remember a time when queer fans who saw sparks flying between doe-eyed waif Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and cosmically still Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) were shot down by straight fans.  “Wishful thinking” they said.  “You’re just seeing gay everywhere” they said.  Well, it did happen.  And not only is this intense relationship now undeniably real, it is also premeditated.

The most fantastic thing in my mind is not the explicit queerness itself – it’s the deeply rooted homage to queer mythological symbols that Hannibal weaves into the story. It’s a whisper directly into the ears of queer people who, as students, would comb their textbooks for evidence that we existed.

Telling Your Loved One About Patroclus and Achilles

Episode 12: “Tome-Wan”

Hannibal Lecter: Achilles, lamenting the death of Patroclus. Whenever he’s mentioned in the Iliad, Patroclus seems to be defined by his empathy.

Will Graham: He became Achilles on the field of war. He died for him there, wearing his armor.

Hannibal Lecter: He did. Hiding and revealing identity is a constant theme throughout the Greek epics.

Will Graham: As are battle-tested friendships.

Hannibal Lecter: Achilles wished all Greeks would die, so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy alone. Took divine intervention to bring them down.

For those unfamiliar with the illustrious history of queer lore, telling someone about Achilles and Patroclus is, in heterosexual terms, saying that you and your friend are like Romeo and Juliet. Patroclus and Achilles are literally the gay version of Romeo and Juliet – except they definitely had a lot more sex and an established relationship prior to their violent deaths. They are the very symbol of romantic love and companionship so deep, so pure that they die for each other. 

Erecting a statue of Saint Sebastian using living symbolic plants

A lot of people have analyzed Hannibal’s murder tableaus as they would analyze art pieces, and this is really fantastic. (for instance, Primavera painting analysis here – )   Aside from lavish dinner parties, this is the main way Hannibal expresses himself in a public way – not just artistically, but emotionally.  His more conventional artistic pursuits (sketching, harpsichord, etc) seem to be more private enjoyments.

The homoerotic symbolism of Saint Sebastian has been written about extensively, so there is no need for me to repeat myself too much here.

This is just one among many pieces that Hannibal leaves for Will’s enjoyment like so many savaged mice left on your doorstep by your naughty outdoor cat.

A Tightly Folded Valentine’s Heart made from a queer man’s body

Hannibal folds a paper with the image of the vitruvian man – a symbol of the beauty of the male body, and a worshipful image for any classically trained visual artist such as Hannibal.  In folding it, he is also twisting and dismembering it.  Since the vitruvian man also happens to have the scruffy waif look down, this is a nice image of Hannibal’s emotional synesthesia when it comes to love, destruction, and consumption.  It’s also a beautiful foreshadowing to the next lurching horror/art instillation…

The heart mounted on three swords is the ultimate dead-mouse-on-the-doorstep for Hannibal.  It’s a valentine – literally, a folded heart made from the body of a queer man, presented in the most worshipful way possible – and right where Will can see it.  

But it’s not just a Valentine’s day card.  It’s also the Three of Swords Reversed.

The three of swords in Tarot symbology came to look like the image above, thanks to the queer artist who painted the Rider Waite deck, Pamela Colman Smith. Another piece of queer history neatly given respect in this series. 

The Three of Swords symbolizes loss, heartbreak, and betrayal.  By reversing it, Hannibal is asking if that betrayal, that loss, that heartbreak can be overcome.  

Episode 3: “Secondo”

Bedelia Du Maurier: Forgiveness is too great and difficult for one person. It requires two. A betrayer and a betrayed. Which one are you?

Hannibal Lecter: I’m vague on those details.

Bedelia Du Maurier: Betrayal and forgiveness are best seen as something akin to falling in love.

Hannibal Lecter: You cannot control with respect to whom you fall in love.

Episode 6: “Dolce”

Hannibal Lecter: Now is the hardest test: not letting rage and frustration… nor forgiveness keep you from thinking. Shall we? 

Will Graham: After you. [cf. Wilde: Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.]

Plato’s Origin Of Love 

In the Series 3 episode Dolce, there is a quiet scene between Hannibal and Will in the Uffizi Gallery. Both characters have suffered some scrapes and have been apart for quite a while.  But the placement of their facial injuries was a symbolic calculation.  To the outside, they look relatively clean.  

But as the camera moves closer, and comes to their own points of view – we see their intentionally asymmetric facial injuries.  

Their faces are broken and torn on the sides which face each other – as though they were once connected, then severed apart.  It can’t help but bring to mind conjoined births – two-faced gods – and of course, the once-joined, violently severed lovers of Aristophanes (and much later, of Hedwig).  

Just as Hannibal is not simply a police procedural, and not simply a re-telling of a series of novels – it is also not simply a gay romance.  There is no effort to make same sex love “just like everyone else”, whether it be between Will and Hannibal or resident surviving women Alana Bloom and Margot Verger. It is about love on an epic, unreal, mythological level.  It is about self expression, worship, and empathy.  It is about trauma and wounds and creation and survival.  It is poetry.

Episode 12: “The Number of the Beast is 666…”

Will Graham: Is Hannibal in love with me?

Bedelia Du Maurier: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?