Interview with Lyndall Clipstone, Author of Unholy Terrors

Lyndall Clipstone writes about monsters and the girls who like to kiss them. A former youth librarian who grew up running wild in the Barossa Ranges of South Australia, she currently lives in Adelaide, Australia, where she tends her own indoor secret garden. She is the author of Lakesedge and Forestfall.

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

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

Hi! Thank you for having me. I’m Lyndall Clipstone, author of the World at the Lake’s Edge duology and the upcoming Unholy Terrors. I live in Adelaide, Australia, in a 100-year-old cottage with my partner, our sons, and a shy black cat. I love all things dark, arty, and spooky. When I’m not writing you can find me immersed in a video game or drinking a big cup of espresso coffee.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Unholy Terrors? What was the inspiration for this story?

Unholy Terrors is a standalone dark fantasy where Everline Blackthorn, a holy warrior unable to work the necromantic magic of her sect, must team up with the monstrous boy she’s sworn to kill, for the chance to discover what really happened to her traitorous mother seventeen years ago.

It’s my gothic fever dream with intense Sofia Coppola vibes; lush, lyrical, aesthetic, and intensely romantic. I was inspired by a range of things: Gideon the Ninth, particularly the delightfully prickly relationship between Gideon and Harrow, Lost Souls which is the OG goth, vampiric romance story written in delectable prose, and Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, particularly the scene where Rey and Kylo Ren set aside their differences to fight side by side.

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

I’ve always loved to write, and storytelling is an enormous part of how I make sense of my emotions. Especially as a young adult, a time in my life where I felt quite adrift, immersing myself into books and writing provided so much solace. I love the endlessness of possibilities with speculative fiction, and how I can use things like magic, or monsters, or body horror as a lens through which to examine the real world.

How would you describe your writing process?

A mixture of organization and chaos, which is how I approach life in general, haha. I’ll start with plenty of vibes: playlists and moodboards and reading lists form a huge part of my early brainstorming. I like to have a loose outline before I start writing, and aim to visualize at least three key moments of the book very clearly. But as I draft, I will change things based on how I feel; new ideas always come up as I write and I let instinct guide the direction of the story.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

The works of Australian YA authors Margot Lanagan and Sonya Hartnett were immensely influential to me, particularly Tender Morsels and The Devil Latch. And Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls was the book of my teenage heart.

As an adult, two books which will always be special to me are The Secret History by Donna Tartt and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I will reread them each at least once a year, and I have a collection of different editions which I treasure.

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

I’m very visually inspired. I love cinema – some of my favorite directors are Sofia Coppola, David Lynch, Ari Aster, and Guillermo del Toro. I also love watching music videos – Florence + the Machine’s MVs are amazing.

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

I love writing romance scenes, or big moments of emotional introspection. Anything character focused. I adore the lyricism of prose, too, so any scenes where I can create an evocative atmosphere with descriptions are always very enjoyable.

The most challenging part of writing for me is the emotional self-care side of author life. Letting the story go, knowing it belongs to the readers, and coming to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to make anything I write “perfect” because there’s no such thing.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

I wish there was a magic answer for how to finish a book but I think it’s just persistence. There is so little we can control in publishing, but we do control the writing. Showing up and putting down the words is one of the few things completely in our hands.

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

I’m an illustrator and drew all of the artwork that appears inside of Lakesedge, Forestfall, and Unholy Terrors.

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)?

Which monster first made me want to write about monster romances. It was Hannibal Lecter. I’m completely obsessed with Thomas Harris’ novels and the 1991 Silence of the Lambs film particularly, but the tv show and the Hannigram ship also have rights.

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

I’ve always tried to treat writing like a job, even before I was published or agented, and set aside dedicated work hours to spend writing. Give yourself permission to value yourself as an author, regardless of what stage of career you are in. You deserve to carve out time for creativity.

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

Next year, I have my first ever short story, Cryptophasia, publishing in Neon Hemlock’s Crawling Moon anthology. It’s a dark academia homage to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and is my first published adult work. And I may or may not have a few more book-shaped secrets which I hope to share soon!

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

I’ll never stop raving about With Fire in Their Blood by Kat Delacorte, which is a dark contemporary fantasy written in delicious prose and featuring the messiest, most chaotic bisexual love triangle ever.

Interview with Author Mia Tsai

Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

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

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

Hey everyone! I’m Mia Tsai, a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. I’m also an editor, a musician, and an amateur orchid keeper.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Bitter Medicine? What was the inspiration for this story?

Bitter Medicine is an adult contemporary fantasy with lots of romance about two people whose lives are ruled by others and who, through extraordinary circumstances, learn to value themselves and each other. More specifically, Bitter Medicine stars a magical Chinese calligrapher named Elle, whose magic makes her calligraphy come to life, and Luc, a French half-elf who relies on Elle’s magic for success in his classified missions. Both of them are hiding secrets, of course, and it’s those secrets, which clash and intersect, that threaten the relationship they’ve built.

There isn’t a single inspiration for Bitter Medicine, but I told myself I wanted a world where I could show the magic inherent in written Chinese, plus a story of love and pain and mental fragility, where an Asian woman goes through depression and grief and her community steps up unequivocally to support her. I also love spy movies, so I brought a little of that into the book as well, then mixed it all with mythologies from multiple cultures.

As someone who has been noted to be influenced by xianxia stories, can you name any of your own personal favorites?

I just finished watching Cang Lan Jue/Love Between Fairy and Devil! I think I’ve had the opening theme stuck in my head for a good three or four days. I loved how much fun the show had with tropes—there’s body swapping and secret curses and an enemies-to-lovers storyline—and I appreciated the comedic bits. We all expect to cry in xianxia dramas, I think, so to be able to laugh a lot was refreshing.

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

I was a huge bookworm as a child. I suppose I still am, since I’m never not reading something, whether it’s short stories for Giganotosaurus and Strange Horizons (where I’m guest editing the wuxia and xianxia special issue alongside Joyce Chng and Yilin Wang!), manuscripts, or eking out time to read for fun. But really, the truth is that fanfic got me started in stories from a young age. I loved the books I was reading so much that I didn’t want the stories to end. When I was in third grade, I wrote fanfic for a school assignment, and it’s been off to the races ever since.

Of all the genres, I steeped myself in fantasy the most, and it shows. I needed the escape as a child and having magic and romance in stories was perfect. There could be no overlap between those things and my real life. In books, I could fly with dragons, recite cantrips with mages, fall in love with my rival, and I wanted to write stories that did the same.

How would you describe your writing process?

Stop-start, at once fast and dramatic but also slow and painful. There’s a lot of agonizing, overthinking, doubt, and crying. Any idea I think has legs will get a zero draft that’s completed quickly; I think my fastest on record was ten days. And then, after that, I let the idea bake for a few years before I come back to it, look at what I did, and start over from scratch. That first draft takes a lot longer, anywhere from six months to a year, and then there are revisions…

There’s a lot of competition with myself, whether it’s word count goals for the day—they only ever seem to go up—or challenging myself to do something new, like write a whole book in a new style. I don’t recommend my process, really, and there are days when I wonder why I don’t quit. I don’t like writing, but I like having written.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

There were a great many books I felt touched by, stories of stubborn girls who find their inner fire and go out and change the world, and maybe find some romance along the way. I wanted to believe I could also be a warrior the way Aerin and Sabriel and Eilonwy were warriors. As books go, there weren’t many with characters who reflected my lived experience, and there still aren’t many at all. These days, Asian fantasy especially has been growing, and I have loved to read books like A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON by Judy Lin, ASH by Malinda Lo, or WANT by Cindy Pon as a teen.

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

I look to my life as inspiration. Anything and everything I experience can become an element in a book. I used to volunteer at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; I worked in the orchid library and with the orchid specialists. Being surrounded by botany got the mind going, and orchids are featured a little in my next book. Music, too, is a huge source of inspiration. I listen to a lot of music, since I’m a musician and all, and I do my best to listen to as much as possible when I’m in the mood for it.

As writing goes, I’ve always wanted to have John Irving’s ability to make a reader cry on one page and laugh hysterically on the other. I’m going to keep working on that.

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

Being finished with writing is my favorite! No, but on a serious note, when I draft, I do so chronologically and use tentpoles. And so arriving at the pivotal scene, the one I envisioned originally and around which I built the entire story, is one of my favorite parts of writing. It’s like the cake I told myself I’d eat but only after tasks A through Z were finished. I also enjoy editing a lot. I think I write just so I can make fixes and tweak language without annoying anyone but myself.

Drafting has got to be the most frustrating aspect of writing for me. I wish the words would simply appear and be done so that I could take my red pen out and get to work.

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

I moonlight as a photographer every once in a while, and I love taking portraits of people. I used to do commercial photography professionally, though that didn’t last too long.

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)?

What’s your favorite cocktail? A vieux mot, which is a dry gin, elderflower liqueur, and simple syrup concoction (just in case anyone wants to buy me a drink).

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Finish what you’re working on. No matter how good or bad, you should finish it. There are lots of writers out there who are always working on something in progress, and they spend years tinkering and perfecting—no. Finish it. Then you can edit it. At least you have finished it.

Additionally, finishing begets finishing. Finishing something proves to you that you can finish something, which gives you the confidence to go forth and finish your next something.

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

I have a project titled Key & Vale which is out on submission right now. It’s a science fantasy set in a post–climate change world where cataclysms have wiped out many archives, so many so that people are left floundering. Key is a memory diver, an archaeologist gifted with the ability to taste blood and hallucinate the memories encoded within through use of a mushroom. Her job is to rediscover old knowledge, but it comes with a price: she can lose herself to the memories. Vale is Key’s guardian, tasked with keeping Key’s mind and body whole—but if that isn’t possible, she will be Key’s executioner.

Also, it’s sapphic.

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

We’ve got an exciting year of books coming up! I’m of course looking forward to Ehigbor Okosun’s FORGED BY BLOOD, Emma Mieko Candon’s THE ARCHIVE UNDYING, SL Huang’s THE WATER OUTLAWS, and many, many others.

Header Photo Credit Michelle Li Wynne Photography

Interview with Author and Literary Agent Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder of People of Color in Publishing—a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before becoming a literary agent. She’s been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” media list, a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree, and featured on Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world. Patrice is the editor of two anthologies published by Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope and Eternally Yours: Fifteen Stories of Paranormal Love. Her debut novel, Where Shadows Reign—the first in a YA fantasy duology—will be published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of Macmillan.

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

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

Hi y’all, thanks for having me! I’m Patrice, and I’m the editor of the YA paranormal romance anthology, Eternally Yours, which is out 9/20/22, as well as the YA Black Girl Magic anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn, (it was published last year, so it’s out now) and the forthcoming novel, Where Shadows Reign. I’m also a literary agent, and a former book editor, so as I often say, I really love books and I’ve seen the industry from many sides!

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I make books happen! I represent, as a literary agent, a list of bestselling and critically acclaimed and debut authors and illustrators. I love my clients, they’re so talented and dedicated and fun to work with. I was an editor before I was an agent, so as an editor I received books on submission from literary agents, but as a writer, I always really related to and wanted to champion writers even more, so in 2019 I became a literary agent and now I’m the one working with them to develop their work and I sell it to publishers and manage and strategize their careers. When I’m not doing that, I’m talking to myself while at the grocery store (with my headphones on so it seems like I’m on a call haha) to work out plot points, leaving myself voice memos and random notes day and night when inspiration strikes…basically, I’m dreaming of and creating my own stories. I love writing and working with writers, so honestly, I feel like I’m in my dream career every day getting to do both.

What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing and agenting specifically? 

My parents. They were really big about me reading and having books with characters who looked like me from a young age. I had a whole library full of Black characters, by Black authors and illustrators growing up. They’re also HUGE science fiction and fantasy fans, my dad also love theory, my mom loves horror…I grew up listening to him discuss and debate Fanon and Malcolm X and Jean-Paul Sartre with friends and my mom insisting I watch the original Freddy and Jason films (absolutely terrifying), back when Freddy vs. Jason came out. My dad also was a martial artist, and with him, I studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, and so much of that is a story. I was also a theater kid. My life was full of stories and storytelling growing up. It is no surprise that I ended up working in book publishing instead of as a lawyer like my mom hoped (it’s fine, now she brags to truly anyone that her daughter is an author). By the time I entered college, I knew I wanted to tell stories featuring characters who are more like me, and I wanted to help get more of those books by others into the world, too. I did internships with literary agencies, in marketing and publicity…anyplace that would have me, I wrote my first manuscripts, I networked so much, and then I didn’t get a job in publishing after I graduated. So, I worked in a different field for about a year, but I couldn’t get my love of books out of my head. Finally, I got an editorial assistant position and around the same time, I signed with my first literary agent who sold A Phoenix First Must Burn. Now, I’ve been working in this industry and writing under contract for the past few years.

How would you describe your upcoming anthology, Eternally Yours? What was the inspiration for this project?

I. LOVE. Paranormal Romance. HUGE fantasy and science fiction reader growing up, but especially gravitated to all things paranormal, urban fantasy, and gothic. Really anything with vampires, haha. My dad got me hooked on Blade, my mom on Underworld, and then I discovered Anne Rice (so happy we’re getting an Interview tv show soon! I am also a fan of the previous films in her universe, no matter how much Queen of the Damned deviates from the book) and Octavia Butler, got into Laurell K. Hamilton during Anita Blake’s best days (IYKYK), Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (I’m nervous-excited for the new tv series!) and from there, worlds opened up. 

I mention this in my introduction for Eternally Yours, but what I felt was missing, what I really didn’t develop the words to explain until I got older, was that I wanted more queer characters and more characters of color…in other words, more people like the Black queer woman I am in these worlds. My publisher was in support of that and that’s why Eternally Yours exists…you have an incredibly diverse list of fifteen of today’s bestselling and critically acclaimed authors…I would describe it as THE book I wanted to read growing up (since, at this point, we’ll probably never get a sequel to Sunshine by Robin McKinley). My teen self would be so proud, and I’m so proud of these contributors, they really put in the work to make this anthology amazing.

How would you describe the process of creating an anthology? What goes into picking the contributors?

If you want to really dig into the topic of creating anthologies, I recommend reading this piece by Dahlia Adler (also, buy her books, including her anthology, That Way Madness Lies, it’s all Shakespeare retellings, and I have a story there called “Elsinore” that reimagines Hamlet with a little help from Dracula)

For me, it’s all about working with authors whose work I love and who I know can deliver. Once I figured out the genre (paranormal romance) I got to thinking about authors I’m fans of who want to write paranormal, whose novels either are paranormal or have those elements, and authors who you would never think would write anything paranormal, but I had a feeling they could pull it off. I thank being a former editor for this instinct, I understand writers really well and I pick up on all the things when I read their work. I am so happy with the entire contributor list, but speaking of inspirations, Melissa de la Cruz saying yes meant a ton. I was a HUGE Blue Bloods fan growing up (think Gossip Girl but with angels AND vampires) and, for Eternally Yours, she wrote a short story in the Blue Bloods world. I may have wept tears of joy.

Once everyone was signed on, they sent me pitches of their stories, I—along with the help of the editor at Penguin who acquired this book, Dana Leydig—approved them, they got to drafting and then we gave them notes and they revised again and again and again (thank y’all for putting in the work!!) until we were like, it’s ready to go! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives/writers? 

Write your stories. As a writer starting out, I looked for others for approval and validation way too much. It led to quite a lot of cooks in the kitchen (my brain) and so my books were that disjointed, they were from me but not truly of me. I reached a point where I was like, okay it’s not working like this, with me listening to feedback from everyone, with me trying to be like all these other writers… what do I want to write, what stories do I need in the world… honestly that changed everything for me, it’s how I came up with the idea of all my published and under contract books. Fight for your stories. 

My dad once told me that I was very talented but had no discipline and he was right. I wasn’t making time for my art. I wasn’t making sacrifices for my art, and that’s not to say artists need to suffer, we don’t, it’s to say that I was doing so many other things, saying yes to so many other things, but I wasn’t saying yes to myself, to my writing, to the very thing that gives me life. I had to get real with myself and say, do you want this, okay focus on this. That sometimes means waking up at 6am and writing. It sometimes means writing before bed, or not going out with friends or hanging with family to get work done. It means setting boundaries and being clear with people about how important my work is to me. Like, I’m on deadline right now and, with few exceptions, I’m not going anywhere until it’s done. 

Try to find your balance, your flow, what works for YOU (not others). Take breaks when you need them. Don’t stress about writing every day, I don’t, and the work gets done—that’s what works for me.

Work on your craft instead of rushing to be published. When I became a better editor, a better reviser, my stories began to shine.

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

Yes! My next project is Where Shadows Reign. It’s the first in a YA fantasy duology. It was originally scheduled to come out this year, but my super supportive publisher moved it back because trying to revise a novel, edit an anthology, be a literary agent, and focus during the start of a pandemic turned out to be a lot to do at the same time (I know, no surprise). We’re setting the pub date, but it’ll likely be late 2023 or 2024, and the book is even stronger due to the extra time. You can add it on Goodreads and follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates!

The book takes place a year after an epic war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them both. It follows three characters: a vampire princess who undertakes a journey to bring her best friend back from the underworld; a young seer who only sees death and, for reasons, accompanies the princess; and a fallen angel who is hellbent on awakening her beloved, their world’s first vampire and the most bloodthirsty one who lived, who is entombed in this underworld. 

It’s very gothic and queer and inspired by my love for The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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

Okay, first, read Eternally Yours and A Phoenix First Must Burn as a large amount of the stories throughout both these anthologies are queer (Phoenix was actually called “delightfully queer” in a rave review), and then read their books!

Second, anything by Mark Oshiro, Sara Holland, Arvin Ahmadi, Dhonielle Clayton, and Adam Silvera. Love these people, couldn’t do what I do without them.

Third, my clients. Check out books by these authors: 

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (we may or may not call this book MILF book as its secret title…college senior has a hot hookup, oops it’s her friend’s mom, wait…now, they’re falling in now)

All Boys Aren’t Blue and We Are Not Broken by George M. Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown and Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

These Feathered Flames and This Cursed Crown by Alexandra Overy

And for a few publishing next year, but available for preorder now, check out: 

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (NOLA set, magical families, estranged siblings, intergenerational curses)

Ravensong by Cayla Fay (war god sisters, Buffy vibes, romance, northeastern gothic)

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela (first crush, a journey to a magical other world, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan)

Dear Medusa by Olivia A. Cole (if you loved Shout or The Poet X, you’ll love this!)

Finally, for a book I deeply love. I acquired this when I was an editor! 

Beyond the Ruby Veil and its sequel, Into the Midnight Void by Mara Fitzgerald. It’s a dark queer, hilarious, YA fantasy duology.