Interview with Lindz Amer, Author of Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!

Lindz Amer (they/them) creates LGBTQ+ and social justice media for kids and families. They wrote, produced, and cohosted Queer Kid Stuff—an original LGBTQ+ educational web series for ages three and up—which The Huffington Post called a “groundbreaking YouTube educational resource.” They host the Rainbow Parenting podcast and wrote Rainbow Parenting, a queer and gender-affirming parenting guidebook for grown-ups, and the picture book Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!. They also write and consult for preschool television.

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

What can you tell us about your latest book, Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!: What Are Your Pronouns Today? What was the inspiration for the project?

I dedicated the picture book to my younger self! So much of my work comes from my own inner child healing where I make what I wish I had when I was younger. But recently there’s been something more urgent pushing me forward. I can’t gift my work to my younger self, so it’s about helping today’s young people navigate the culture and society we’re living in, combating anti-trans and anti-queer sentiments with a whole lot of joy and showing kids how they can tap into their authenticity and be proud of who they are even when the world tells them they shouldn’t be themselves.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly picture book?

Stories are everything for me. If I believed in anything close to god it would be stories. Stories that we’ve told and retold again and again, reconfigured archetypes and heroes journeys and flights of fancy. For me, stories are everything. I consider myself to be an artist who works across many different mediums (prose, music, scripts, performance, painting) but the heart of everything I do creatively is always story. Picture books are some of the first stories we encounter and become conscious of. My favorite picture books from my childhood are stories that have grown with me throughout my whole life and have taken on new meanings through different context and moments in my own story. I think it’s pretty darn cool that I can contribute even a little bit to a young person’s life through a work like that.

How would you describe your creative process?

A great question! It’s very stop and start for me. I’ll get an idea and let it percolate or deep dive into a ton of research. When it feels like my brain can’t hold onto it any longer, that’s when I usually start putting words on a page and play with language. I work best when my work is in conversation with others so feedback and the back and forth process of editing is extremely important for me. I’ll do that back and forth dance until it starts to take on a sharper shape and that’s when it’s at some semblance of “finished.” Most of my creative projects take on some version of that pattern. Some are longer and take a really long time to come together and some just pour out of me.

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

I was a HUGE Harry Potter kid. That series is tough for me nowadays since JK Rowling has been so vocally anti-trans. I haven’t been able to revisit it for a few years and I used to listen to the audiobooks every year. But I’ve been getting into the Percy Jackson books recently and that’s been really healing for me, especially as a neurodivergent person!

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

People! I love true stories from my life or a friend’s life but I also get a lot out of history. There are so many stories out there yet to be uncovered, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ history. Rabble-rousers and stories of outcasts and folks who made good trouble always get my gears going. There was a moment where I got super into pirates! I get inspired by real life, and history, and people I know and I filter them through story structures and archetypes to turn it into something that has maybe a bit more of a flourish or puts emphasis in a particular spot.

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

My favorite part of writing is when I get into the flow of it. That’s when I’m really living with the characters and watching the story unfold in my mind’s eye. But the most frustrating part is pretty much everything around that. Staring at a blank page, watching a deadline tick closer and closer. When I can’t find a good creative solution to a story problem. Those are the not fun parts!

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

It’s so very helpful to have talented editors and a deadline. Sometimes you just have to call it when you’ve been messing with a manuscript for too long. It’s never going to truly be finished and I’ve worked on making peace with knowing things won’t always be absolutely perfect, but perfection is an illusion. Nothing is ever truly “finished” there’s just a point in the creative cycle when you decide that it’s close enough to being finished and then it needs to move onto the next part of the process for other artists to work on whether that’s an illustrator or a layout designer, because there are very few artistic mediums where a piece is only ever touched by one person. I have to finish my part of the process so others can do their part!

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

I have a wonderful wife and two very spunky rescue dogs Georgie and Charlie! I love to cook, I’m decent at painting landscapes and I probably watch too much reality tv competition shows. I was born and raised in NYC but now I live in New England. I miss the city that raised me but I love the slower pace my life has taken when I’m at home. I love my friends and community, but I’m also a huge introvert. I play goalie in a local rec soccer league and I love to share music with the young folks in my life 🙂 Thank you for asking!

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)?

Ooooo! If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 5 I would have said astronaut, but that dream died the first time I tasted freeze dried ice cream.

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

Keep writing! Even if it’s bad! Even if it’s terrible! If you keep at it, it won’t be terrible forever. To get good at something, you have to be patient with yourself and do it over and over again and you get better at it slowly. It may feel like forever but one day you’ll find an old poem you wrote in high school and it will be super cringey but then you’ll look at your newly published picture book and see how far you’ve come.

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

Mainly I’m focusing on my work through Queer Kid Stuff, the LGBTQ+ preschool webseries where I got my start (and what I’m probably most well-known for!). I’m working on some big stuff (including a possible rebooted version of the show?!?) so stay tuned for that! Lots more coming down the pipe. If folks want to stay up to date they can check out and join our monthly newsletter!

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

Oh gosh, I’ll read anything by Kyle Lukoff, Kacen Callendar, Casey McQuiston, and ND Stevenson.

Interview with Kacen Callender, Author of Infinity Alchemist

Kacen Callender is a bestselling and award-winning author of multiple novels for children, teens, and adults, including the National Book Award-winning King and the Dragonflies and the bestselling novel Felix Ever After.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! For readers who might be new to you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Kacen, a trans masc demiguy who spends about 70% of my time living inside the stories in my head.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Infinity Alchemist? What was the inspiration for this project?

One of the biggest inspirations was the desire to write a fantasy where there wasn’t a chosen one, or a special, magical group of people. In this world, everyone has the capability to be magical.

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

I’ve always lived in the magical worlds in my head, so the stories and characters need a place to go. Luckily for me, I get to put those stories into books.

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

I really loved Animorphs; that was the first time I saw a Black main character who wasn’t just a part of the supporting cast.

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

Right now, meditation is my greatest source. More ideas are able to drop into my head, and there’s more clarity about what I want to write, versus what others might expect me to write. Meditation also fuels that creative energy, so that I feel like I can write for days.

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

I think the challenges are specific to every writer. For me, the biggest challenge is getting distracted by what I think others will want to see in the novels I write, instead of staying true to the story that wants to be told. Usually, that distraction takes me off course and makes it difficult to write the book. If I feel that familiar hesitation and uncertainty, I look back at what I’ve written and the plot I’ve planned, and ask myself if it’s really the story that I want to tell, making corrections that are more authentic to me.

What advice might you have to give for any aspiring writers out there?

Find your authenticity and stay true to the story that you want to tell.

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

I’m finishing up a YA mystery, published by Abrams and expected either next year or in 2026, and I’m working on the sequel to Infinity Alchemist.

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

The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa!

Interview with Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall, Creators of Brooms

Jasmine Walls is a writer, artist, and editor with former lives in professional baking and teaching martial arts. She still bakes (though she’s pretty rusty at martial arts) and has a deep love for storytelling, creating worlds, and building tales about the characters who inhabit them. Along with Levine Querido, she has works published with Boom! Studios, Capstone, Oni Press, The Atlantic, and The Nib. She lives in California with two dogs and a large stash of quality hot chocolate.

Teo DuVall is a queer Chicanx comic artist and illustrator based in Seattle, WA. They graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts and have had the immense pleasure of working with Levine Querido, HarperCollins, Dark Horse, Chronicle Books, Scholastic and more. He has a passion for fantasy, aesthetic ghost stories, and witches of color, and loves being able to create stories for a living. Teo lives with his partner, their two pets – a giant, cuddly pit-bull, and a tiny, ferocious cat – and a small horde of houseplants.

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

J: I’m a comics writer and editor, with a past career in baking and a deep love for hot chocolate. I’ve written for DC, Webtoons, Oni Press, and BOOM!, along with Levine Querido.

T: I’m a comic artist, illustrator and barista from Seattle. I’ve worked on projects for Star Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC, among others. I love ghosts, witches of color and stories with queer joy. Brooms is my second graphic novel.

What can you tell us about your new book, Brooms? What was the inspiration for this

J: Brooms was heavily inspired by my own family, half of which come from the
American South. I wanted to tell a story set in a world of magic that was about the people who are often left forgotten on the margins. I also wanted it to be fun. I didn’t think I needed to make another story of hardship and struggle, but one of overcoming the odds and finding joy in a community.

T: It was important to me to draw witches who weren’t only white, cis and straight. Witches belong to all communities, and I wanted to make something that reflected all of the BIPOC witchy folks who exist in the real world – myself included.. Our communities have been long overdue for more representative magic content, and my hope with Brooms was to bring some of that content into the world myself.

How did the two of you come together to work on this project?

J: I was already of fan of Teo’s work and though he’d be a perfect fit as a collaborator for the story. Back then, I didn’t have much of a presence in the comics world at the time, but I sent Teo an email with the story pitch when I felt brave at 2am and was honestly shocked that he replied with an enthusiastic yes!

T: I truly could not say yes to Jasmine fast enough when I saw her email. I knew Brooms was something special, and I needed to be a part of it.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the graphic novel

J: I’ve loved storytelling since I was very young, my whole family is very big on reading and I’ve always had an active imagination. The toughest part is trying to narrow down what stories to focus on and to actually get them written down. As for what drew me to graphic novels in particular, I think they are an incredible blend of storytelling mediums, it’s like having a printed movie in your hands, or a prose book that’s come to life, and they can span across every genre. There are also so many incredible ways of experimenting with style, lettering, and color to completely change the tone or mood of a scene.

T: I’ve been drawing stories ever since I was a kid (somewhere my mom has a picture book I drew in kindergarten about dinosaurs going to school). There’s something so beautiful about words and images coming together to create an immersive, emotional experience. Also, art helps bring characters to life in a way that we don’t get in prose novels. I can’t tell you how many times a teacher or librarian has told me that their students who have a hard time reading become so engaged when introduced to graphic novels. Visual imagery is very powerful.

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

J: As with any book I write, queer characters are front and center. In Brooms, there are three main openly queer characters: Billie Mae and Luella are in a relationship with each other and Cheng Kwan is a trans woman. There are also plenty of queer and gender nonconforming background characters. Teo did an amazing job of really bringing every person you see on the page to life.

T: I like to think that a good majority of the folks we see in Brooms belong to the LGBTQ+
community, particularly in the race festival scenes. I was deeply inspired by historical queer communities and how they would come together no matter how society fought to keep them hidden or isolated. I wanted the world of Brooms to feel populated by LGBTQ+ folks who would otherwise be pushed to the side by the annals of history, so I designed many folks with an intention towards queer representation. I hope marginalized readers can feel that energy and see themselves reflected in those characters.

Jasmine Walls

Since Brooms is a historical fiction graphic novel, I was wondering if there was any
research involved during your creative process? And if so, what kind?

J: Absolutely. I love doing research for stories, and I love history, so whenever I work on a project, especially a historical project, I try to do as much research as I can. Even though the characters and their lives are fictional, the setting (aside from all the magic) isn’t. We wanted to represent the kinds of people who really did exist in 1930s Mississippi, and we wanted to do so respectfully. A few examples on my side of things included looking into my own family’s history, but also doing research on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw which Luella, Mattie, and Emma are part of. Emma is deaf and uses sign language I referenced from Indian Sign Language by William Tomkins which is not entirely regionally accurate, but is period accurate. Loretta uses mobility aids from the time period after having a stroke at a young age, and the foods you see in various scenes are all things that would have been made by people in those places and times.

T: There was tons of research involved, which was great for someone who enjoys amassing folders and folders of reference. I dug through a lot of vintage photography from Mississippi in order to get a sense of the environment and clothing of the period.

Upon reading Brooms, readers discover that there seems to be a unique magic system that the main characters use, in particular referencing root magic. Would you mind going into some of the world-building behind that?

J: Because none of the girls have gone to an official magical academy, they’ve all
learned magic through familial knowledge or what they’ve shared with each other, and in the American South, particularly in Black communities, root magic is a very real cultural aspect of life. The magic Billie Mae and Loretta use and teach others is based loosely on the structure of real life root magic practices, which is often based in drawing energy from the earth and seeking guidance from ancestors.

How would you describe your writing process?

J: A little bit messy to be honest! I often think of a particular scene that just sticks in my mind and if I think it’s solid enough for a whole story, I begin to build around it bit by bit until everything starts to take shape. I often have several scribbled ideas on sticky notes all over the place before compiling them into a very rough outline. Then I rewrite it many, many times before showing it to anyone else.

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

J: One of my favorite books growing up was Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which
is a collection of oral stories, myths, and fairytales collected from Black folks in the American South. As a kid it was one of the few times I saw people who looked like me in fairytales and folk tales. Now that I’m older, I know there were other books but they were just harder to find. I think things have definitely improved as more queer and BIPOC stories are being published, which has been a joy to see, and I hope that trajectory continues.

T: As a kid, I read and re-read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and watched Studio Ghibli films whenever I could. Princess Mononke in particular always resonated with me, as well as Kiki’s Delivery Service. I never felt reflected by these stories, but they touched me very deeply. Now, I immediately think of Aidan Thomas’ Cemetery Boys. It was the first time I ever encountered a character that looked like me, and felt like me.

Ted DuVall

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

J: This one is always tough because I feel like I draw from so many influences from
books I read to artists I follow, but I can say that one of my earliest influences in writing was
Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles series, which made me rethink the role or classic fantasy tropes and how they’re used in stories. I was also obsessed with InuYasha as a teen so that probably had a lingering effect.

T: Mike Mignola is a huge one for me, as well as Ray Bradbury, Fiona Staples and Rosemary Valero O’Connell. Their works always remind me why I love (and need) to create stories. Music is also really important to my process. I listen to a lot of Wolf Alice, serpentwithfeet and Nation of Language and they never fail to inspire me.

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

J: For me, the best parts of writing are the initial rush where everything is new and
exciting, and then the point where it’s all a completed written mess and I get to go in and edit it into something polished. It’s just so satisfying. The parts I enjoy the least are when everything is half done and I have to slog through writing the less exciting scenes, or when I’m stuck and can’t seem to get the words to work the way I want them to. Usually that’s when I need to step away for a bit and take a long walk so I can come back with fresh eyes.

T: I really enjoy designing characters, and when I get to the inking stage for interior pages. I’ve always loved inking, and inking pages in particular is very satisfying. On the flipside, creative stamina is inevitably a huge challenge. I think this struggle is something a lot of graphic novelists can relate to. It’s a very troublesome mental block to experience, especially when you’re working on a project that requires years of commitment.

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

J: It’s true, the bulk of working on a book is sitting down and powering through the
tedious bits. My motivation (aside from deadlines and never wanting to burden my collaborators by delaying their work) is honestly using the parts of a story that I’m looking forward to writing as a reward for getting through the boring parts. Another factor is balancing the work that needs to be done while also giving yourself space to recharge the creative battery and step away. Work should never take over every aspect of your life. Take breaks, stretch, move around, drink more water, and get your sleep. You’ll come back to your work more energized for it.

T: Communication is really important, in my opinion. Talking with your team, asking for help…I can’t stress enough how vital that was to helping make BROOMS a reality.

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

J: I’m not very exciting outside of work, but I do love food and the process of how it’s made. I am a big supporter of agriculture workers and sustainable farming practices, particularly in the spice trade. If you ever need to know a good vanilla vendor, I’ve got you.

T: My spouse and I bought combat-grade French lightsabers and I’m learning how to spin with it. We’re planning on performing a choreographed battle sequence instead of a first dance at our wedding reception, and it’s been a blast to learn. If you’re curious, check out Michelle C. Smith’s spinning videos.

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)?

J: I always secretly hope people will ask for hot chocolate recommendations, and I
have several! These are all companies with fairly traded, sustainably grown cocoa, and are
owned by BIPOC: Cultura Chocolate’s Mexican Drinking Chocolate, Villa Real’s Vanilla Hot
Chocolate tablets, CRU Chocolate’s amazing flavor selection of drinking chocolates, and
Lucocoa’s Orange holiday hot cocoa mix.

T: I love rocks, gems, crystals…and I want any excuse to talk about them! It would be fun to be asked what my favorite is. (The answer is obsidian. Mirrors of polished obsidian called tezcatl were used by Aztec shamans as a way to view the spirit world).

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

J: My advice to aspiring writers is to write what you love, don’t try to jump onto trends for a quicker foot in the door, though it can be very tempting. Writing is a slow process and we only ever see the “sudden” successes from the outside. Take your time, put in the effort to get from start to finish, and write the stories you want to tell. And lastly, be open to feedback (from editorial pros, not internet randos who just want to be mean) because they’re there to help the story be the best it can be, it’s not a personal attack, so don’t be too precious with your first few drafts.

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

J: I’ve got a couple secret projects, but I also have a few new pitches I’m excited for. An enemies-to-lovers romcom about two former rival crime bosses, a non-romantic comedy about two ace teens fake dating, and an alternate history western.

T: I have some cool projects in the works, but nothing I can talk about just yet. Though hopefully I’ll be able to share some news soon!

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

J: I have SO MANY, so I’ll narrow it down to just a few. Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became The Sun, Olivia Stephens’ Artie and the Wolf Moon, Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon, Mike Brooks’ The Black Coast, and Sacha Lamb’s When The Angels Left The Old Country.

T: This isn’t comprehensive, but off the top of my head I would recommend Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas, Nimona by N.D. Stevenson and Let Me Out by Emmett Nahil and George Williams.

Interview with Erika Turner, Author of And Other Mistakes

Erika Turner is a writer, a poet, and the daughter of storytellers. Sometimes, she writes songs she may one day share. Once, in a Brooklyn community center, she read James Baldwin’s quote “You can’t tell the children there’s no hope,” and she carries those words from the city to the desert and beyond.

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

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

Hiiii! I’m a debut author, raised in the city that is centered in this book. While my day job is working as a book editor, my nights and weekends are spent writing, dreaming, and making sure my dogs are fed.

What can you tell us about your debut book And Other Mistakes? What was the inspiration for this story?

There were a lot of things I wanted to accomplish about this story – part of it was centering queer friendships, while understanding that romance is always sort of inevitable when you’re a teenager figuring out your emotions for the first time. I also wanted to write a contemporary story about a queer protagonist that went beyond the issues of identity – something that recognized that our highs and lows often do exist outside of who we’re attracted to, even if that’s always a part of it. In this instance, for the character Aaliyah, it was having a rocky home life due to her parents’ own issues with each other.

Finally, I really wanted to talk about music in a way that was fun and relatable. I was a black kid who loved emo and rock, and didn’t grow up knowing very much about black culture, of which music is a huge part. While that’s not at all unusual, it was something that made me feel really isolated as a teenager, so I wanted to write a relatable character for other teens who have similar experiences.

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?

It would probably be easier to tell you about the straight characters, ha! Aaliyah, the main character is a lesbian, and there are bisexual, queer, and trans characters throughout the book.

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

I’ve always found writing to be the best medium to process the world, and when I started to write a book for the first time, this is the one that pushed itself forward. Part of it, probably, is that I was in my mid-twenties at the outset of this project, and that’s usually a good time to start processing your own teen years. For me, I also had cousins and siblings who were just starting to come into their late teens, so seeing how they were processing those first steps into adulthood and independence inspired me to write something that I hope could be a little bit of a roadmap, especially for brown and/or queer kids trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t always deem their experiences worthy of examination, or nurturing.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll put it this way – I discovered recently that I have an ADHD diagnosis, and that’s been pretty transformational in me being much kinder to the chaos that is what someone might hope to call “a process.”

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

Ella Enchanted was one of the first books I read constantly, and Gail Carson Levine became my “go-to” author, as a child and teenager. Anything she wrote, I read. I’m fairly certain most of her characters would be considered white and straight, but I think I connected to the fact that the girls were always brave, stubborn, and strong. As a kid, I wanted to be the same.

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

As a young writer just starting out, I had the incredibly privilege of being mentored by Naomi Jackson, Janet Mock, and Kirya Traber… black, queer, female writers who taught me the value of pushing forward, pushing through, and believing in yourself. Their wisdom and encouragement helped me get through some of my darkest days of uncertainty, and also gave me real, in-person models of possibility.

In a similar vein, I have been an eager student of James Baldwin as a writer, and his incisive and brilliant work always keeps me motivated, especially when the world seems at its most unreal.

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

I love writing dialogue. It’s really fun to think about how people connect to one another – jokes, quips, sarcasm, flirtation. An entire personality can be expressed in one word, and I find that so fascinating to explore.

The most frustrating aspect of writing is the act of putting a vision into words. It’s like painting a moving image – you know what’s supposed to happen, you even know how it’s happening, and who’s making it happen, but how do you show that on a page? And besides making it as clear as possible, how do you make it exciting? How do you make it sound good? It can be fun when the words flow, but that’s not always (or often) the case.

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

I love dogs, the first several seasons of Grey’s Anatomy saved my life, and I will drink fully caffeinated coffee at 10pm, and you can’t stop me.

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)?

Who was your first queer role model, and that would be Aaliyah Dana Haughton – hence the name of the protagonist in AND OTHER MISTAKES. I remember watching the ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY music video when I was like…seven? Maybe? And just knowing that she was magic.

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

Keep going, and surround yourself with mentors and community members who will encourage you, fight for you, cry with you, and know that you have a voice worth being heard.

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

I’m incredibly thrilled about a YA anthology I have coming out with Versify, with a cast of incredible authors – including Kirya Traber, who I mentioned above! And I have an adult holiday novel with Avon coming out this summer. Also, on the day-job side of things, I’m editing a middle grade series that I’m completely ecstatic about, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

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

Jacqueline Woodson, Malindo Lo, Robin Talley, and CB Lee all day every day. The incredible Jaz Joyner, whose debut graphic novel, DEVOUR, is coming out from Abrams this May. Kalynn Bayron, naturally. One of my favorite contemporary YA novels of all time is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. Oh! And, obviously, James Baldwin. I could go on!

Interview with Deya Muniz, Creator of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Deya Muniz was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they grew up watching Pride and Prejudice and reading copious amounts of shojo manga. In 2017, they moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in sequential art, where they met and fell in love with a wonderful girl who makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.

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

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

Thank you!! I’m Deya, I’m from Brazil, I have a beautiful wife and two dogs. You may know me from my comic strip series Brutally Honest, or me and my wife’s WEBTOON Blades of Furry!

What can you tell us about your graphic novel, The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

It’s cheesy and silly and gay!! I got the inspiration from my beautiful wife!! I explain it better in my author’s note at the back of the book. Basically, it all came about because of an incident involving grilled cheese sandwiches while we were both brainstorming ideas for a scriptwriting class.

In addition to The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, you are also known as the co-creator of the webcomic, Blades of Furry (a webcomic that said to be a mix of Yuri on Ice meets flurries, co-created with your partner-which is like the gayest thing ever ). What inspired this project, and co-creating it with your spouse?

Blades of Furry came about for my MFA thesis! I was writing about suspension of disbelief, so to prove my point I came up with the most out there concept I could at the time! I was at the early stages of my figure skating obsession then, and my wife had turned me into a furry. I have also always loved vampires and had a pretty intense Twilight phase, so that’s how that all came about.

Emily became an official co-creator when it came time to actually start production on BOF! I was already working on Grilled Cheese and realized I couldn’t do both at the same time on my own, so I asked if she would like to join. She had such a big influence in the creation of the concept, and we knew we worked really well together, so it was a natural fit! Little did I know that even doing Blades of Furry with her, I was very far from being able to pull off all the work I had to do on time. Whoops.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics/graphic novels? What drew you to the medium?

I’ve always liked comics, and even at the tender age of 8 I was writing silly little comics with my friends at school. When I was on the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, I was mostly thinking of going into either animation or video games. However, I started making the Brutally Honest comic strips instead of working on my thesis and they got popular online! One thing led to another and my thesis ended up becoming a comic, and then I went on to get my masters in Sequential Art. I was still considering getting into animation, but my pitch for Grilled Cheese got accepted before I got any storyboarding job offers, and now here we are!! I’m happy with how it all turned out!

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process?

Slow and painful. I like getting attention on the stuff I make, so it was really really hard for me to be putting in all this effort into writing and drawing this story with NO ONE giving me compliments. Yes, I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true!! It’s a big difference between online publishing where you’re interacting with your readers at least weekly, and print publishing where you work in the dark for years and get no interaction or feedback until the work is finally published, however many months of years after you’re done working on it!

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

I could list so many things… For The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich I was very much inspired by Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 movie version specifically) and by shoujo manga/anime. I was obsessed with CLAMP as a kid and LOVED the way they did sparkles, fabric and hair. From there, I became obsessed with the work of Alphonse Mucha, who was a big influence on the CLAMP style.

More recently, and around when I was working on Grilled Cheese, I was mostly inspired by artists I followed on twitter. I get a lot of inspiration from that nowadays, whenever I end up in a new fandom there’s always so many incredibly talented people pumping out beautiful art, it’s wild! Back then I was heavily into this story called Mo Dao Zu She (or Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) and the art coming from that fandom was incredible!

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

Yes, so many!! I already mentioned a few in the previous question, but there’s many many stories that have touched me deeply through the years – Kingdom Hearts, Fruits Basket, Howl’s Moving Castle (both the book and the movie), Yuri on Ice, Banana Fish… I don’t know if I felt reflected by them as a whole, but there’s always little pieces of who I am or want to be reflected in some of my favorite characters.

Right before starting work on Grilled Cheese I was reading TONS of gay webtoons/manhwas and my absolute favorites were Wolf in the House and Dark Heaven (both 18+, be warned!) – both stories had an iron grip on me. Wolf in the House has incredible heart and humor, and Dark Heaven had me extremely deep in my feelings. Those two helped me get through some tough times.

Right now I’m profoundly infatuated with Trigun Stampede. I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this!! I also just read Monotone Blue and really liked it!

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

I broke my skull when I was a baby and I’m fine, so I have reason to believe I might be immortal and undefeatable.

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

“Would you like 10 million dollars deposited in your bank account yearly?” The answer is yes!

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

… Unfortunately, I am legally bound to secrecy. 

What advice would you give to any aspiring creatives out there?

Be self-indulgent in your creativity. Doing what you think you should instead of what you want to do is going to lead to some serious burnout pretty quickly. Enjoy yourself in your work as much as possible.

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

Ok! I have already mentioned a fewso here’s some more:

Manga/Anime: Our Dreams at DuskRestart After Coming Back Home, Given, the Kase-San series.

Western/US WEBTOONS: Castle Swimmer, Covenant, LoveBot, Not so Shoujo Love Story, Prince of Southland, and Nevermore.

Also, look into Danmei. Phenomenal stories there!

I’m not very good at recommending western LGBTQ+ books/comics because I get anxiety reading them. I’m also behind on every single Webtoon I mentioned for that reason. Everyone is so talented and imposter syndrome sucks! Anyway, I really liked The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Queer Comics: Emily Corn- A Graphic Novel of Cosmic Proportions and Personal Discoveries

Ever since Page Wooller announced they would be releasing the next book in the Emily Corn series at Providence QTZ Fest I have been excited to discuss with them how this journey started.

In a world oversaturated with superhero sagas and dystopian dramas, Page Wooller and Ali Vermeeren’s graphic novel, “Emily Corn“, emerges as a refreshing comet in the vast universe of graphic literature.

The Uncharted Journey of Emily Corn

At the heart of this tale is Emily, a character shrouded in mystery and isolation. Raised in seclusion, Emily’s journey is not just about discovering the world but also about self-discovery and breaking free from the confines of a shielded life. The revelation of a secret propels the story into a high-stakes adventure where Emily’s acceptance of her identity becomes crucial for the survival of Earth itself.

A Rich Tapestry of Art and Storytelling

Vermeeren’s artwork is a visual feast, a blend of shadow and light that perfectly encapsulates the dual themes of darkness and enlightenment prevalent in the story. The black and white palette underscores the eternal struggle between good and evil, making each panel a piece of art worth pondering over.

Accessibility: A Small Hurdle in the Digital Age

For those opting for the e-book format, be prepared for a bit of zooming in and out. The small text can be a strain on the eyes when read on a smartphone. However, this minor inconvenience does not detract from the overall experience, especially given the engaging narrative and striking visuals.

Conclusion: A Must-Read for Graphic Novel Enthusiasts and Beyond

“Emily Corn” is not just a graphic novel; it’s a journey of magic, identity, and the complexities of growing up. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling and how it shapes our understanding of ourselves and others. While there are areas where the narrative could have been more nuanced in its representation, the novel remains a significant contribution to the genre.

To those who have yet to delve into the world of graphic novels, let “Emily Corn” be your gateway. To the seasoned aficionados, add this to your collection and revel in the magic that Wooller and Vermeeren have so vividly brought to life.

For those who haven’t met Page, they are somewhat of a modern Renaissance person. A writer, dancer, painter, farmer and activist, musician, and previously wrote text books. Page is … an experience.

And Now on to the interview!!!!!

Damon: Have you had a big presence at Conventions (ie. Flame Con.)? Either way, how has it been interacting with your fans, whether in person or online?

Page: Due to our release date being in early 2020 during COVID, being a big presence at conventions was not a possibility for us. We instead contacted stores, a radio station in Australia and a few reviewers who wrote about the comic. Most contact with fans happened through Facebook, one person messaged about the excitement they had in getting a non binary comic book for their child who identified as being non binary, they said it would be a welcome distraction from all that was going on with COVID. Just reaching even one child and giving them hope that there are non binary characters in comics made me feel like I had a purpose.

Damon: How does your personal identity and experiences as an LGBT individual influence your creative process and the stories you choose to tell?

Page: My stories I draw heavily from my own experiences and identity as a non binary/ gender fluid human. There are times when I have felt totally alone with my feelings. This is another reason I felt like a story like this needed to be written, in order to reach those who have felt as alone as I have during my process of finding my identity. On one hand I don’t feel welcomed into the gay world and on the other hand I don’t feel welcomed into the straight world, so I’ve learnt to start creating my world, through stories.

Damon: Can you walk us through your typical creative process? How do you develop ideas, create characters, and bring your stories to life on the page?

Page: Mmm, my process is pretty complex, I start with a general frame work and then begin to gather scattered pieces of ideas from my head, small detailed experiences and creative ideas that I feel would fit into the plot of the story. At this time I’m never quite sure as to when these glimpses into my mind will occur, so I carry a note book and pen everywhere I go, scribbling down the ideas as fully as I can. Next I randomly transfer these scribblings onto the computer, in no particular order. The process then continues into ordering the sequences of the story into a streamline tail that runs smoothly from beginning to the end. This is then read and re read, edited and re edited until its clean and then I transfer it chunk by chunk into a graphic novel script for the illustrator to then work from, which gives a detail description of what occurs on each page, how many panels per page, characters in each panel and what’s being said by whom and so on.

Damon: Are there any specific comic book artists or writers who have influenced your style or storytelling approach? How have they inspired you?

Page: So many influences, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Marion Zimmer Bradly, Ann Rice, and Edgar Allen Poe to name a few. The main way these artists have inspired me is by the way they touch my visual thinking. I have dyslexia and one gift it gives me is the ability to see in images rather than words. Dimensions and form grow from words. All these artists have fueled this skill.

Damon: How do you envision your work impacting readers, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+? What messages or emotions do you hope to convey through your stories?

Page: I hope to paint a clear depiction of how aspects of my own psyche have formed over the years as a child with an extreme imagination and a flare for the extravagant. I have never stopped learning and growing as we live in a world of adult absolutes. I love changing and finding out new things and this child like enthusiasm to uncover new things, like the ability to write while also having dyslexia which I only discovered in my fourties’ should never leave us. I hope the readers gain a reconnection to that inner child before the worlds rules of rational thinking took over and sensible choices were made over fun and adventurous ones.

Damon: Who is your favorite Federation Captain, and why?

Page: Ooo, I love this question, what a great one to finish on. I would have to say Janeway. I like powerful intelligent women who are in charge as role models that challenge male dominated characters. When I grew up there were very few gay role models in fictional stories and on the tv, so, I turned to women as my main arena of selected models. Women that stood against the overpowering male dominant stigma. Women who weren’t afraid to feel emotions and express them in the face of being opposed by with anger, violence and manipulation. It gives me goose pimples just thinking about it.

Good choice page …. good choice.

Interview with Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Co-Editors of Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For

Zoraida Córdova is the acclaimed author of more than two dozen novels and short stories, including the Brooklyn Brujas series, Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence, and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. In addition to writing novels, she serves on the board of We Need Diverse Books, and is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old, as well as the cohost of the writing podcast, Deadline City. She writes romance novels as Zoey Castile. Zoraida was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and calls New York City home. When she’s not working, she’s roaming the world in search of magical stories.

Natalie C. Parker is an author, editor, and community organizer. She has written several award winning books for teens and young readers and has edited multiple anthologies including the Indie Bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. In addition to writing, Natalie also runs Madcap Retreats, which has partnered with We Need Diverse Books and Reese’s Book Club to host the writers workshops for their new internship Lit Up. She grew up in a navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan and currently lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie.

I had the opportunity to interview Zoraida and Natalie, which you can read below.

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

N: Hi Geeks OUT team! Thank you so much for having us! Zoraida and I are both authors of young adult, middle grade, and, in her case, adult SFF and we’ve been friends since the day we met. Which was at the very beginning of our careers.

What can you tell us about your latest anthology, Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For? What was the inspiration for the project?

N: To tell you about the inspiration for Mermaids Never Drown we actually have to back up a bit and tell you about the first installment in the Untold Legends series, Vampires Never Get Old, which came out of a writing retreat. We were both floating in a pool that was far too cold for rational people to endure, and Zoraida breezily mentioned missing vampires. Suddenly we were deep in a discussion about how many vampires were missing from the stories we were most familiar with. Our solution was an anthology featuring an array of voices who were excited to revamp, if you will, the mythology we know and love. That book came out in 2020.

Z: Back in the pandemic days! It became an Indie bestseller and since then, we’ve seen one of the stories from Vampires, “First Kill” by V.E. Schwab, be adapted as a Netflix show, which was very exciting. And we sold two more installments featuring two more of our favorite cryptids/magical beings. Which is how Mermaids Never Drown came to be.

As authors, you’ve both written about merfolk before. This is also the second mythological creature you’ve tackled in this anthology series. May I ask what do you think draws you and the other writers from the Mermaids Never Drown anthology to this mythological creature?

Z: Mermaids have always been my favorite mythological creature. There are so many metaphors that can be applied to magical beings, but for me, the mermaid story is about straddling two worlds. As an immigrant living in the diaspora, what better metaphor could I choose? I’m not trying to belong to one world or the other. I belong to both, and that’s pretty powerful for me.

N: I’ve been captivated by mermaids for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a swimmer, a sailor, and a SCUBA diver and all of the mercreatures I write tend to be monstrous in some way, always hungry with sharp teeth and rough skin. That really fits my experience of queerness–I have felt monstrous and strange and also hungry and vicious at various points in my life, like I both did and didn’t fit in my own body or among regular humans. So for me, mermaids and queerness have a lot to do with finding home inside yourself, and making a new one in the world.

Zoraida Córdova Photo Credit Melanie Barbosa

For many people, mermaids and merfolk in general have often been a queer symbol, a marginalized creature traveling between different worlds, longing for love and freedom. Could you maybe tell us about some of the queer contributions to Mermaids Never Drown?

N: So many of our stories play on that theme of feeling trapped or pulled between two worlds, or on being denied access to spaces that feel crucial to identity or a sense of history. The stories in this collection use mermaid mythology and tropes to explore everything from intergenerational trauma to diaspora to queerness. In particular, I’m very excited for Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Storm Song, which grapples with sexuality and expectations. Queer romance is front and center in Julian Winters’s We’ll Always Have June, and Julie Murphy’s The First and Last Kiss. Katherine Locke’s Nor’easter features a nonbinary protagonist, andand several of the other stories have queerness braided throughout, including Kalynn Bayon’s Return to the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s Shark Week, and the story I’ve co-authored with Zoraida, The Merrow.

What draws you to the art of anthology creation?

N: There is something really powerful about being invited into a story. As a queer person, stories about magical and mythical creatures have felt strangely off-limits. Anthologies give us an opportunity to change that, and while there’s no single collection that can invite every single reader in, I love working on projects that are opening doors rather than closing them.

Z: Short stories were my first love. From the classics we had to read in school, to the strange and experimental zines and flash fiction I found in college, to putting together these collections with Natalie. I love giving other writers a prompt and seeing what unfurls from planting that idea.

As writers, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult, fantasy, and romance?

Z: The real world is a mess, to quote our favorite soft shell crab. From the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer in high school, I’ve been dreaming up worlds. Fantasy is a reflection of our world, but at a distance. I don’t think you can truly leave the problems of our worlds behind. In fact, it should power your fantasy and shine a light on what, as an author, you are trying to say.

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

N: When it comes to anthologies, my favorite part is always getting the stories and reading them for the first time. It’s exciting every single time and I love the tantalizing feeling of not knowing how our authors will have tackled the prompt. It reminds me that stories are limitless and a single prompt can inspire wildly different and robust creations–it’s a kind of magic. The most challenging part is deciding the order of the stories! Seriously, we agonize over placement. Every. Single. Time.

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

Z: There are so many. I loved all the teen urban fantasy that came out in the late 90’s and early aughts. Those books really shaped me as a writer. I grew up watching Latin American TV, so I did see aspects of myself reflected in Spanish-language television and media, but until recently, that wasn’t the case in US American books and media. I think the first time I felt represented in a show was the first episode of ‘Jane the Virgin,’ which came out in my 20s. I’m still waiting for a book to do that to me, as an Ecuadorian person, but I’ve still found connections with books that feature strong main characters like Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera.

N: The first books I remember feeling a deep connection to as a queer kid were the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey. It was the first time I’d ever seen queer characters on the page who weren’t villainized. In fact, they got to be the main characters, have magic of their own and go on epic quests! Now, there are many queer books that reflect parts of me and many that don’t, and I love that we are getting to have that kind of expansion in literature. In particular, I’m currently obsessed with the works of Zen Cho, Andrew Joseph White, Tessa Gratton (I know Z already mentioned her, but I can’t help it), Adib Khorram, and Mark Oshiro.

Natalie C. Parker

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

Z: Natalie and I have a podcast called Untold Legends, where we deep dive (no pun intended) pop culture with our authors. Season one is all about vampires, and of course, season two is about mermaids. You can listen here.

N: I know this is giving the impression that Zoraida and I do everything together, but we also work with a new company called Electric Postcard Entertainment. Our mission is to act as a launchpad for creators whose backgrounds and experiences have long been marginalized by entertainment industries. Aspiring writers can learn more here!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Z: Read everything. It was the first piece of advice I received, and it holds true. Consuming stories–in whatever format–is part of the job. For me, it sharpens my sentences, and helps me figure out how I want my own voice to be different.

Any specific advice for those looking to create/organize an anthology themselves?

N: My best advice is to take your time and be really intentional about the project. The more focus you can bring to the idea at the pitch stage, the better the collection will be in the end. So, what I’m saying is that it’s good to be very clear about your mission from the beginning. 

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

Z: I’m working on my next adult book. It’s tentatively titled The Fall of Rebel Angels and is a love story between a woman suspected of murdering her former lover and a fallen angel who is cursed to search for his wings on Earth every one hundred years.

N: I am just about to announce two new projects that will be released in 2024 and 2025. The first is my first young adult horror novel, which has been a dream of mine for ten million years, and the second is a project I pitched as John Wick meets Adventures in Babysitting. Full details, titles, and covers will be released VERY soon.

Finally, what book/authors would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Z: All of the authors in our anthologies have tremendous novels of their own. Make sure you check out their work!

N: What Z said! I will also offer a quick set of spooky season queer YA reads for consideration: My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham, You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayronn, The Honeys by Ryan La Sala, and These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall, and Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado.

Interview with Ellen T. Crenshaw, Artist of Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel (the Baby-Sitters Club #14)

Ellen T. Crenshaw is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptation of Stacey’s Mistake by Ann M. Martin. She is the co-creator, with Colleen AF Venable, of Kiss Number 8, which was nominated for an Eisner Award and longlisted for a National Book Award. She is also the creator of What Was the Turning Point of the Civil War?, a Who HQ graphic novel. When she’s not making comics, Ellen loves playing video games, hiking with her dog, and deconstructing movie plots with her husband.

I had the opportunity to interview Ellen, 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 Ellen T. Crenshaw, a cartoonist and illustrator. I worked for years as an editorial illustrator and a studio freelancer for children’s media development, but now I almost exclusively make comics and graphic novels. Journey is the best video game I’ve ever played. My favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. This past spring I drove 3,000 miles with my husband, cat, and dog from California to Massachusetts, where we now live!

What can you tell us about your latest project, The Baby-sitters Club: Stacey’s Mistake: A Graphic Novel and how did you get involved in illustrating for The Baby-sitters Club series?

Stacey’s Mistake is the 14th book in the Baby-sitters Club graphic novel series. Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory all visit Stacey in New York City for a big baby-sitting job, but the girls clash with Stacey’s New York friends and her city life. There’s lots of big emotions, and loving depictions of NYC sights.

I got involved with the BSC graphic novels when my agent came to me with interest from the series editor, Cassandra Pelham Fulton. I was a Baby-sitters Club reader when I was a kid, so I couldn’t have been more excited!

Did you have any previous connections to The Baby-sitters Club series before working on this project?

I read my older sister’s hand-me-down copies of the original series when I was little. The two of us watched the ‘90s tv show on PBS, and to this day we can both sing the theme song. My niece also read the graphic novels when she was in middle school. It means a lot to me that my family and I have such ties to the series and my work on it now is something I can share with them. (I’ve actually consulted my sister a handful of times for advice and input on my adaptations!)

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly comics?

My mom instilled in me a love of grammar, and she was basically my first writing teacher. When my dad got home from work he would read with me, and my favorites were always a book of Hans Christian Anderson tales and the daily newspaper comics. I’ve always loved cartoons, too—so much that baby-me wished Toon Town was a real place—and I was constantly drawing my favorite characters. I was in elementary school when I started making my first comic books with friends, drawn on computer paper and stapled into booklets. Comics are just so accessible as a storytelling medium, it was only natural as someone who loved both writing and drawing to keep doing it.

As a comic creator, you are known for another queer fan-favorite, Kiss Number 8. Could you tell us what it was like working on that project?

Thank you! Kiss Number 8 was what made me decide to try out for my first graphic novel. Before then I was making short comics for myself and small-press anthologies. Reading Colleen’s script was transformative; I felt so strongly for those characters and the story, I wanted with my whole body to be the one to draw it. The balance of humor and drama was right up my alley, and thankfully First Second thought so too! The process was exceptionally hard for me, though, because making short comics is a sprint while a graphic novel is a marathon. The hours were grueling. (They still are!) Colleen was a real champion for me throughout; she gave me so much encouragement. When it was done, she gifted me a crocheted trophy! I’m so lucky to have collaborated with her, and our book is one of my proudest efforts.

How would you describe your creative process in general?

It seems to change with every project, but one thing is consistent: I avoid my desk for as long as possible. I go for walks, I take the dog to the beach, I play games, I read, I come up with ideas in the shower. I’m on the couch with my sketchbook, laptop, or iPad—sometimes all three—while I write a script and begin sketches. The rest of my process is usually some combination of traditional and digital tools, my favorite being ink on paper.

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

As I said, ink on paper is my favorite. By that point, all the meticulous planning is over and it’s just me and my brush, guiding those lines, making textures, delighting in happy accidents. I can lose myself in the story and characters.

Pencils are challenging for me. They can be really tedious. It’s when I’m drawing endless perspective lines, poring over reference. There’s still an element of fun—especially when I’m taking photos of myself for posing—but it’s the most eye-melting, back-breaking part of my process.

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

A single influential moment that changed my entire creative life was when my college professor, the late great Robert Jay Kaufman, told me that I should convey more emotion in my characters’ hands. I took that to heart and I’ve since built a whole reputation of drawing expressive hands!

In general, I’m inspired by projects in which I get to research and learn new things. I’ll always prefer narrative fiction, but I appreciate any chance I get to do a historical piece that requires a trip to the library archives.

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

I mostly read my sister’s hand-me-down books growing up, my favorite among them being Anne of Green Gables. The first book of my own I remember loving was Totally Disgusting! by Bill Wallace, in which an uptight, scared little kitten learns to loosen up and be brave. I was a nervous kid and I wanted to be adventurous like Anne Shirley, but I think I felt more like Mewkiss the kitten.

Nowadays I’m really into historical fiction, adventure, and stories that explore the spectrum/question the boundaries of womanhood. I really enjoyed the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden and Circe by Madeline Miller. I’ll read and reread This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki from now until the end of time.

I’m also dabbling in horror, and Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass tv series especially moved me as a formerly religious person. I talk about it constantly.

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

Deadlines help a ton, haha! Honestly, a looming due date is mostly what keeps me moving forward. Finished is better than perfect.

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

I laugh exceptionally loudly and if you’re one of my neighbors I sincerely apologize.

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)?

Q: What’s your favorite cookie, and would you like one?

A: White chocolate macadamia nut, and yes, please and thank you.

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

Find your people and hold ‘em tight. Community is everything. The support you’ll give and receive, how you’ll influence each other; it’ll make you a better person and artist.

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

I’m in the middle of two more Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations: Kristy and the Walking Disaster and Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter.

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

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is wonderfully romantic and adventurous and turns the whole idea of a “chosen one” on its head.

I grabbed this series for work reference and I instantly fell in love with it: Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi. It’s baseball manga, completely out of my wheelhouse, and I love it.

Header Photo Credit Matt Boehm

Interview with Chloe Liese, Author of Better Hate Than Never

Chloe Liese writes romances reflecting her belief that everyone deserves a love story. Her stories pack a punch of heat, heart, and humor, and often feature characters who are neurodivergent like herself. When not dreaming up her next book, Chloe spends her time wandering in nature, playing soccer, and most happily at home with her family and mischievous cats.

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

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

I’m Chloe Liese, author of the Bergman Brothers and Wilmot Sisters series, and I write romances reflecting my belief that everyone deserves a love story. My books are humorous, hope-filled, and slow-burn hot, and they feature characters with human realities who I think deserve more prominence in romance novels, such as neurodivergence, chronic illnesses, disabilities, complex mental health journeys, and nuanced sexual identities. I write stories that allow my readers the joyful escape of a romance novel while also affirming my conviction that the most beautiful love stories are the ones in which real people with real lives and bodies and minds experience emotional safety, rich intimacy, and vibrant, loving happily ever afters.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Better Hate Than Never? What was the inspiration for this story?

Better Hate than Never, the second in my Wilmot Sisters series, reimagines Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as a feminist, sexy romance in which two childhood enemies overcome their past animosity and fall in love through the hard, healing work of vulnerability, honesty, and trust. The book challenges the idea of the “shrew”—a derogatory term wielded against vocal, bold, impassioned women—and explores characters living with neurodivergence (ADHD) and a chronic illness (migraines). I think this story balances the angst of longing for someone you don’t believe you should—or deserve—to love, and the fiery, delicious tension of the enemies to lovers trope. Finally, the book has some really fun nods to the iconic rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You, which is another reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew, and one of my all-time favorite films.

From the description of your newest book, readers will find out the heroine Kate is diagnosed with ADHD and identifies as demisexual. If you wouldn’t mind, could you tell us about the queer representation featured in this book?

As a neurodivergent queer woman myself, it’s important to me to write characters who embody those identities and to explore the vulnerability that many who identify this way feel, asking themselves, Who do I trust with my truth? Who do I trust to validate and see and love me for who I show them I am? Kate’s neurodivergence is something she’s learned to love in a vacuum, on her own, but not in relationships; she hasn’t felt seen and loved well for the person she is and all the ways that having ADHD bears out in her life, so I wanted to explore how she opens up to the people she loves about the ways she needs to feel seen and affirmed better, how vulnerable that risk is but how rewarding it is when the people who love her hear her and strive to love her in a way that shows her just how much. Her sexuality, like mine—demisexual—is another area in which she’s historically felt frustration and isolation in how poorly it’s been understood and received, after hurtful, ignorant responses and her deepening (and understandable) reluctance to open up to people about it. As her relationship to Christopher deepens, it was very important to me to show her wrestling with her fear of rejection but ultimately her bravery in trusting Christopher, to ensure his response to her was loving, curious to know more, eager to make her feel safe and seen, to show how their intimacy grows because of the trust and care that ensues from that conversation.

Looking from the body of your work, mental health and neurodivergent/ disability representation is a big part of your writing. If you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about these concepts means to you?

Romance is such a joyful, safe genre—it focuses on the beauty of relationships, the hope of happy endings, and celebrates all the many nuanced, beautiful ways we can experience intimacy, connection, and love. It’s important to me to write stories with characters navigating mental health struggles, who are neurodivergent and disabled and chronically ill, because, as a neurodivergent person with chronic conditions, I know personally how lonely it is to pick up romance novel after romance novel and see none of those realities being lovingly, affirmingly portrayed. I aim to write stories that challenge a very culturally engrained ableist stigma that asserts we have to look or live or function a certain way, have a certain number in our bank account, be in the pinnacle of health, to experience love and sex and be desired and live fulfilling, happy existences. My hope and belief is that anyone can find something to relate to in my books, even if they aren’t chronically ill or neurodivergent or disabled or experiencing mental health difficulties, because the truth is it’s human to hide our soft spots and our fears, and all of us carry with us some part of ourselves we believe is unlovable. My goal is for my readers—no matter how little or much they relate to the identities or diagnoses or experiences of my characters—to close my books feeling healed and encouraged and reminded that true love loves all of us, not just our easy, smooth parts, but the rough and rocky corners, too.

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

During an especially anxious season of my life, I was very drawn toward the guaranteed happy ending of romantic fiction, and—as is generally the case for me, when I find something I like—I immersed myself in the genre, devouring hundreds of romance novels. After quite a lot of reading, I started feeling this loneliness I’ve mentioned, this ache to see people like me and the people in my life and my community, portrayed authentically and positively in characters who were wise and witty and sexy and kind and capable of rich, beautiful love stories. At some point, I came upon Toni Morrison’s wisdom, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” and it felt like a sign to take the leap and start writing the kinds of stories I wanted to read, so I did. It bears emphasizing that I by no means think I am the only one who writes romances with realistic characters like this; I just struggled to find them back when I was first reading romance and started writing. I am beyond grateful to have since found authors who do that beautifully and intentionally, who inspire me as a storyteller and who are doing incredible things in the genre—Helen Hoang, Talia Hibbert, Kennedy Ryan, and Alison Cochrun, to name a few—who I admire immensely for their talent and dedication to compassionate, inclusive romantic storytelling.

How would you describe your writing process?

It always starts with a kernel—a character whose growth arc comes to me vividly, a first chapter unfolds in my imagination like a movie’s opening scene, a bit of dialogue between two people whose dynamic and tropes and connection demands to be written down the moment it materializes in my mind. After that, I examine what representational aspects I want to portray. If they’re outside my lived experience, I connect with authenticity sources—friends and readers who identify with those experiences—interview them comprehensively on what matters to them to see in a romance novel with a character living with an identity/diagnosis like theirs and on the nuances of their routines and relationships and their identity/diagnosis’ impact on those aspects of their lives. Then I write the story, revise, and get it to a place where I feel the narrative is solidified, then I put it in front of my authenticity sources for critique to ensure representational accuracy. Once I’ve addressed any inaccuracies and my authenticity sources feel good about the story from a representational standpoint, I put it in front of other sensitivity and critique readers for more feedback to ensure I’ve written a story we all feel is fun, joyful, thoughtful, affirming, and compassionate. When I write from my own experience, I do essentially the same thing with myself as an authenticity source—ask myself what matters to affirm and authentically portray in my story—and then I put it in front of others with my identity as well as sensitivity and critique readers.

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 find finishing a book often the easiest part! Often, it’s the starting for me that I get hung up on. If I don’t have a clear vision yet for how the story kicks off or who exactly my characters are or what journey they need to take, I have to stay patient and try out ideas and wait until I get that creative greenlight inside myself that lets me know I’m ready to go. Sometimes, though, even after a solid start, with the book plotted out into beats, guided by my characters’ intended growth arcs and overall journeys, I get hung up in the first act of the book (in my plotting, I tend to break my books structurally into three acts), knowing if I take a wrong turn early in the novel, I’ll have lots of rewriting ahead of me when I realize I’ve ended up somewhere I didn’t want to. Having written ten novels now, I am very familiar with how exhausting and frustrating it can be to realize I’ve taken a wrong turn and have to go back and revise extensively. When that first act potential wrong turn fear hits, I’ve started to work on being patient and pausing, going back and reading a few chapters preceding the point at which I’m unsure which way to turn. I’m still learning how to trust and listen to myself as a storyteller, and I’d say that’s honestly the biggest challenge, but I think I’m getting better with each book.

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

I didn’t know I was neurodivergent until I was 30. I always felt a bit odd and different, like I was outside plexiglass looking into the rest of the world, especially complex social situations. So as a child, I was drawn to stories about kids who were loners and dreamers, who were roughing it on their own, lost in their own imaginations—Anne of Green Gables, pretty much any middle grade Karen Cushman novel but especially Catherine Called Birdy and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, The Boxcar Children, Miss Rumphius, the Dear America diary series, to name a few. Stories that now make me feel most seen are Helen Hoang’s, Talia Hibbert’s, and Alison Cochrun’s. I am so thankful for their stories and the safe havens they’ve given me.

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

My favorite part of writing is how real these characters and their worlds become, how touching and healing it can be to experience the love and kindness and goodness they show each other. I’d also say another favorite element of writing is the sheer rush of writing something (that at least, to me feels) beautiful—a turn of phrase that sparkles like magic, a single sentence that written straight from my heart. The most frustrating or challenging part is that “wrong turn” fear of mine—when I get pulled out of the joy of being immersed in my story world and have to wrestle with my doubts about my craft and the direction I’m taking.

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

Write what you believe in. Write what brings you joy. Write what you want to read. Ask yourself why, what, and how all the time—Why am I telling this story? Why am I writing this character? Why does this couple make sense in a way other potential pairings in their story world don’t? What do my characters need to learn? How do they grow as individuals and together? How do their past and present and the future I have planned for them reflect in their voice, their worldview, their fears, their hopes, their journey? These questions make a story so much stronger; a book can have an engaging hook, a snappy premise, but fall flat when its plot, dialogue, and characters’ behaviors don’t unfold in a way that feels realistically, compellingly motivated by the nuances of the lead characters and their growth journey.

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

I’m working on the third and final Wilmot Sister book, whose first chapter I’m very excited is in finished copies of Better Hate than Never—readers get a really fun sneak peek at Juliet’s story! I can’t say much about it, only that I think it’s really swoony and tender and it’s bringing me a lot of joy. I’m also wrapping up work on the last Bergman Brothers novel, Viggo’s story, Only and Forever, which is a roommance about a starry-eyed optimistic romance reader living with a cynical thriller writer who pair up to get each other through a tough professional season and end up falling hopelessly in love.

Finally, what books, particularly books with queer and/or disabled/neurodivergent representation, would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

So many, but here are some, to name just a few:

Interview with R. Eric Thomas, Author of Kings of B’more

R. Eric Thomas is the bestselling author of Here for It, a Read with Jenna book club pick featured on Today and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He is the co-author of Reclaiming Her Time, a biography of Rep. Maxine Waters. He is also a television writer (AppleTV+’s Dickinson, FX’s Better Things), a playwright, and the long-running host of The Moth in Philadelphia and D.C. For four years, he was a senior staff writer at where he wrote “Eric Reads the News.” Kings of B’more is his YA debut. 

I had the opportunity to interview R. Eric Thomas, which you can read below.

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

I’m a bestselling author, television writer, and playwright based in Philadelphia, where I live with my husband, who is a Presbyterian pastor.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Congratulations, The Best Is Over!? What inspired this project?

I turned 40 a year into the pandemic while living in a house I never imagined I’d want in a suburb that gave me the creeps sometimes and I looked around and thought “Okay, what now?” I had planned to have an elaborate costume party with very annoying rules for my 40th and invite everyone I’d ever met, but instead I was unexpectedly living in my hometown again, struggling to make adult friendships, bleaching my mail, and tweeting out jokes about the apocalypse. I thought the juxtaposition of a common phase of life change with this shocking, seismic global upheaval was worth exploring. And as someone who primarily writes comedically, I thought it was a worthy challenge to see if I could make enough jokes about my mid-life/existential crisis to find hope again.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically non-fiction (essays)?

Stories are empathy engines and there’s something extraordinary that happens when you tell a true story to another person. It opens up a bridge between you, it inspires both of you–or all of you—to think more expansively about commonality and connection. It’s generous and vulnerable. Storytelling changes us, it teaches us and excites us and challenges us. I started out telling true stories, live, with no notes at shows like The Moth, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I’ve done standup, I tried my hand at spoken word, I’ve hosted cabarets and drag shows; I loved all of those experiences but I found that there was nothing like storytelling.

Recently, you’ve entered into the world of young adult fiction, with your book, Kings of B’more? May I ask what inspired this story, as well as your interest in writing YA?

I wanted to write about platonic love between two Black, queer boys; I wanted to write a story where their trauma wasn’t the focal point; I was interested in a space of possibility for their exuberance and their softness. I wanted to craft the world as I knew it could be. And I knew that if I didn’t write it, that some young person out there wouldn’t get to know that it was possible. I wrote what I’d never read, a world that I get to live now as an adult. My trips to the library as a middle and high schooler expanded my view of the world in so many ways; I’m still learning from books I discovered in 9th or 10th grade. I wanted to add to that tradition for those coming after me.

How would you describe your general writing process?

Chaotic. I always have multiple projects going on. I follow inspiration. I get lost. I have to trick myself into finishing things. I recently remodeled my office for a week because a chapter was making me nervous. It’s a mess. I should be exiled from writing.

Are there any ways in which it is similar or different when writing fiction vs non-fiction?

With both forms structure is very important, particularly in the way that I approach non-fiction. I write non-fiction as if I am the main character, the protagonist, and the essay usually follows the natural arc of me getting closer to or farther from what I want. I think trope and genre can be as useful in non-fiction as they are in fiction and can expand the possibilities of what I’m creating.

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

I both love and hate revision. I really try to embrace the freedom of being able to write a very imperfect first draft and the process of slowly, painstakingly finding the right piece inside of the imperfection. But I also get really frustrated sometimes in the writing process because there is never a single “right” piece. It’s easy to get lost in the searching, which is why I value having such smart editors.

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

I am obsessed with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Colson Whitehead, and Ann Patchett.

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?

Having a regular practice can be key. As can having deadlines, even if it’s just a friend who you’ve promised to get a draft to. Knowing that someone is waiting, whether that someone is the hopeful version of yourself who made your schedule or an eager reader, can push you over the finish line.

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

I’m in the middle of writing another novel, this one for adults. It’s a queer love story about second chances and a vacation town trying to reinvent itself.

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

Philip Ellis’s Love and Other Scams is such a delight and I can’t wait for his next book, We Could Be Heroes. Everyone should read Audre Lorde, particularly Sister Outsider, and Alexander Chee, particularly How to Write an Autobiographical Essay. Meccah Jamilah Sullivan’s Big Girl is phenomenal. I cannot stop screaming about how great Idlewild by James Frankie Thomas is. Holy cow! What a masterpiece!