Interview with Author Mia Tsai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

Also, it’s sapphic.

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

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

Header Photo Credit Michelle Li Wynne Photography

Interview with Author Davinia Evans

Davinia Evans was born in the tropics and raised on British comedy. With a lifelong fantasy-reading habit and an honours thesis in political strategy, it was perhaps inevitable that she turn to a life of crafting stories full of sneaky ratbags tangling with magic. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with two humans (one large and one small), a neurotic cat, and a cellar full of craft beer. Dee talks more about all of that on Twitter as @cupiscent.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m Davinia Evans, a lapsed goth, small-child-wrangler, and fantasy author. I live in Melbourne, Australia, where I follow the local traditions of drinking lots of coffee, wearing lots of black, and being baffled by the weather. I love reading, writing, enjoying a nice bourbon-barrel-aged stout (probably while doing one of the first two!) and baking very simple cakes.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Notorious Sorcerer? What can readers expect?

Notorious Sorcerer is about a dockside errand boy who raids other planes for the ingredients used by the posh alchemists he aspires to join. But when he commits an impossible feat of magic, he’s catapulted into the middle of a world-wrecking crisis. To save his city, he’ll need the help of sword-slinging street gangs, his bitchy ex, a pair of rebellious sisters, a bloodthirsty demoness in love, and an arrogant young man with a proposal too intriguing to refuse.

It’s a whirlwind of hijinks, hangovers and heartfelt decisions, so readers can expect a lot of fun, but also a lot of feelings!

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to speculative fiction specifically? 

My father’s motto was Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and he gave me a great appreciation for the ways a well-crafted story could entertain, inform, and resonate far beyond what it was specifically saying. I always loved speculative fiction as it had the biggest lies with the boldest truths hiding inside them; in speculative fiction, you can paint the biggest what-if that you can think of, and nothing is out of bounds if you tell it well enough. There’s a lot of power in that to explore possibilities, and you get to have dragons, magic and flashy sword fights as well! 

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

I actually don’t remember not having seen the original Star Wars movies, so I’m sure they have shaped me in ways beyond what I’m conscious of! Later on, I spent a lot of time desperately wanting to write like Guy Gavriel Kay, with that sort of deft elegance and sweeping vision and deep emotion, which taught me a lot, but I eventually admitted that was not really my voice. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora was a joyous awakening to the idea that fantasy could be urban-set and complex and fun (and also full of swearing… sorry Mum!)

Aside from your work as a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I sometimes feel like there’s not much to me aside from writing, but that’s mostly because everything, sooner or later, is grist for the writing mill! Everything I encounter gets stirred into a bubbling pot of mental stew, simmering away on the theme of: what does it mean to be human? And sometimes it’s about things that came up in my politics degree, or that non-fiction book I read about the Mongol khaganate, and sometimes it’s my ongoing feud with the ants overrunning my garden, or how the cheese melts to the burger wrapper. We contain such multitudes, individually and collectively, and I never get tired of learning more.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

A lot of it is pretty common, but I think it’s common for a reason. Things like “write what you’re passionate about” and “read a lot, write a lot” and “cultivate writing as a regular habit, however that looks for you” are just solid pieces of advice that I can see underpinning all of the steps of the long path that led me here. The other advice I might share is that it is a long path, so I think it’s really important to have goals to work towards, but also to enjoy the working itself. You have to do the thing to get the thing done, so you might as well be having fun too. Obviously writing isn’t always unbridled joy, but even on the hard days, on some level I get great satisfaction from wrestling with the problems, untangling the knots, catching those slippery fish.

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

Well, Notorious Sorcerer is the first book in the Burnished City trilogy, so my work is pretty much locked in for the next couple of years! I’m thrilled to have the chance to dig deeper into the world I’ve created and tangle my characters in new and fiendish problems. (Poor folks, they’re just trying their best!)

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

I’ve been asked “Which of your characters is your favourite?” (and the answer is: all of them, but especially Laxmi the gleeful murder-harpy) but the more amusing option is perhaps: “Which of your characters would you want to be?” And the answer to that is that in anything I write there will always, somewhere, be an older woman smoking a pipe, drinking booze, cackling at her own dirty jokes, generally behaving badly and giving absolutely no fucks. #goals

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

Like so many people, I’m dying for Tamsyn Muir’s third Locked Tomb book, Nona the Ninth. (Coincidentally, it’s coming out the same day as my book!) I have no idea what to expect, but the series has been such an amazing rollercoaster that I’ll follow Muir anywhere.

Freya Marske’s A Marvelous Light was a delightfully sharp m/m-romantic fantasy of bad manners, and the forthcoming sequel, A Restless Truth, has been pitched as “lesbian Knives Out on a boat”. I’m keen!

And CM Waggoner’s The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is an amazing confection of heist shenanigans, badass ladies of many kinds, a desperately wonderful f/f romance line, and a wonderful freewheeling style.

Header Photo Credit Gray Tham

Interview with Author Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. She is the author of Redwood and Wildfire, winner of the 2011 Otherwise Award and the Carl Brandon Kindred Award, and Mindscape, shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick and Otherwise Awards, and winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. In her spare time, she is the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. She has received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Distinguished Scholarship Award for outstanding contributions to the criticism of the fantastic. She bikes at night year-round, meeting bears and the occasional shooting star.

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

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

I love words! I love talking in tongues, dropping into another mindscape, and expressing myself in different modalities. I write poems, plays, essays, and novels. I’ve translated plays from German to English. Under duress, I have even written a few short stories! In my spare time, I’m the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies at Smith College and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. I bike at night year round, meeting bears, multi-legged creatures of light and breath, and the occasional shooting star.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Will Do Magic for Small Change

Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But at 5’10’’ and 180 pounds, she’s theatrically challenged. Her family life is a tangle of mystery and deadly secrets, and nobody is telling Cinnamon the whole truth. Before her older brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer, a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform in Paris and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Chronicles may be magic or alien science, but the story is definitely connected to Cinnamon’s family secrets. When an act of homophobic violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad, Klaus and Marie, determine to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds together. The three of them also start falling in love.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Doing research for an earlier novel, Redwood and Wildfire, I came upon a photo of African women performing/being displayed at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. They were former warrior women from Dahomey, West Africa, or they were acting as the warrior women—so-called Black Amazons who’d fought French colonialists in fierce battles. After Dahomey’s defeat, this troupe of “exotic savages” was exhibited at the edge of the Fair. I gave the Dahomeyan women a moment in Redwood and Wildfire, but I wanted to do more. I wondered who were these women? What did they think, feel, or do?  What was their story? As I was thinking about writing a novel about Redwood and Wildfire’s granddaughter, I decided the Dahomeyan women would be a major part of the story. 

I researched Dahomey, West Africa, and their warrior-women, but the record was scant: descriptions of them, accounts of their deeds, and history in broad strokes. The warrior women were wives of the King of Dahomey—not his bedmates, but his assassins and bodyguards, his army, and political advisors. Women had considerable power in Dahomey’s fluid yet hierarchical society and could rise from slave to Kpojito—ruling consort of the King. By the mid- 19th century, Dahomey’s elite had grown rich selling slaves to the Europeans. The King bypassed the nobles and governed using a cadre of commoners, including the warrior women, whose status depended on his authority. Unfortunately, nobody really talked to the warrior women or to the performers who were at the Chicago Fair. European and American journalists, adventurers, and explorers talked about them. So, to create characters, I had to speculate on this scant historical record. Taiwo, the Great Wanderer, is a storyteller, an alien griot from another dimension who comes to know our world from the perspective of Kehinde, a warrior woman. Taiwo struggles to make sense of our world, to deal with love, betrayal, heartbreak, joy, and injustice. The Chronicles that Taiwo writes are a lifeline for Cinnamon and her crew.

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly speculative fiction? 

When I was six, I played a willow tree in a play and I got hooked on trees and theatre, on the journey from self to other. But growing up in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950’s I had the wildly ambitious yet worthy and admirable goal of becoming a Theoretical Physicist or a Mathematician. Theatre Artist or Novelist were wildly ambitious goals for young Black girls too, but surely I was not going to waste my math/science talents, my brain capital, and creative spark on lesser pursuits!

Now, I come from a family of storytellers, of big talkers, and tall-tale-tellers. Nobody in my family ever knew when to shut up. This got me into hot water at school. My mother was desperate and said, “If you get bored, write stories for me. Don’t disturb the other kids. They’re trying to learn.” Keeping out of trouble, I wrote epic adventure sagas for her. I’ve been writing epic adventure sagas ever since. 

The second semester of my junior year in college, I ran away to the theatre! My plays have always been speculative, always on the fantastic side of realism. I ask myself: What’s the world, the universal feel like to an ant, a river, people from a hundred years ago, the lady next door, or the alien from another dimension? My first full-length production was an alternate reality play about Einstein in which Marie Curie was a Black woman revolutionary. There was singing and dancing, mystery and magic, science and comedy, and revolution of course. 

Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I was/am a voracious reader. I lived in the library as a child, reading everything. My older brother was a comic book collector and sf fan, so as little sister I read what he read: Orwell, Tolkien, Huxley, Lewis, Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Verne, Wells, Clark, Dick, and Bradbury. I watched Star Trek the original series. That was a family event.

In the 70’s I would read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and find Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Marge Piercy, and Margaret Atwood. In the 90’s several writers and directors gave me works by Octavia Butler. They insisted that given the plays I wrote and the theatre I did, I would love Butler. They were on the mark. And all along, the work of Black women playwrights sustained and inspired me: Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Kennedy, Pearl Cleage, Lynn Nottage, Aishah Rahman, and Anna Deavere Smith.

How would you describe your writing process? 

Writing is a rehearsal. I show up every day and try to find the joy, solve the problems, and rework what I have discovered and uncovered.

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

Favorites: Getting lost in the characters, the setting, the poetry of action. Asking questions, solving problems, finding possibilities I can imagine only as I am in the process of writing.

Challenges: Making sure that I tell the story so that a reader can appreciate what I have uncovered and discovered.

As someone influenced by Afro-futurism, could you define what the concept means for those unfamiliar with it, and describe what it means to you personally?

I am one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism.

I have always been interested in stories that haven’t been told; in characters who have been left out of the official narratives of the “American nation” or who don’t play on the world stage; I am curious about the lives that don’t get written down. I want to explore voices that were/are barely heard and I insist on telling of the unknown people who made me and all of us possible. I have been researching West African cultures and Indigenous American cultures since I was fourteen. This is important to all my work.  

A mathematician at a conference in the early 1990s told me that we shouldn’t worry about losing Indigenous languages. While teaching Black women playwrights at the Universität Hamburg in Germany in 1995, I went to an international conference where many people were eulogizing Africa, proclaiming her demise, mourning the impossibility of any sort of African survival. Decolonizing the indigenous African spirit was seen as a hopeless futile fantasy—a negative word for these folks. Folks kept telling me, the savages have to become civilized westerners! People have been telling me some version of that all my life. I refused the demand that I check Africa at the door to modernity or the future.

I am an Afrofuturist keeping company with Indigenous Futurists. Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurism are aesthetic philosophies and cultural practices that center on Africa and the diaspora and other non-western cosmologies. Afrofuturists/Indigenous futurists use science fiction, fantasy, the magical realm, and historical fiction to critique the present, re-envision the past, and invent the future.

My first full-length play Einstein was written in 1973. Many other plays feature mystery and magic, science and comedy, and singing and dancing. I began calling these plays sci-fi carnival jams. The titles give you a taste of the plays: The Enemy’s Not On Safari Coming to Round Up in The Jungle No More (1979), Incantations (1986), Dancing With Chaos (1995), Strange Attractors (1996), Lonely Stardust (1998), Hummingbird Flying Backward (2000), Thunderbird at the Next World Theatre (2014), and Episodes from Continuing Drama of Cinnamon Jones—scientist, artiste, and hoodoo conjurer (2018)  

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t Give Up. Give yourself the time to find your way to writing the stories you want to tell, the stories only you can tell.

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

I love cooking and inventing recipes. 

I plan to hit the bike trails around the USA in 2023!

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

I have completed a draft of my next novel, Archangels Of Funk, which is part of my five-book deal with TorDotCom. Five Books! Hard to believe, sometimes. Each word I write makes it more real. Archangels is the story of Cinnamon Jones, that scientist, artiste, and hoodoo conjurer in my 2018 play. The novel takes place in the Massachusetts of my mind in an alternate present after Water Wars have scrambled the world. Disruptors and the Nostalgia Militia roam the roads wreaking havoc. Invisible Darknet lords troll the internet solidifying their power. Cinnamon and her Circus-Bots are part of a community of Motor Fairies, Wheel-Wizards, and Co-Ops trying to hold on to who they’ve been while coming up with the next world. Of course, not everybody has the same vision for the future—so who gets to tell the story of our lives?

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

C. L. Polk—The Kingston Cycle, starting with Witchmark

Sam J. Miller—Blackfish City and The Blade Between

Charlie Jane Anders—The City in the Middle of the Night, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, and Victories Greater Than Death

P. Djèlí Clark— A Master of Djinn 

Interview with Author S. Isabelle

S. Isabelle is a reader, writer, and hoarder of books. After earning a Master’s degree in library science, she took that love of reading to youth librarianship. Her short story “Break” was featured in the anthology Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading & Writing YA. The Witchery is her debut young adult novel. When she isn’t throwing books at teenagers, you can find her binge-watching TV shows, drinking heavily-sweetened coffee, or stressing over baseball.

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

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

Sure! I’m S. Isabelle, a writer, reader, and hoarder of books. THE WITCHERY is my debut novel, and I’m also a teen librarian.

How would you describe your upcoming book, The Witchery? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

The Witchery is the culmination of all of my favorite pop-culture tropes. It’s got a big cast like X-Men, epic magical scenes like my favorite anime, but is also a character-focused YA fantasy along the lines of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. It also incorporates some classic YA paranormal tropes, but also has Black kids front and center, which is my favorite thing about it.

Could you tell us about what some of the characters we can expect to see in The Witchery?

I’m so excited for everyone to meet this ensemble cast of messy, magical teens! There’s Jailah, the sociable and ambitious witch with a spell for everything; Iris, the necromancer with a heart of gold; Thalia, a quiet greenwitch hiding a terrible secret; and Logan, the new girl in town who gets in a little over her head with magic. That’s the main coven of teen witches, but there are two mundanes who get pulled into the adventure–Trent, a sweet boy digging into the mystery surrounding his witchy mother’s death, and his best friend Mathew, who doesn’t know what he’s even doing here since he has no connection to magic… or so he thinks. The relationship between these six grows and changes throughout the novel–sometimes they’re all BFFs, other times it gets fraught–and I’m really proud of how their stories turned out.

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to Young Adult and speculative fiction specifically?

I’ve always sort of had my head in the clouds, and growing up, I often daydreamed up my own stories based on my life, or my favorite media. I didn’t actively start writing novels until college, and once I started, I knew I’d wanted to pursue publication. Writing paranormal is especially exciting to me, and I love that mix of the fantastic and the real. I definitely want to write for younger kids and adults in the future, but YA is such a fun playground, and I really enjoy writing characters who are just starting to figure themselves out, falling into first loves, and deciding who they want to be.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite things about writing?

My writing process is organized chaos. New projects usually start with a really interesting scene, something right in the beginning or at the very end, and my imagination lets loose, thinking about all the ways to get the characters to and from those points. I can’t be as much of a pantser as I used to be (deadlines will do that to you!) but I still don’t make super detailed outlines. For me, the best parts of writing are when I’ve finally figured out some vital plot point or necessary connection that had eluded me. That moment of oh, I know how to make this work is so satisfying. Also, typing THE END is always really great.

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

While I’m completely unathletic, I’m very into watching sports, so if you catch me in a bad mood, just assume that my team lost and I need a moment.

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

I love talking craft! I think I could go on for hours about how to balance multi-POV narratives and big ensemble casts, and would love to be asked about how to juggle intersecting storylines. To keep it short and sweet, I’ll say that my number one advice is to make sure that each character has a storyline outside of the group, and that if you were to pluck them out of that setting, that they’d still be a fully fleshed character in their own right. 

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

My favorite piece of advice for writers, especially those looking at traditional publishing, is “eyes on your own paper.” Being a marginalized creator, sometimes it can be hard to keep from worrying that you’re going to miss a trend, or that a publisher will pass on your project because it sounds too similar to a book by another author who shares that marginalization. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time worrying about what other writers were doing while I was on submission, and it was such a waste of time! Focus on your craft, your projects, and the dreams you have for yourself.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I can’t talk openly about what’s coming next at the moment, but I will have a YA book coming in 2023 that I can’t wait to shout about! 

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

I recently read Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, which was excellent. In the YA space, Aiden Thomas, Leah Johnson, and Kalynn Bayron are definitely authors to be following. Francesca May (Wild and Wicked Things) and Aaron H. Aceves (This is Why They Hate Us) are fellow #22debuts whose work I’m highly looking forward to reading!

The Dynamic Queer Characters of Bone Street Rumba

“I first discovered Daniel José Older when he appeared on the excellent When Toxic Masculinity is a Villain panel at Readercon in 2015. I was inspired enough to immediately to pick up my own copy of Half-Resurrection Blues and started reading it on my way home. One of the most satisfying elements of the series is its consistent inclusion and thoughtful execution of some truly badass queer characters. With the final installment released in January–and news that the series has been optioned by Anika Noni Rose–it seemed like the right time to take a closer look at his Bone Street Rumba series and highlight some of the excellent queerness within.

The narrative of all three novels and one shorty story collection features a rotating cast of characters. Some of them are living, some of them are dead, and some of them are in-between. Almost all of them are people of color, and numerous characters fall all over the LGBT spectrum. The setting is Brooklyn, but not the part of Brooklyn most living folk can see. The sprawling narrative initially centers on the half-dead protagonist Carlos Delacruz and his missions for the Council of the Dead, then the second book changes things up by adding the points of view for both Kia Summers and Reza Villalobos. Throughout all of it, Older has his finger on the pulse of each of his characters. He knows what makes each of them tick, and translates their uniqueness and vibrancy beautifully on the page. And it’s his talent for doing this that makes the series so compelling.

Half-Resurrection Blues is the first book of the series chronologically, though it was written after most of the stories in Salsa Nocturna. The story moves at a lightning-quick pace. The only point-of-view character is the half-dead Carlos Delacruz, who has no memory of his life before his death. The book sets up a nice vibe reminiscent of classic X-Files; with with our protagonists working as investigators for the nefarious and untrustworthy Council of the Dead. The most prominent queer character is Baba Eddie Machado, the owner of Baba Eddie’s Botanica who is described as a “consummate santero extraordinaire.” As one of the living characters in the book, he is able to see and interact with the dead. He is also an expert on spiritual matters and plays a pivotal role in keeping Carlos half-alive. His sexuality is indicated by the presence of his husband, Russell, and is but one aspect of his radiant and powerful presence throughout the series. When you’re dealing with an ancient, half-dead sorcerer who literally wants to open the gates of hell, Baba Eddie is a good ally to have on your side.

Midnight Taxi Tango is my favorite of the series. Call it Bone Street’s Empire Strikes Back. Carlos is still a protagonist, but we also get the addition of Kia Summers (who appears on the cover) and Reza Villalobos as POV characters. While Kia herself is not initially presented as a queer character, her missing (and initially presumed dead) cousin Gio is. As Gio’s story is told, at first through Kia’s memories and then his own words, he becomes an integral part of the story. Kia remembers her older cousin as an passionate, anime-loving ballet dancer. After witnessing his high school crush get abducted by demons with pink cockroaches for skin, he disappeared. Seven years later, Gio returns with disturbing news: the roach demons are back and they want him and Kia dead.

Then there’s Reza. Reza works as a muscle protecting sex workers for the illegal side business of a legitimate of a car service in Brooklyn. When the book opens, she is dealing with fresh grief over the mysterious disappearance of her partner Angie. After Angie’s death is confirmed and linked to the same pink roach demons, Reza’s story quickly becomes intertwined with that of Kia, Gio, and Carlos. One factor distinguishing her from her co-protagonists, Reza’s story is one of revenge. She’s been through some shit, and has survived by following a simple philosophy: never be out-gunned. I absolutely loved every Reza chapter, and would strongly advocate for her to get her own spin-off series.

Originally published before Half-Resurrection Blues, Salsa Nocturna has since been reprinted with two new stories. All of these are set between books two and three of the trilogy. The majority of the stories center around Carlos and Gordo, but there are plenty of exceptions (including Reza’s “Date Night”). In the book’s preface, Older recalls a phone call with his editor Kay Holt where she called the book out for being a damn sausage party, after which he got his shit together. This thankfully gave us Krys, a mohawk-sporting phantom who works for the Council of the Dead and caries a rocket-launcher named Greta. She is the central character in the queer themed stories “Magdalena” and “Victory Music,” and goes on to become a POV character in Battle Hill Bolero. While the stories in this collection don’t seem to fit together with the larger narrative at first, they are enjoyable on their own and gradually begin setting the stage for the looming showdown in the final novel.

Battle Hill Bolero features a sprawling narrative as things finally come to a head between the corrupt Council of the Dead and the Resistance. Carlos continues to be the main POV character, but is joined this time by Sasha Brass (a mainstay from book one), Caitlin Fern (introduced in book two, and our first villain perspective), and Krys. Like all of the other books, the action starts right on page one and never slows down. As tensions heat up, Krys is introduced to Redd, a former slave whose soul was released from captivity in the Salsa Nocturna story “Red Feather and Bone.” Through context and an awkward conversation, it is revealed that Redd was not born a man. This was done tastefully and, through the failings of one character, provides a great lesson on what questions not to ask and the overall complexities of gender. As the war rages on, Krys and Redd grow closer, and it’s beautiful to see two ghosts who died young finding one another after death.

Even though the book series has concluded, it still has a lot of promise for an adaptation. We need more queer characters in our shows and movies; specifically characters that aren’t desexualized and don’t devolve into tokenism. There also needs to be better representation of people of color within queer themes and stories. Bone Street Rumba is present and unapologetic on both of these fronts. The noir, urban fantasy world lends itself to some terrifying and beautiful imagery. Some smart casting could give these already vibrant characters a whole new life (no pun intended). The genre of fantasy is more popular now than ever, and it is past time to bring some much needed diversityinto the fray.”