Interview with Natalie Caña, Author of A Dish Best Served Hot

Natalie Caña writes contemporary romances that allow her to incorporate her witty sense of humor and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her. A PROPOSAL THEY CAN’T REFUSE is her debut novel.

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

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

Hi all, I’m Natalie Caña (pronounced K-ah-n-ya). I’m a Domini-Rican author of saucy Latiné romances with shenanigans and sabor. I’ve been writing for many years, but my 2022 novel A Proposal They Can’t Refuse was my first published work. I’ve had multiple careers throughout my adulthood, but being an author is the most authentic and personal.

 What can you tell us about your latest book,  A Dish Best Served Hot? What was the inspiration for this story?  

The original inspiration for A Dish Best Served Hot was my personal experience teaching in an urban school district with not many resources. As I dug deeper into the characters and the world became chaos thanks to the pandemic, the story evolved into something much deeper. It became about the essence of community and the ways we, not only, affect it as individuals, but how it affects us in return. The story became about how we have the tendency to base our value off our communities (whether a neighborhood or a family) and how we serve them. 

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

I have always been a storyteller. From the moment I could talk I was telling stories. I used to spend hours creating elaborate tales with my Barbies to the point where none of my cousins wanted to play with me because I was doing too much. (I stand by my stance that every single story needed an ending!)  

I honestly believe that my love for romance in general began with the telenovelas I used to watch daily with my grandmother. I loved that in the end good overcame evil and everyone who deserved it received their happy ending. That balance after all of the chaos, spoke to me on a deeper level even as a kid. When I discovered that same feeling in romance novels…it was a wrap. I knew that’s what I wanted to create. I set out to do so. 

As a queer and Latinx author, what does it mean for you featuring queer and Latinx representation in your books?

Man, it means everything to me. I grew up going to schools where BIPOC people were the minority. I felt an immense pressure to assimilate even though I knew it would never truly work. One look at me was enough to prove that I didn’t belong there regardless of whether I wore the same name-brand clothes, spoke the same way, or straightened my hair to match those around me. It took me a long time to accept and appreciate that my “otherness” was a gift not a curse. 

It took even longer for me to acknowledge my queerness. Even as I supported and did my best to uplift the queer people around me, something held me back from looking more closely at myself. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve taken that deep dive into myself if it weren’t for Lola, the heroine of book 2. Researching and writing Lola, made me come face to face with aspects of myself that I’d been ignoring for over 30 years. It made me finally acknowledge and accept that I’m a bisexual woman and that’s a valid existence no matter who I am or am not in a relationship with. 

At the end of the day I want readers to take that away from my books: It doesn’t matter what you look like or who you are attracted to, we are all deserving of a love that nurtures and accepts us wholly. To be able to spread that message is priceless to me. 

How would you describe your writing process?

The only way to describe my process is “contained chaos”. I try so hard to be one of those organized plotters who has every chapter planned out and just sits down and cranks out words. Unfortunately, I am not that person. If I plan my scenes too much, my brain tells me “Ugh, we already did this. Let’s do something else” and I struggle to get any words out. I’ve learned that I just need to tell myself what is the main thing the scene needs to accomplish and then let myself go from there. I do end up all over the place, but I fix all of that in editing. That’s where I really dig in and shape the story into what it needs to be. I end up doing more work because I inevitably have to rewrite scenes and chapters, but it’s honestly the only thing that works for me. 

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

I was not a reader growing up at all. I mostly watched Disney and/or Shirley Temple movies. However, when I was sixteen I heard that J.Lo (my idol at the time) had started her own production company and was going to be making a movie based on the book The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. Of course, I went and bought it immediately so I could see what it was all about, because I’m nosey like that. It was a revelation. Here was this book that was being sold in the big named bookstores that was 100% about Latinas and their lives. They weren’t the sassy sidekicks dishing out advice to some basic white woman. They were the main characters and they all had very different personalities. It blew my mind. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that and for a long time it was the only instance. 

Now there is a growing list of Latinx women writing romance that feature many ethnicities and sexualities and everytime I read one I feel seen in the same way I did back then. It’s a beautiful and inspirational experience every single time. 

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

I know I mentioned them already, but I have to bring up telenovelas again. The fact that these are relatively short stories (only a new months) that feature all the drama one can think up, but still end with a happily ever after for the main characters is what really influences me as a writer and as a person. It gives me hope that no matter what happens, everything will be good in the end. That message is exactly what drew me to the romance genre and what makes me continue reading and writing it. I want my stories to give someone that hope.

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

I think my favorite aspect of writing is building the characters. If y’all could only see how much work I put into developing each and every person who shows up on the page, it would look like that GIF of the guy standing in front of his crime wall with the pictures and the red string all over the place. You know the one I’m talking about. That’s me creating a rich backstory for every character whether they are in every chapter or they show up one time. I know I go overboard, but I can’t tell you how many times it has saved my butt. The heroine of book 2, Lola, is the perfect example. She was originally just a blimp in the hero’s past, but when it became clear that the heroine I’d chosen was not the right one for him, I had to go back and look at his backstory. That’s where I found Lola, the girl who gave Saint his nickname, changed his life, and disappeared. And boom, just like that, book 2 had a new heroine and a way better plot. 

As for challenges: setting has always been the most challenging for me to write. I see things so clearly in my mind that I struggle to get it on the page the way I see it. I either end up going into not enough detail (because I forget that the reader can’t see into my brain) or way too much (because I remember they can’t see into my brain, so I add tons of description so they can see what I see). It’s hard for me to find the right balance, which is why I’m eternally grateful for my editor. 

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?

In a virtual panel I heard the great Beverly Jenkins say, “Stop just talking about your story. Sit down in the chair and write the damn book. You are not a talker, you are a writer.” Boy did that light a fire under my butt, because that is exactly what I was doing. I was talking about my story and daydreaming about it instead of writing it. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t enough to have it all playing out in my head like a movie I was watching. I needed to get it from my head to the paper in order for it to be of value to anyone but me.

Around the same time, Hamilton the musical was making a splash. I remember listening to “Wait For It” and bawling my eyes out, because it resonated so much with me. I was waiting for my time to come, but what was I really doing to make it happen? I needed to “write like I was running out of time”. So I did exactly that. I sat down and wrote the damn book. It was a mess, but it was there. I finally had something to work with besides the visions in my head. 

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

Oh God, this is the worst question to ask me. As the most introverted of introverts I don’t want ANYONE to know ANYTHING  about me EVER. But as a Gemini with both a Leo Moon and Leo Rising, I have the tendency to overshare once I get started. There is no middle. Honestly, I feel like I’m relatively basic AF. I like to be in my house with my dogs watching the same shows over and over. I’m basically your run of the mill anxiety ridden Millennial with tons of student debt and an unhealthy obsession with anything nostalgic (Disney, Nickelodeon, 90s music, and childhood snacks like Lunchables and Dunkaroos). AND YOU WILL HAVE TO YANK MY SKINNY JEANS AND SIDE PART  OUT OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS!

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)?

Okay, I thought about this for a while and I still have NO clue. I’ve been asked some great questions since beginning my author journey. Most of which I’ve given super random and rambling answers to, because that’s just how I am. It’s basically my brand at this point: random, rambling, nonsense with crumbs of intellect sprinkled in. Therefore, I could come up with a really good question for this, but the answer would still be absolute trash, so yeah. Sorry I’m not better at this. *wince

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

Find yourself an author community by joining a writer’s group in person or finding people online. As much as your friends and family want to support you, they don’t get it like other writers will. Having like minded people to talk to, vent to, or bounce ideas off of is immeasurably valuable. Also, work on your craft. There is always something to learn or improve upon. 

But honestly, everyone will give you advice on what to do or not do, how to do it or tell you something is wrong. At the end of the day, you have to learn for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember first and foremost that this is your story and no one else will or can tell it like you. 

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

I’m currently in the process of editing book 3 of the Vega Love Stories series, titled Sleeping With The Frenemy. It was the story I was looking forward to writing the most out of the three and I’m incredibly excited for people to read it. I am obsessed with this hero and heroine. I’d love to write more stories about the Vega family, but if  I don’t get that opportunity I know that this book will be a good place to end. 

As for other projects: I have some other ideas percolating in my mind, but nothing set in stone yet. 

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

There are so many fantastic queer authors out there telling amazing stories just waiting to be found and devoured. I personally look to one of my favorite BookTokers @Orlandoreads, for recommendations whenever I need some TBR inspo. 

However, off the top of my head here’s what I have to share:

If you haven’t read Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series yet, then what are you even doing with your life? Same with her latest release An Island Princess Starts A Scandal. And really anything she writes. 

My good friend, Liz Lincoln has a sapphic soccer book called Loving A Keeper which is AMAZING. 

Speaking of sapphic soccer, Meryl Wilsner’s Cleat Cute is great along with their debut, Mistakes Were Made (not about soccer, but still sapphic). 

J.J. Arias is a surefire winner for those wanting hot sapphic romance. 

Cat Giraldo’s Wild Pitch was fantastic and I’m super pumped for Outfield Assist which comes out in October as well. 

If you are wanting some Queer wedding vibes there’s I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson and D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C Higgins

Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I know that YA is really doing the damn thing when it comes to LGBTQ+ rep in books, so make sure to check them out too!

Interview with Author Sarah Adler

Sarah Adler writes romantic comedies about lovable weirdos finding their happily-ever-afters. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and spends an inordinate amount of her time yelling at her mischievous cat to stop opening the kitchen cabinets.

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

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

Hello, and thanks so much for having me! I’m Sarah Adler (she/her), and I write romantic comedies out of my mustard yellow home office (and various coffee shops) in beautiful Frederick County, Maryland. I’m also an avid reader, baked goods fanatic, and casual but enthusiastic bird nerd.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes? What was the inspiration for this story?

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes is the story of a former child actress on a mission to reunite three tablespoons of her elderly best friend’s remains with the woman she fell in love with while serving in World War II. But flights are grounded and she’s forced to drive to Florida with her ex-boyfriend’s grad school rival. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

Back in the fall of 2020, I heard a radio interview with a musician who talked about how, when his mother passed away, he took her ashes on tour with him to sprinkle on every stage he played. I couldn’t stop thinking about that! Like, as a memorial gesture but also just the logistics. Around the same time, I was brainstorming what a modern-day version of the classic screwball comedy, It Happened One Night, might look like. Eventually, those two ideas converged in my head and a story was born.

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

I’ve always been fascinated by people—trying to understand how they work, what makes them tick—and I think romance is an ideal way to explore that. When I make my characters fall in love, I’m basically chucking them into a crucible and testing what they melt down into, and how they’ll re-form. It’s a really fun way to study the human condition. It’s possible to do this with other genres, too, of course. But I’ve also always been very anxious, so the promise of a happily ever after, that everything is going to be okay, is not only incredibly appealing but somewhat necessary for me as both a reader and a writer.

How would you describe your writing process?

When I first have an idea, I make sure that it has not only a premise but also enough of a plot to become a full book. If it doesn’t, I write it down for later and move on to the next one. If it does, I start writing the first few chapters and see how it feels—if the voice is coming naturally, if the characters are forming on the page. Next is a very loose, almost stream-of-consciousness outline that’s 90% dialogue I know I want to use in future scenes, and that guides me as I head toward the middle. By the time I hit the 50,000-word mark, I usually get stuck and miserable for a while, but I’ve done this enough times now that I know it’s temporary. So I take a break, refill my creative well, and eventually dig back in and reach the end. I tend to revise at the line level as I go, so by the time I have the full story on the page, it’s time to get some feedback from my critique partners and/or editor about bigger, structural stuff. Then it’s time to tinker with whatever doesn’t work until it suddenly does.

One of the hardest things about writing a book is finishing one. What strategies or advice might you have to say about accomplishing this?

I’m not a planner. I don’t do a formal outline. I don’t do goal-motivation-conflict charts. That’s not me, not how my brain works. But what I’ve learned is crucial to a manuscript’s success is that I make sure before I get started that I have a plot and not just a premise. It’s really easy to generate premises—the “what if…?” question that sets up the situation—but it’s a lot harder to actually respond to that question with a novel-length answer. Most of the projects I’ve started and abandoned were great premises, which meant I could start, but then there wasn’t a middle or an end to follow it up with. Writing a book is like getting from A to Z, and if you only have an A, well… you might eventually work your way to Z out of sheer luck but it’s not going to be an easy trip.

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

Jennifer Crusie is my favorite romance author of all time, and I turn to her books frequently for both comfort and inspiration. Music is a significant part of my process as well; I tend to listen to certain genres or artists on repeat while drafting and revising. My work is always at least a little influenced by film and television, especially ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms like M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Night Court, which are great examples of how to blend humor with heavier topics. And I’m also really inspired by my surroundings, especially the landscape (which is actually kind of ironic now that I think about it, considering I don’t spend a ton of time describing settings in my writing).

There’s also an element of finding inspiration within myself. Each book I write is a semi-subconscious effort to work through some feeling or aspect of my life I haven’t been able to grapple with in real time. What I mean is, I don’t think it was a coincidence that I realized I was bisexual while writing Mrs. Nash’s Ashes, which has a sapphic love story B-plot.

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

I love that feeling of starting a new project and watching the characters come alive on the page. It feels so magical when it’s working well as if the people in my head are real and eager to tell me all about themselves. I also love the moments during the revision process when one new sentence or paragraph suddenly makes everything click into place—extremely satisfying.

Usually, the place I get most frustrated is the middle of the book, when I often feel like I’ve lost the thread of what I’m trying to do. That’s the point where I often have to step away, rest, recalibrate, reread what I’ve written so far, and find my way back into the story.

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

Hmm… I have a master’s degree in history that I’ve never really had an opportunity to use in any formal professional way, and I’ll jump at any excuse to do research. I’m also an atrocious gardener, just absolutely terrible at it, yet I keep trying every year anyway because I’m slow to learn a lesson.

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 my favorite Fleetwood Mac song? Wow. That’s impossible to answer, really. But I have a soft spot for “Sara” (even if they did omit the ‘h’).

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

It feels almost cliche at this point but read. Especially when you’re first starting out, it’s the most important thing you can do. Read in your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read old stuff. Read new stuff. Read things you love. Read things you hate. It’s the number one way to improve your craft, understand the market, and make connections. A writer who thinks they can write a good book without ever reading is as absurd, in my opinion, as a chef who thinks they can make good food without ever eating.

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

I can’t say too much except that my second book is currently scheduled for spring 2024, and it’s an enemies-to-lovers romance featuring a fake spirit medium, a goat farmer, and a ghost.

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

I’m a huge fan of Bridget Morrissey’s A Thousand Miles, and I’m excited for her upcoming sapphic romance, That Summer Feeling. Rachel Runya Katz’s Thank You For Sharing is coming out in September and I can attest to its excellence. And Tori Anne Martin’s wlw romcom, This Spells Disaster, is high on my TBR. Outside of the romance genre, C.J. Connor has a queer cozy mystery (a quozy, if you will) pubbing this summer that’s going to be my birthday present to myself.

Header Photo Credit H.D. Kimrey

Interview with Author Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author and teacher. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and the middle-grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World was a Stonewall Honor Book, as well as a Kirkus, School Library Journal, NYPL, and NPR Best Book of 2018. Her YA novel Girl Made of Stars was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She’s also the author of the adult romance novel Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, and a co-editor on the young adult romance anthology Fools in Love.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been and could you tell us a little about yourself for readers who are new to you? 

I’m Ashley Herring Blake and I’m a romance author! I’ve also written young adult and middle-grade novels, and I’m a teacher in coastal Georgia. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail? What was the inspiration for this story? 

Astrid Parker is about a perfectionist interior designer who lands an opportunity to renovate an inn that’s being featured on an HGTV show, and hopes this will finally prove to everyone—herself, her ex, her controlling mother—that she’s a success. Trouble is, she doesn’t expect to clash with her lead carpenter, the disaster that is Jordan Everwood, and she certainly doesn’t expect to catch feelings for that lead carpenter. The inspiration came from a few different places. As it’s the second book in a loosely connected series, a bit of Astrid’s story was decided in the first book (Delilah Green Doesn’t Care), but I really wanted to write a story about a person who is so intent on not failing that she inevitably does. Also, this is a later-in-life queer awakening story, which is very similar to my own, so it was very important to me to write this story.

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

I’ve always loved romance, so when I was trying to decide what kind of adult novel I wanted to write, romance was a natural choice. I also just love that—aside from the complexities that go into writing any novel well—my one goal in a romance is really to get two people together! It’s a wonderful and glorious goal!

In addition to adult fiction, you’ve also written for young adult and middle-grade audiences as well. What would you say is the personal appeal of writing for all these various age ranges? 

I would say that I have a very different purpose for each age group. I started my publishing career in young adult, and at the time, those were the stories I was reading and connecting with. I wanted to contribute to the category, but as I gained more self-awareness, I also wanted to write queer stories for teens I knew needed them. This goes double for middle grade, as there were even fewer queer MG stories—there are so many now, which is a beautiful thing to see!—and I know for a fact that if I had had queer middle-grade stories as an actual middle grader, they would’ve changed my life. With adult, I was ready to write stories that had characters who were dealing with similar things as I am now. And again, I wanted more queer romance! So I wrote some.

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

Honestly, I loved Judy Blume and Mary Downing Hahn, but there isn’t one book or one writer that I look at and say “That one. That made me want to be a writer/made me love reading.” I loved so many books, but again, I think at the time I was really searching for stories that either didn’t exist yet, or that I didn’t have access to, and I just didn’t know it yet.

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

I can name some classic queer writers here—the letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West are particularly compelling to me—but I think my biggest sources of inspiration are my contemporaries and peers. Writers like Talia Hibbert, Meryl Wilsner, Kiley Reid, Lauren Groff, Bolu Babalola—they are my true inspiration.

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

I love the planning stages, love those first sparks of ideas. I used to really hate drafting, but now I actually love it. Revising and drafting have sort of flipped positions, and now drafting is my favored stage, with revising coming up last. 

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

I’m a bit of a planner nerd. I decorate my planner each week, like a little ritual that gets me ready for the week. I play guitar and sing—used to semi-professionally as well! I tend toward melancholy music and love rain.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers? 

Keep writing. That’s what’s going to make you a better writer. Focus on your words, because at the end of the day, that’s all you can control. Next, find your people. Writers can be a self-deprecating and solitary bunch, so we need a crew to hold us up. It’s also a very…strange profession. Publishing has a lot of ups and downs, and creating has its own share of challenges. Find people who understand!

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

I’ve finished the first draft of the third book in the Bright Falls series, IRIS KELLY DOESN’T DATE, and I’m in the first stages of a queer holiday romance, MAKE THE SEASON BRIGHT.

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

Meryl Wilsner, Talia Hibbert, Courtney Kae, Adrianna Herrera, and Alison Cochrun.

Header Photo Credit Craig Pope

Interview with Author Alison Cochrun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

Header Photo Credit Hayley Downing-Fairless

Interview with Author Adam Sass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author TJ Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

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

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

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