Interview with Author Zoe Hana Mikuta

Zoe Hana Mikuta currently attends the University of Washington in Seattle, studying English with a creative writing focus. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where she developed a deep love of Muay Thai kickboxing and nurtured a slow and steady infatuation for fictional worlds. When she is not writing, Zoe can be found embroidering runes onto her jean pockets, studying tarot or herbology, or curled up with a cup of caramel coffee and a good, bloody but heartwarming book. She is the author of the Gearbreakers duology (Gearbreakers and Godslayers).

I had the opportunity to interview Zoe, 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! My name is Zoe Hana Mikuta, and I’m a YA author. I’m 22 and finishing up my undergrad English degree at University of Washington. Gearbreakers and Godslayers make up my first series!

What could you tell us about your series, Gearbreakers? What inspired the story and the world you’ve created?

The Gearbreakers duology is about renegade kids taking down 200-foot mechas (worshiped as deities). It has found family, enemies to lovers, and a sapphic romantic subplot between the two main characters—I found both the Asian and LGBTQ representation within the sci-fi genre to be severely lacking growing up. I was definitely inspired by dystopian media, and the entire plot of Gearbreakers stemmed from the bare initial need to write giant mechas. I built all the characters and the world. 

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/most challenging parts for you?

My writing process involves a lot of self-talk—it really is a practice in focus. Putting my phone in the other room or getting off the internet helps a lot. One of the most challenging parts of drafting for me is embracing the idea of the messy first draft, rather than editing as I go, which I think makes me harsh with myself. But when I get in a good flow, there’s nothing else like it. I’ll look up and three hours have passed.

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

Shirley Jackson reigns queen in my head, of course. Alberto Mielgo, who directed Love, Death + Robot’s Jibaro and The Witness. Anyone and everyone who worked on Over the Garden Wall. 

As an author, when and where do you say you first found your interest in storytelling? And what specifically do you do with speculative fiction, especially mecha?

I think the earliest book I can remember reading that made me go “I want to do something like that” was Because Of Winn Dixie, which I read in the third grade. I was a big Percy Jackson and Spiderwick Chronicles kid, too, just a big reader in general. From very early on I knew that writing was the art I got the biggest kick out of. I think watching Pacific Rim in the theatre was a big turning point for me, too, into the sci-fi and mecha genre. Now I basically flip out whenever there’s giant robots in any of the media I consume. 

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

I have a big interest in religion as a sociological feat (runs in the same vein as the study of literature, in that regard!)—I’m a History of Religion minor, and really big into philosophy even though I absolutely despise it at the same time. I aim to make Kierkegaard roll in his grave. I also dream of having a house with a little front garden. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

I mentioned this earlier for myself, but embrace a messy first draft. Make it terrible, and then make it better, but not all at once. 

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

Rabbit & Sickle is my third book, my current work in progress. It’s a fantasy horror, Alice in Wonderland retelling meets Attack on Titan, super bloody, super sapphic (read: there’s feral Saints in Wonderland Forest!). 

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

The Malice duology by Heather Walter, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Scapegracers by H.A. Clarke. 

Interview with author Rachel Hartman

Rachel Hartman is the author of the acclaimed and New York Times bestselling YA fantasy novel Seraphina, which won the William C. Morris YA debut Award in 2013, and the New York Times bestselling sequel Shadow Scale and Tess of the Road. Rachel lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada. In her free time, she sings madrigals, walks her whippet in the rain, and is learning to fence. To learn more, please visit SeraphinaBooks.com.

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

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

My name is Rachel Hartman, and I was born in Medieval Kentucky, nearly 50 years ago. I’ve lived in a variety of fascinating places, such as England, Japan, and Philadelphia, before finally settling in Vancouver, Canada. In the before-times (sigh) I loved to travel, sing with a madrigal choir (the QuasiModals), and fence with my 80-year-old swordmaster. Nowadays I walk my whippet in the rain, sing sean nόs songs all on my own, and teach creative writing at UBC.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction and fantasy?

I had always been a voracious reader, but I first became interested in writing in sixth grade. That teacher, Mrs. Chamberlain, was the first to give me creative assignments, and I would write twenty pages if she assigned five, that’s how interested I was (by contrast: I could barely find time to finish my math). As for young adult fiction and fantasy, that’s what I loved most and was reading in those days, so that’s what I started writing. After a detour in university, when I decided it was time to “grow up” and read “real literature,” I got right back to fantasy and YA as soon as I graduated, and I’ve never looked back.

I write for young people, really, because that’s the age I was when books were still magic to me, when a single book still had the power to change my life, and to say thank-you to all the authors who’d helped me through difficult times at that age. I might attempt an adult novel at some point, but I would never not write fantasy, or some kind of speculative fiction. I use fiction as a laboratory for thought experiments, and as a way of mythologizing my experience. Setting something in the real world would feel very constricting and uncomfortable for me.

How would you describe your upcoming book, In the Serpent’s Wake? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

In the Serpent’s Wake is the second book in a duology, and is most easily understood in context with the first. The first book, Tess of the Road, asked, “After grief and trauma, how do you find yourself and become the protagonist of your own life again?” The second book then asks, “Once you’ve become the protagonist of your own life, how can you learn to set yourself aside occasionally and help other people become the protagonists of theirs?”

Honestly, both my duologies seem to follow this same pattern: first you address your inner issues, then you take that new knowledge out into the wider world and see how (or whether) it applies.

In the Serpent’s Wake is a continuation of your previous work, Tess of the Road. How do you feel you may have changed or evolved as a writer since that book and since the publication of your debut novel, Seraphina?

I change with every book. Novels are so long (at least, mine are) that by the time I get to the end, I am a different person than I was at the beginning. I’ve learned so much, not least about myself. It’s challenging to go all the way back to Seraphina and remember how I was different then. Certainly there are tropes I used then that I wouldn’t use now. There was some fatphobia, alas. But, we screw up and we (hopefully) learn.

I will say, on a less abstract level, I’ve learned to handle a complicated storyline better. Shadow Scale, the sequel to Seraphina, was really too much story to be contained in one viewpoint character. I’m learning to let other characters carry some of the burden of narrative.

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

I have tried to give LGBTQ+ characters prominent positions in all my books. I am bi myself, and have abundant queer family and friends, so a fictional world would not feel complete to me without characters of varied orientations and presentations. I made up a six-gendered civilization in my second book, Shadow Scale, just to give a trans character a comfortable place to live, so this has been an ongoing interest of mine.

The first one you’ll meet in Serpent is Spira, since the first chapter is from their perspective. Spira is a dragon (in human form), who ends up questing after their proper pronouns (they does not end up being exactly correct, but I’m using it here because that’s where they start). Then there’s their human love interest, Hami, who I hesitate to label because I still don’t know everything about him. There’s Argol, a Porphyrian sailor, who uses a neutral pronoun in her native language but is content with she in Ninysh. The quigutl – a subspecies of dragon – change sex several times over their lifespans. And there are hints of Tess being bi (which she is), but the book was so long and she doesn’t have a romance subplot, really. You’d kind of have to know it was there to even see it, haha. Kind of like me, I suppose.

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched you or inspired you as a writer or made you feel seen? Are there any like that now?

Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown was an early inspiration, I would have to say, as well as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Cycle. I actually got to meet Lloyd Alexander a few years before he died, and say thank you, which is such a rare thing. As an adult, the books that have touched me most closely are Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books, particularly The Curse of Chalion, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

When Terry Pratchett died, I was supposed to do a school presentation that day. I was terrified that the kids would ask “Who is your favourite author?” and I would burst into tears in front of the entire 8th grade. Well, they asked, and I did, in fact, cry. But I was able to say to them, “This is the power of books, kids – someone I never met has touched my life so profoundly that I’m crying because he’s gone.” And that moment of vulnerability worked some kind of strange alchemy, and it was like we were all friends after that. I was singing to them, by the end, which I never do.

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

I’m not great about routine. The one constant is that I get up early to work. You might suppose this means I am a morning person, but not really. My Inner Editor – that critical voice that tells me I suck – sleeps in late, so I like to get some work in before she starts yammering at me. All my strangest, wildest ideas come to me then, and there’s no Voice to veto any of it. It’s great.

One of the strangest, most enjoyable, and simultaneously frustrating parts of writing, for me, is that I am a very intuitive writer. And by “intuitive” I mean my brain works by taking in lots of information, turning it over and over (picture a composter), and letting it all ferment into something astonishing. It takes time, and you can’t force it, and that can get frustrating in a world of deadlines and obligations. If I can be patient, however, my brain always comes through with some delightful surprise.

What are some of your favorite craft elements when it comes to writing?

I hate confessing this because it makes me sound like a weirdo, but I love syntax. Like, what order the words go in. I can sit with a single sentence and change the order of words for hours, until finally I end up with… almost the sentence I started with, but for a slight change that no one will register but me. This, to me, is a joyous occupation.

I’m also a big fan of a really good metaphor. They’re not easy to get just right, but when they’re spot-on, they almost feel more true than the unadorned truth.

Did you draw on any resources for inspiration while writing your debut book, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

For my first book, I was inspired by Medieval and Renaissance music. Actually, who am I kidding, music inspires all my books – you can find egregious madrigal and prog rock references all over the place, mostly song titles, if you know what to look for. Shadow Scale was largely Pink Floyd, I recall. In the Serpent’s Wake contains a lot of YES titles.

I am also deeply inspired by nature. This has always been the case for me, but I usually forget to credit it because it just seems like part of my day. The pandemic has underscored for me that I have to go outside amongst living things every day. If you looked at the pictures on my phone, you’d think there was nothing in my life but flowers and mushrooms. Ironically, I can’t keep a houseplant alive. I figure my proper orientation to plants is to observe them quietly and let them do the growing all on their own, outdoors. They know what they’re doing.

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

I’m a very introverted individual, and it’s a big challenge just opening up about the writing!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Writing is never wasted. “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly,” according to comic creator Carla Speed McNeill. Art is an ongoing conversation that you are worthy to participate in. Publishing, on the other hand, is a business that is often soul-sucking and terrible. Be patient and persistent, and above all else, be kind and gentle with yourself.

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

What’s one thing you wish you had known before you were published?

I wish I had understood that writing was my art therapy. Once you’re published, suddenly writing becomes all bound up with income and ego. It becomes the source of stress, and as such is not as therapeutic as it used to be (you can get back to it eventually, but it takes time and effort). I had to find something else that could be my art therapy. I settled on singing, but I know writers who draw, dance, do calligraphy, craft, all kinds of things. You need something that’s just for you, and not for the consumption and approbation of other people.

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

Well, I’ve just sent the draft of a middle grade book to my agent. I had been describing it as The Graveyard Book x The Decameron, but it ended up being nothing like either of those, so I’m going to need a new comparison. It’s about plague, ghosts, and moral injury, and I’m not even sure it’s really a middle grade book. I feel certain my agent will have an opinion on this.

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

Because it’s my special party trick (as a Canadian), I will recommend you some CANADIAN LGBTQ+ authors who I’ve enjoyed very much.

·  Xiran Jay Zhao – Iron Widow has been so popular and done so well that you may have read it already, but maybe you didn’t realize they are my fellow Vancouverite. No, we don’t know each other in real life, but I hope to correct that someday, if the pandemic ever ends *weep*.

·  E. K. Johnston – Aetherbound is her most recent space opera, but That Inevitable Victorian Thing is also a delightful place to start. Like Iron Widow (and like my own Shadow Scale), she gives us poly resolutions to love triangles. It’s a Canadian literary tradition, maybe.

·  Erin Bow – The Scorpion Rules is probably my favourite underrated post-climate-disaster AI-rules-the-world book. I’m always surprised more people haven’t read it.

·  C. L. Polk – Witchmark! The Midnight Bargain! Don’t make me choose! Polk is one of the best fantasy writers out there, bar none, and if you haven’t read their books yet, you are in for a treat.

Interview with Author Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is a Lipan Apache writer with a PhD in oceanography. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Elatsoe, was featured in Time Magazine as one of the best 100 fantasy books of all time. Elatsoe also won the Locus award for Best First Novel and is a Nebula, Ignyte, and Lodestar finalist. Her second fantasy novel, A Snake Falls to Earth, received the Newbery Honor and is on the National Book Awards longlist. 

I had the opportunity to talk with Darcie, which you can read below.

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

It’s great to be here!

My name is Darcie, and I’m a Lipan Apache writer with a PhD in oceanography. My scholarly interests include toxin-producing plankton, transcriptomics, and the deep sea, especially its weird stuff. I once worked as a researcher and scientific editor, but I transitioned to full-time writing after my debut book, Elatsoe, was published. Since then, I’ve released A Snake Falls to Earth, another young adult (YA) fantasy.

What else? Oh, yeah, when I was an undergrad, Princeton rejected me from the creative writing program twice. After that, my debut was featured in Time Magazine as one of the best 100 fantasy books of all time, and my second book received the Newbery Honor.

For fun, I take long walks, read, watch horror movies, and play rhythm games like Beat Saber. When my spouse Taran is also free, we go on adventures together. 

As a writer, what do you think drew you to young adult fiction, especially speculative fiction?

I’ve always enjoyed reading spec fic; my mom introduced me to science fiction and fantasy (she was an original Trekkie), and growing up, I haunted the SFF shelves in bookstores and libraries. Guess I’m creating what I love!

As for choosing to write YA fiction: the books I read as a teenager made an incredible impact. They provided happiness and solace when I was a shy, bullied kid; they fed my imagination, encouraging me to dream; they shaped the person I was and would become. I hope that my books make a similar difference in the lives of young readers.

What can you tell us about your latest book, A Snake Falls from Earth? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? 

A Snake Falls to Earth is told through two perspectives. The first main character, Nina, is a human teenager living in a near-future version of Texas. Her great-great grandmother tells her a story in Lipan, and Nina is initially motivated by the desire to understand this story and its significance to her family.

The second main character, Oli, is a cottonmouth snake person who lives in a land of spirits, monsters, and magic. After he’s unceremoniously cast from home, Oli learns to survive on his own, making lots of friends (and a few enemies) in the process. Unfortunately, his new best friend becomes terribly sick, and the only cure is on Earth.

At that point, the two characters meet, their stories interweaving, and Nina and Oli help each other save their friends and family.

The structure, themes, and characters in this book are heavily inspired by the Lipan stories Mom told me. In particular, several of Oli’s early chapters are self-contained misadventures with larger-than-life characters—similar to my favorite traditional stories—that tie into the greater plot. 

In addition, my background as a geoscientist informed the environmental features of near-future Texas. In Nina’s world—that is, her homeland—hurricanes are becoming stronger, temperatures are rising, and the survival of vulnerable plant and animal species is a serious concern. Amidst these difficulties and others, Nina and her family fight to remain on their traditional land.

Where did the inspiration for your first book, Elatsoe, come from? Also note, as a aspec reader, I just really want to thank you for writing more aro-ace characters into the world!

Thank you! It’s my pleasure!

As a teenager, I wrote a short story about a haunted house. Its ghost causes mysterious drafts and screeches “Hello!” in a shrill, inhuman voice. A bunch of meddling kids sneak into the house on a dare and discover that the ghost belongs to a parrot. They free its spirit by opening an old metal cage in the attic. 

Since then, I’ve amused myself by thinking about all the cool supernatural powers different creatures—velociraptors, mosquitoes, sharks, etc—would have. This fascination led to Elatsoe’s original story seed: a person who can raise animal ghosts. That person became Ellie, the hero of Elatsoe

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

Sometimes, writing is so fun, I don’t wanna do anything else. That’s my favorite part: the joy of creation. I let stories sweep me up and take me on adventures.

Unfortunately, the amount of time required to finish a novel is really frustrating. My typical daily word count is 500-700, which means first drafts take at least 6 months, accounting for weekends off. Thing is, the stories are itching to leap out of my head and onto the page. I get impatient—so much to write, so little time!—but that’s life.

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

If you could master any instrument, what would it be?

The saxophone. 

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

Oh, gosh, I can share that I’m writing a third YA fantasy book. The contract’s signed, but it hasn’t been announced yet, so I’m unable to say more. Stay tuned!!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Here are a couple words of advice to aspiring writers:

First, everyone has a different writing journey. What works for me may not work for you; in other words, there’s no one right way to be a writer. But I can make a few general suggestions. When writing, take breaks, if needed. Don’t compare yourself harshly with others. And most of all, write the stories that make you happy and/or are creatively fulfilling.

Above all, persevere.

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

Check out Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction. It’s edited by Joshua Whitehead and has a great TOC of Indigenous writers you should follow. 

Interview with Author Claribel A. Ortega

New York Times Bestselling and award-winning author, Claribel A. Ortega is a former reporter who writes middle-grade and young adult fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage. When she’s not busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic, and video games into books, she’s co-hosting her podcast Bad Author Book Club and helping authors navigate publishing with her consulting business GIFGRRL. Claribel is a Marvel contributor and has been featured on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Good Morning America and Deadline.

Claribel’s debut middle grade novel Ghost Squad is out now from Scholastic and is being made into a feature film. Her forthcoming books include Witchlings (Scholastic) and the graphic novel Frizzy (First Second.) You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok @Claribel_Ortega.

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

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

Hello! And thanks for having me. My name is Claribel, I am a former reporter and book marketer who writes middle grade and young adult fiction. I grew up in the South Bronx and am Dominican American. When I’m not writing, I’m playing video games. Usually on my Nintendo Switch though I am a big Sims fan and my go-to karaoke song is either Black Velvet by Alannah Myles or Mean by Taylor Swift. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to writing for younger audiences and speculative fiction? 

I have loved writing from a very young age. I probably began writing short stories in second or third grade. I mostly wrote poetry and song lyrics though, and started writing in longer form in college. I never made a conscious decision to write for kids, the stories I wanted to tell just so happened to have young protagonists, and that’s probably because the things I watched and read in middle school were really formative for me. I’m always returning to the lessons and themes I discovered in things like Goosebumps or Disney Channel original movies like Halloweentown and Twitches. 

How would you describe your latest book, Witchlings? What inspired the story? And on that note, where do you find inspiration in general?

It’s about a twelve year old witch who is sorted as a Spare, which means she doesn’t belong in any coven, along with her bully and the new girl in town with a terrible secret. When they can’t seal their coven and are about to lose their magic for good, Seven invokes the impossible task–a magical trial that will allow them to keep their magic if they can defeat the dreaded Nightbeast. If they fail they’ll be turned into toads. Witchlings is what I’ve been calling Shrekian fantasy (thanks to editor Angeline Rodriguez who I first heard that description from) in other words, prophecies and mythical monsters but with cellphones and the internet. Or the witchernet as it’s called in Witchlings. It’s also a fun, magical adventure wrapped in a mystery that tackles heavy topics like friendship breakups, abuse and classism. 

The story was inspired by a few different things. One was the River Towns, which are a group of towns along the Hudson River in New York. Ravenskill, the town where the book takes place specifically, is based on Peekskill New York. It was inspired by my love of fantasy and underdog stories and by the trans and nonbinary community that is often left out and treated much like Spares are. 

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

I didn’t have the kind of representation kids today have, so I unfortunately don’t have examples of queer stories that impacted my growing up.  The House on Mango street was definitely one of my childhood favorites though, and one of the books that inspired me to be a writer. 

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

It’s basically chaos. I try to outline, but the story always changes a ton no matter how much I try to plan ahead. My characters are rebellious as well.  I transitioned to becoming a full time writer just as the pandemic started, so I didn’t really have a chance to set my writing routine in a way that I was happy with until recently. I’m usually at the desk by ten, and trying to write, and I’ll be there until at least six, even if no writing has actually occurred. It’s been hard having to write at home for the better part of the past two years. I used to love writing in coffee shops and bookstores, and that really helped my creativity and productivity but writing at home felt a bit stifling for me. In terms of what’s enjoyable, I love when a story finally comes together. There is a cycle of “this is amazing, this is actually awful, no wait it’s amazing!” that I go through every time I write a book, and getting to the “it’s amazing” phase is really satisfying. And honestly, it’s strange to make things up for a living. Not gonna lie. I make up stories and get paid for it, it sounds fake. And it’s weird, but I love it so much! 

In addition to prose, you’re also a comics writer (as seen with your upcoming book, Frizzy.) Could you walk us through how you learned to write for a graphic novel medium and what writing the script was like for Frizzy?

I am a huge graphic novel fan, so my first stop in learning to write them was pulling from my experience as a reader which is much like my prose. My incredible editor at First Second sent me a box of graphic novels as well, and a few scripts for me to study and learn from. Everything after that was a hands-on learning process but I adored it. I am a very visual writer normally, so writing graphic novels really appealed to me and I felt comfortable doing it. 

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

I think people already know way too much about me because I talk too much on the internet, but I guess I wish they knew I am a harmless troll and a lot of the things I post about online are actually running jokes. Like the fact that I write my books in Wingdings 3. I’ve been telling people that for years but it’s not true at all lol. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

Read a lot, don’t try to be perfect, and write what makes your heart feel like it’s about to explode. 

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

How are you? Just kidding, I wish people asked me more about my young adult writing! I’m currently working on a dual POV sapphic murder myster fantasy I’m really excited about that’s based on Dominican folklore and I hope to go on submission with it this year. 

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

I can’t really talk about my other projects at the moment but I just handed in Witchlings book 2 and it’s not only bigger, but more dramatic, and a lot of fun. 

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

Definitely Ryan La Sala, Leah Johnson, Phil Stamper and Kalynn Bayron

Interview With Author Amelia Loken

Amelia Loken writes Young Adult Fantasy and Contemporary fiction, exploring the courage of people who forge bridges from the shards of old obstacles. Professionally, she’s worked in the Deaf community as an ASL/English interpreter and currently in the field of assistive technology. Not only has she studied sign language, but also swordplay, embroidery, music, theology, disability rights, and the history of pirates; bits of this flotsam turn up in her manuscripts without invitation. Her debut YA Fantasy novel, UNRAVEL, is an Amazon bestseller and tells of Marguerite, a deaf princess who must oust her uncle from his ill-gotten throne relying on her embroidery magic, a homemade invisibility cloak, and the one boy she never should have trusted.

Amelia lives in Arkansas on the edge of a wood with her husband and five sons. Though she technically has no pets, she will feed any animal (or kid) who comes around whining for food.

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

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I am a writer who seeks for hope and happy endings in the middle of the storms. Many of my stories center around disability and the d/Deaf community. I worked as a licensed sign language interpreter for several years until I started losing my own hearing. I consider myself an ally and advocate for disability rights even as I fight my own internalized ableism. I’m a grad student, earning a Masters in Public Administration and use ASL interpreters in classrooms settings to support my communication needs. 

When life gets hard, my self-care is either reading or creating. Often, I’ll do both. I’ll listen to an audio book with the volume cranked up while embroidering. Stabbing something a hundred times is self-soothing, but eventually the needlework becomes rather beautiful and that’s always so satisfying.

How would you describe your debut book. Unravel, and its origins? What kind of things can readers expect? 

Unravel is the story of Marguerite, a deaf princess who has been hiding her embroidery magic from her tyrannical uncle who is waging a war against witchcraft. Everyone believes magic is gendered. Gifted women can use it to make jewelry and charms, enhance meals or make medicines, or stitch it into clothing. For a period of time after they use magic, their aura is visible to men who are voyants – and can condemn them to death. Marguerite can do both. In chapter one, she meets Tys, an itinerant acrobat who is gifted in both too, as they attempt to rescue a child from the witch trials. As Marguerite’s uncle’s power grows, she must flee her kingdom – for safety and to master her craft. The Fates cross her path with Tys’ several times, tangling their lives and their heartstrings. When her uncle makes his ultimate bid for power and Marguerite must challenge him, all she has is the truth, her homemade invisibility cloak, and Tys, the one person she never should have trusted. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction and speculative fiction?  

My mom was a children’s librarian, so I practically grew up in libraries. I’ve always loved stories, but never thought of myself as a writer, until it became a tool for me as I battled depression.

I love all sorts of books with magic, alternate history, or interesting futures, but you’ll usually find me reading those books created for young people. I do read some adult fiction, but mostly in the romance genre. I generally steer clear of anything “hardboiled” or bleak. I’m a girl who loves a happily ever after. I’ve dealt with emotional abuse when I was a child and with depression as an adult, so if I’m going to go through a harrowing experience between the pages of a book, it better reward me with something good at the end. I need it for my own mental and emotional health.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/most difficult parts of the process? 

I start with the spark of an idea. Do a little exploratory writing. Try to figure out where it’s going. Get some vibes going with a Pinterest board and a playlist. Sketch out a plot. Then I write. Lots of words. All the description! The world-building, clothes, the expressions, all the shrugs, background info. It’s all in there. THEN, I have to figure out what’s the most important parts for the story and move the rest of it into the computer version of an attic. I still have it, but don’t look at it again. I go back through with more precise trimming of the text. Again and again until it’s the right shape and story. Unravel was – at one point – 170,000 words. That’s twice as long as your average YA novel. I whittled it down to about 105,000 words by the time it was published. So cutting back on so much of what feels important can be really hard. It’s the most difficult part for me, but when it’s done, I see that my story is still there – like a rich, complex broth that simmered down to its essence through that process.

The most enjoyable part of the process for me is drafting the story. There’s still so many possibilities. It’s just the story and me. I’m currently in that place with another manuscript right now and it is pure joy! 

At any point during your life have you found media (i.e. books, film/television, etc) in which you could see yourself reflected or relating to in terms of personal representation? 

I grew up in a family with three siblings, a dependable, loving mom, and an unstable, charismatic father. My dad was intellectually impressive, but struggled with mental health issues, affecting his employment, so we moved often. My siblings and I were each other’s friends no matter where we lived. We became a unit, despite our personality differences. I find this reflected in a lot of ensemble casts and found-family stories. I am a big fan of Avatar: The Lost Airbender. My family watches the full series at least once a year. I love Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series beginning with The Goose Girl. I’m anxiously awaiting more books in Susan Dennard’s Truth Witch series. I want to join Kaz, Inej, and Jesper in whatever heist they are planning next on the screen or in Leigh Bardugo’s books. If I’d read the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce when I was a teen, I would have ached to join Briar, Sandry, Daja and Tris at the Winding Circle temple. 

Juliette Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses set in Romania and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith both have looming, suffocating danger and slow-burn, yearning romance. These recreate the vibe of my teen years and is what I tried to recreate in Unravel.

As someone who is part of the d/Deaf/HOH community, disability seems to be strong element in your work – How did you set about representation in your book, particularly representing a three-dimensional language like ASL onto the page?

I wanted to be sure that sign language was understood as a language and lip-reading as a tool. Often both are minimized as fun party tricks. ASL wasn’t recognized as a language (outside of the Deaf community) until 1965 and there is a history in the United States and elsewhere of sign language users being isolated and even punished for using it. It’s a traumatic part of Deaf culture and Deaf history. I wanted to give readers a taste of what many d/Deaf individuals experience through Marguerite’s story. 

She learned “hand language” as a young child, but when her religiously zealous uncle thought her use of it a sign of deviltry, he crushed her dominant hand. When we meet her, she hasn’t signed for twelve years and doesn’t remember using “hand language.” When it is reintroduced, she has a new way of communication that brings freedom. Marguerite’s magic-imbued silver hair combs – which act similarly to bone-conduction hearing aids – are not a “cure” for her deafness, but they are helpful. Between the combs and lip-reading, she is able to understand most of what is said to/around her. However, there are times when she can’t hear everything. I use ellipses to indicate the gap of information. (i.e. “Whilst the trial proceeds…stitch the essence…speed, not precision.”) From context, Marguerite and the reader can puzzle out what’s being said, but when the speaker is too far away or turns their back, whatever is being spoken is totally missing. This reflects my experience and that of others.

Now as for the three-dimensional language, I don’t have specific hand shapes or movements mentioned often. For the average hearing reader, the signs mean nothing. I tried to stay in close first-person point-of-view, so when Marguerite sees signs she understands, she’s not going to think of hand-shape and movement, but of what it means. She sees a sentence: “I can visit you,” rather than the position of fingers and palms. When I do mention signing movements, it’s in moments when Marguerite is struggling to understand what’s being communicated with those particular hand shapes and movements. But most of the time, there will be sentences with he signed rather than he said as dialog tags. My intention is for the message to become more noticeable than the means of communication – until that communication is interrupted or obstructed. 

A unique facet of your world building involves craft-based magic. Could you speak about this, and how you might have developed it? 

I come from a long line of creative people. My mother and grandmothers were very skilled in baking, cooking, and general homemaking, but my grandmother tried to do a task each day that she wouldn’t have to do again. Dinner must be cooked again tomorrow. Clean laundry will be dirty next week. Canning jars of food will be eaten by next year. So, the women in my family made quilts, curtains, embroidered tea towels, Christmas ornaments, pretty hair ties, home-made jewelry, fashionable (and not so fashionable) clothing. It was economical and a great creative outlet. This thrifty creativity was very much a part of my upbringing though not as common in some of my friends’ homes. I wanted to explore and celebrate the “women’s arts” in this magic system.

You might also notice that many of the books/shows I mentioned above are element-based magic systems. The idea that ‘I can master this, and you/they can master something else and together we coordinate some kind of plan using all our skills,’ is a cooperative perspective centered in my core beliefs. I linked embroidery magic to the element of air in Unravel, and hint at what elements other skills are connected to.

What advice would you give for authors for portraying disability (whether that of their own or of others) within their own work? 

Do the work. 

I think it’s very important to be own voices when possible, but if not, then you, the author, must do the work to understand what it means to be in this body, facing these obstacles, experiencing this discrimination or fighting against this bias. I am hard-of-hearing, but wasn’t always. I started learning ASL in my twenties and became a serious student for the past thirteen years. I earned a bachelor’s degree in ASL/English Interpreting. I have worked as an interpreter for d/Deaf clients and have d/Deaf friends. Yet, I still had Deaf friends look over my manuscript. There were points they brought up and I corrected. Still, there may be other things I overlooked. But I know that I put in the due diligence necessary to create as authentic as possible characters and situations that would feel real to a d/Deaf readers. 

What’s something about deafness/disability you might want someone to take away from this interview?

We are all human. We each are vulnerable, and we are each valuable. There’s no reason to avoid persons with disabilities. Fifteen percent of the world’s population is disabled in some way, but most of us will experience some kind of disability during our life. It might be short-term while recovering from surgery or an injury. It might be longer if disease or age brings limited mobility, sight, hearing, or cognitive function. Reading, especially with first-person point of view from a disabled character, can be the closest thing to experiencing the emotions and perspective of living in a disabled body right now. I invite readers to embrace that experience. Use it to grow your compassion and fight your internalized ableism. Use that compassion to push for equity and accessibility for all.

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

I have a contemporary YA project that centers around a hard-of-hearing, theatre geek who is in denial about her dad’s mental illness until he hits a crisis. When she joins a fencing team, and meets two handsome ASL users (one Deaf, one selective mute) she learns to trust herself, her teammates, and the truth about her gaslighting dad.

The other is a newer project, but I’m having so much fun! It’s a dual POV mash-up of D&D and Steampunk. Zeota is a typical Non-Player Character – an indentured craftsman with low-vision who makes equipment for all the explorers. Since she uses a Brailler to take notes and a white cane around town, no one expects her to go on adventures. When the only survivor of a missing exploring crew stumbles back to town and tells of a “dragon” who attacked them, she’s hard to convince. But when her delivery of his especially commissioned armor goes awry, she finds herself stuck in the Wilds on a journey she’s always dreamed of, partnered with her one-time crush who’s been hiding his hearing loss from everyone. Unfortunately, it’s a race against a rogue crew who believe the news of a dragon in the Wilds and plan to bring it back to civilization, dead or alive.

What general advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The first is to develop your craft. This can be done in a variety of ways. Writing-craft books are definitely a go-to for me. I also love that there’s so many podcasts out there with writers and writing advice. I’ve sampled some free online writing resource classes, too. There’s also a lot of great learning opportunities through writing organizations. Find one that fits you and your chosen genre and dive in! I’ve been a member of SCBWI since 2012, and though there have been some issues with leadership that have come to light, I have gained so much from this volunteer-driven organization. The conferences and meet-ups have offered good tutelage in writing craft and how to get started in publishing. Often there are editors, literary agents, and more established writers on faculty who share bits of truth that applies to whatever I’m currently struggling with. That said, I don’t believe there is ever ONE piece of advice that fits all, so I’d advise taking it all with a grain of salt and to sample widely.

I also believe that developing a “writer’s room” for yourself is really important. I’m using the term “writer’s room” to include any critique group, critique partners, or other writing pals you may have. Critique partners and groups can be found through writing organizations, like SCBWI, which is how I found my first group, as well as online, through book clubs, or even your local coffee shop.  I’ve been a member of several critique groups sometimes multiple groups/partners at once. Each one had a different feel and were of varying sizes from nine to three. Notice if your “writer’s room” looks just like you and try to make/keep it diverse: writers who have skills you admire, those who may be newer at the game but could use some pointers, writers with different backgrounds and life experiences. Developing more relationships and wider circles (even if just acquaintances) can help you if/when you find yourself in a weird (read: toxic) situation. When things get awkward and you question yourself – 

Is it me? Is it really that bad? Maybe their harsh criticism really is the truth? 

Creating your “writer’s room” means you’re never dependent on just one person or group for writerly advice. Even if you’re “just acquaintances,” most writers are happy to offer you a gut check if your crit group is heading toward AITA drama.

Finally, are there any books, particularly books showing disability/deaf rep you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

A great start is the graphic novel, El Deafo, by CeCe Bell. It’s an autobiographical story that is frustrating as well as heart-warming.

If you’re into creepy, older YA, you should definitely pre-order Kelly Andrew’s debut novel, The Whispering Dark, coming out this fall. Kelly is Deaf, as is her protagonist in this dark academia, enemies-to-lovers novel with an Orpheus/Euridice vibe. 

Sara Novic’s debut novel, Girl At War, which revolves around the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, broke my heart a few years ago. I discovered she is Deaf and follow her on Twitter for pithy, anti-ableist nuggets. I’m looking forward to her deaf-centric novel True Biz which comes out this Spring.

I’m super excited about All for One, which is a gender-bent retelling of the Three Musketeers by Lillie Lainhoff. The author and the main character, Tania, have the chronic illness POTS. Characters and individuals with chronic illness or disability can fight injustice and defeat bad guys. They might need to wait until they have enough spoons, but then watch out!

I’ve also enjoyed the Bergman Brothers adult romance series by Chloe Liese. The first book, Only When It’s Us, has a frenemies-to-lovers vibe with a deaf leading man. The other books have all the classic tropes I enjoy in romance and seamlessly include main characters who have chronic illness, anxiety, and neurodivergence. The next book coming out is a m/m romance with the next brother in the family line-up.

A great non-fiction book is Read This to Get Smarter: About Race, Class, Gender, Disability, and More by Blair Imani, a queer, black activist, author, and historian.

Other great books: Feeling Like Home by Haleigh Wenger explores Crohn’s disease in a teen who gets thrills from vandalism. Padma Venkatraman’ novel, A Time to Dance centers around a dancer who’s had a below-the-knee amputation and is trying to recapture her joy of the art while using a prosthetic. Oh, and I have to include Unbroken, an anthology starring disabled teens, written by disabled authors, and edited by Marieke Nijkamp.

There are also many great individuals and resources online that have helped me examine my own internalized biases and live like a better human: 

Spencer West – double amputee, wheelchair user and motivational speaker: www.spencer2thewest.com

Deaf rapper Warren Snipe aka ‘Wawa’ www.diphopwawa.com

Blair Imani – Author, activist, and historian. Creator of #smarterinseconds www.blairimani.com

Respect Ability: Exploring intersectionality of LGTBQ+ people with disabilities www.respectability.com

Blind LGTB Pride International: www.lgtbpride.org

Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf: www.deafrad.org

Interview with Author Natasha Ngan

Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens.

Ngan studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger. She lives in France with her partner, where they recently moved from Paris to be closer to the sea. Her novel Girls of Paper and Fire was a New York Times bestseller.

I had the opportunity to interview Natasha, 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 a Chinese Malaysian British writer living on the west coast of France with my partner and our little staffie Nova. I love gaming, being by the sea, reading when it’s raining outside, and sharing good food and drink with friends. 

How did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?

I’ve always been a writer – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write or dream up imaginary worlds. I love the way YA allows you to explore those integral firsts in life, from love to the beginnings of really understanding your own identity and what you believe in. There’s such hope in YA, too, which as adults is something I think we all need more of. As for spec-fic, there’s definitely an escapist element that speaks to me, especially as I’m disabled, but I also love how it can hold up a mirror to our own world and force us to confront issues we deal with through a different lens.  

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of the process?

I’m a complete pantster (I don’t plot my books in depth) so a big frustration for me comes from never quite knowing if I’m on the right path. Writing is very instinctual for me, so there’s a lot of need for just trusting in the process – which is difficult, since I’m a very anxious and self-critical person! But luckily it always seems to work out in the end! My stories tend to come to me very acutely in their initial state: a strong sense of setting and concept. I then wallow in that, just kind of daydreaming and jotting down ideas. Once I understand my main character’s POV well enough to place myself in their world and situation, that’s when I begin drafting. 

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched or inspired you as a writer? When do you think you first saw yourself reflected in literature?

Oh, so many! I loved the worldbuilding and magical escapism of The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell; the wit and wacky characters of Philip Ridley; the adventure of Tolkien; the complex heroines and intricate magic system of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books. Looking back now, though, I see how so many of the authors I read at a young age were white men. Apart from in manga, I didn’t see a lot of my Asian side represented. I can’t honestly pinpoint when it was I started to really see myself in books. Honestly, it’s probably only been quite recently, with the amazing diversification we’re seeing in literature for kids and teens.

What can you tell us about your book series, Girls of Paper and Fire? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I had just come off a hard year where a book I’d written and edited with my then agent didn’t sell, and as hard as that was it was also liberating, because I gave myself complete creative freedom with the next one. I was in my mid-twenties and starting to explore my sexuality more, as well as process both old and fresh traumas. When I first went into writing Girls, I didn’t set out to address any of that specifically, it just came out naturally. I had so much fun creating a fantasy world that felt completely authentic to me. I’d touched on my Chinese-Malaysian heritage in my previous two published books, but it wasn’t until Girls that I went all out and fully celebrated who I am and where I come from.

How does it feel to be coming out with Girls of Fate and Fury, the last book in the Girls of Paper and Fire trilogy? How do you feel you’ve changed as an author since the beginning of this series to its completion?

It’s exciting, but there’s a definite bittersweetness. I’ve been working on this series for so long. It’s sad to leave its world and characters behind. I’m so proud of my girls and how far they’ve come, though, and I feel like I’ve journeyed with them, growing in confidence in terms of owning my own identity and power. I hope I’ve improved as an author too. I truly believe everything we write – every word, every book, even the ones that never come close to publication – develops us as writers. There’s no such thing as lost time when it comes to writing. I’m always learning, always pushing myself to critique the process and craft, to write with more intention.  

Without too many spoilers, what can we expect from the last book in the series?

Wren and Lei are separated, so for the first time in the series we see things from Wren’s perspective. We get more insight into her motivations and thoughts, and I loved writing about how she thinks of Lei, because if Lei knew just how highly Wren thinks of her it would just be so beautiful. The Kingdom of Ikhara is also now officially at war, so there are battles and much maneuvering for power – both outside and within the Hidden Palace walls.  

Aside from being a writer, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

My partner and I have had our gorgeous black staffie Nova for almost half a year now, and she is the absolute best dog in the world and brings me so much joy! I post cute content of her over on @natandnova on Instagram.  

If you could go back and tell your early writer-self anything, what do you think you would say?

There will be more books. Don’t worry if this one doesn’t work out; just keep writing. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Pretty much that! Especially with a first book, it can seem like it’s the only book in the world, that all your success will be weighed by it. But there will always be more stories-of-your-heart to tell. You’re constantly evolving as a person – and so you evolve as a writer. If something doesn’t work out, keep going. Have faith in yourself and write the stories you love, because those to me are the books that really shine.

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

I’m currently working on a new YA fantasy, which is – thankfully! – a standalone. It’s less about war but rather the legacy of it: how we inherit hate, how prejudices are passed through generations. It’s also a sapphic romance between two highly ambitious girls who might or might not be playing one another. I’ve been having so much fun creating a new world to explore!

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

Some of my favourite own-voice LGBTQ+ YA writers include Sara Farizan, Julian Winters, Adiba Jaigirdar and Lana Popovic (who also just released a fantastic witchy sapphic adult romance, Payback’s A Witch). I will also forever be recommending Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and House in the Cereulean Sea by T. J. Klune. They’re both adult novels. Song is a heart-breaking Greek epic based on Achilles and Patroclus while House is a comforting, ultra-cosy read about a grumpy caseworker finding his soft side. Both are very queer and absolute brilliant.        

Interview with Illustrator Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu is a bestselling, award-nominated Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist. She is the creator of the middle grade fantasy graphic novel TIDESONG (2021 from HarperCollins/Quilltree) and co-creator of MOONCAKES, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Oni Press. Her work has been featured on Catapult, Barnes & Noble Sci-fi/Fantasy Blog, and Tor.com, among other places. She is currently working on two upcoming graphic novels from HarperCollins. You can find more art on her instagram or on twitter.

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

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

On a good day I have anywhere between twenty and thirty bees in my head, on a bad day there’s like forty to seventy. That is to say, I’m a comics artist who lives in Brooklyn with my partner and cat. I like to cook when I’m not drawing, but I like to eat marginally more than I like to cook.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to this medium?

When I was a very small kid, some of my first books were collections of children’s comics. They were all in Chinese, which I couldn’t read, but I enjoyed deducing the story from the images, and I loved trying to draw like the illustrations I saw. When I got a little older, I started reading manga. I was really fortunate to have a great librarian at my town library in high school who loved comics and manga too, and because of her collection developmentI had an amazing stash of books to check out and read while I was there. I believe it was Lynda Barry (whose book, MAKING COMICS, I frequently refer to when planning drawing exercises for my own students– she has worked extensively with kids) who said that to a very young child, words and pictures go naturally together and only when they get older do these two categories become distinct and more rigid. As a child, that distinction was never really made for me, and I am thankful that comics have been with me my whole life. 

As an artist, would you say there are any other artists or comics that have influenced your creative style or inspired you personally?

CLAMP, Rumiko Takahashi, Fuyumi Soryo, and Hayao Miyazaki are some of my earliest and biggest influences.

What are some of your favorite parts about creating a graphic novel?

Conceptually: worldbuilding. It’s fun to play in a universe and figure out the mechanics of it, as well as how the environment contributes to all of the aesthetic sensibilities that exist. Technically: inking, when all of the hard writing and art bits are over with and your only focus is to make it look polished and good.

Your first published graphic novel, Mooncakes, explores queer characters, magic and witchcraft. Where did the idea for this project come from and what was it like working on the comic with your co-creator, Suzanne Walker?

I’ve always wanted to do a love story between a witch and a werewolf– I think the earliest inspiration for that comes from reading Amelia Atwater-Rhodes in the library when I was in middle school, but also a smutty witch/werewolf romance that got passed to me in eighth grade as contraband. A ways out of college, I asked my friend Suzanne if she wanted to do this comic together with me, because she wrote fun fanfictions and I occasionally drew little accompanying art for them, and I thought she could do the part I didn’t like, which is piecing the story together, and I could do the fun (although in comics, way more labor intensive part). All of the creative visual executive decisions were left to me, although Suzanne gave input on things she had direct experience with, like Nova’s hearing aids.

What advice would you have for those who want to make comics? 

Draw your own comic. I don’t care how crappy you are at art, you will never understand pacing or visual storytelling if you don’t sit down to draw. Use stick figures if you have to, but piece together a story panel by panel, visually, and you will learn what comics are about more than sitting down to write a script and then passing it off to someone else to draw. 

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

“What brushes do you use”; the answer is: too many. I am a digital brush hoarder and I like to experiment with all of them. I feel like I am trying to find the elusive White Whale of Brushes, but that’s never going to happen. I can keep trying though.

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

I am currently working on my second solo graphic novel, THE INFINITY PARTICLE, a young adult book about a girl and robot who fall in love. It’s set on Mars in the distant future, and grapples with a lot of thoughts I have about technology and consciousness, and it is also a response to the invasive encroachment of Big Tech into all of our daily lives. My biggest fantasy that I put into this book is that in the distant future there is no Internet, no Web 3.0, and most of all, no tech billionaires or NFTs. I’m also playing around with ideas for a few more projects, including one inspired by the Neolithic in East Asia.

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

Estranged by Ethan Aldridge, O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti, Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, Don’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero O’ Connell, On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, Girl Town by Casey Nowak, Witchy by Ariel Ries, Hotblood! by Toril Orlesky, and K. O’Neill’s upcoming Mothkeeper. I love Casey McQuiston’s wit. If we’re allowed to talk about short stories, Kimberly Wang’s new comic “Of Thunder and Lightning” on their gumroad is some fantastic visual storytelling. The short story “Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall was the most refreshing thing I’d read in sci-fi in a minute, if you can find it online.   

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!

Interview with Author Chloe Gong

Chloe Gong is the New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and its sequel, Our Violent Ends. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York pretending to be a real adult. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok under @TheChloeGong.

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

Hello! It’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m Chloe Gong, the author of These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends, which is a Romeo and Juliet retelling duology set in 1920s Shanghai. I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this year, so now I’m a full-time author hopping along in New York City.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

I started way, way back, writing my first novel when I was 13! I gave writing a go because books and stories were a form of entertainment and escapism for me, especially because I always complained that I was soooooo bored in suburban Auckland. There were only so many times that my mum could take me to the library in a week, and once I tore through my book pile, I turned to writing stories instead of reading them. Creative writing was this outlet to create worlds for myself—I didn’t even think of myself as a writer until much later in high school.

Where did the impetus to write These Violent Delights come from, besides the obvious Shakespearean source?

I wanted to write a blood feud story mashed with the setting of 1920s Shanghai, so the Shakespearean source genuinely did come later! I was fascinated with the aesthetic of the 20s and Shanghai in the 20s in particular because my parents always talked about it as the city’s golden era in modern history. Then I did some research of my own and learned about the lawlessness and the gangster rule and everything being a result of imperialism after the Opium Wars, and it was just such a fascinating world that I wanted to work with it in fiction.

As an author who wrote These Violent Delights while studying in college, how did you balance your schedule between your classes and writing? Would you say your academic studies have influenced your creative projects?

It was hard! I had to do a lot of planning in advance, looking at my semester as a whole and pinning down which days I had assignments due so that it wasn’t clashing with my book deadlines. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it was certainly a lot of intense calendar-managing to make sure I was keeping a good balance. My academic studies influenced what I wrote for sure! Or rather, I would take classes in the sort of things I was interested in anyway, but my Russian Lit professor did get some very bizarre emails from me about duels and how people fought them in history.

How would you describe your crafting style, i.e plotting, pantsing, something in between, or something else entirely? How would you describe your typical writing routine?

I’m a very thorough plotter! I need things outlined before I can dive in, otherwise I find that I flounder a little. My outlines tend to look like Draft Zero too, and by that I mean I dump out everything I’ve imagined in the scene: the sequence of events, the dialogue, the character’s feelings, my behind-the-scenes craft work etc etc. By then, Draft One is the pretty prose run and I can focus on my language because the other heavy lifting has been done.

What’s your favorite cultural (film, book, etc.) adaption of a Shakespearean work, Romeo and Juliet and otherwise? Are you interested in writing any new stories based off the Bard’s work?

I really love the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. I think I’m going to stay in the Shakespearean retellings niche for some time, there’s definitely a lot to work with! I’ve written an Antony and Cleopatra retelling too, but that’s all I’ll say for now…

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

We have the darling Marshall Seo who is out as queer, described to have a Cheshire cat smile because he’ll be a ray of sunshine if you’re on his good side but he won’t hesitate to smack around anyone on his bad side. He has a budding romance with Benedikt Montagov, who is more hesitant toward embracing his identity because he’s an intense thinker and feeler living in his own head so much. And of course one of my favorite characters to write is Kathleen Lang—she’s a trans girl who is fiercely devoted to her family and will do everything in her power to protect them. I somehow accidentally gave her a line from Taylor Swift’s mirrorball before Taylor Swift even released mirrorball.

The central conflict is between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, Chinese and Russian groups respectively. What was the process like for you, writing about a culture that you were already familiar with versus one that you weren’t?

Most of the cultures I wrote about in These Violent Delights I’m actually quite familiar with! I included these groups because of Shanghai’s true history and I’m in Shanghai often (at least, in our pre-pandemic days), where the remnants of the 1920s immigrant groups are still around in what I hear about from my relatives or in the shops and areas I go to. I did a bit more nosing around on Russian words as opposed to Chinese words I already knew, but ultimately I just approached all cultures with a lot of respect and wrote on what I’ve researched and soaked in about Shanghai. In general, I actually read more translated Russian literature than I read translated Chinese literature!

In various interviews, you’ve discussed how intense the research process was behind writing These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends? Could you describe that for us?

I flipped through soooo many textbooks. I spent a lot of time very early in the process only absorbing information so that I could properly imagine the world as it was in history. That meant it came a lot easier once I was working on Our Violent Ends or on the spin-off duology that’s coming after that, because I already had the base work from all my heavy researching pre-These Violent Delights. 

What’s an interview question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were?

If I could fight any animal which one would I fight—and I would answer a salmon fish. I don’t know why, I just think it would be kind of funny.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

To keep writing and writing! Craft can only develop with practice—it’s truly impossible to get something right off the bat or in one go. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately as you want it to, and don’t buy into people who say they can teach you something fast. Writing is something that gets honed with time and effort.

Are there any other projects or ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?

In Fall 2022, I have a spin-off duology coming! Set after the events of Our Violent Ends, Foul Lady Fortune follows a character who we’ve already met in the previous duology, but we can’t reveal who until Our Violent Ends is out so that we’re not spoiling anything! But I always pitch Foul Lady Fortune as a political C-Drama meets a Marvel movie as it’s about two fake married spies infiltrating a corporate workplace to uncover an imperialist scheme, and I’m very excited to reveal more eventually.

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

Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie is releasing February 2022 and it’s described as a coming-of-age/coming-out story as Ophelia navigates the end of high school and contemporary lovers absolutely have to scramble to pick it up. And for SFF lovers, Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta is the most wild ride of found family and giant mechas in truly the best possible way so read it before the sequel Godslayers releases in June 2022!

Interview with Author Nafiza Azada

Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple.

Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world.

Her debut YA fantasy was the Morris Award–nominated The Candle and the Flame. The Wild Ones is her second novel.

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

Hello! My name is Nafiza Azad and I’m still navigating my many identities. I like to call myself an Indo-Fijian Canadian Muslim. I was born and grew up in Fiji and immigrated to Canada with a whole lot of emotional baggage when I was 17, along with my parents and a very tattered copy of Anne of Green Gables. I write female-centric books that celebrate life in all its messy (and often violent) glory. In the times when I’m not plotting or daydreaming, I watch Kdramas, embroider, and read.

How did you find yourself getting into writing fiction, particularly Young Adult? 

As I often tell people, writing isn’t something I choose to do. It’s more of a calling than a carefully chosen career. I have been writing (not very well) for as long as I can remember. I started with these particularly atrocious poems when I was still living on a sugarcane farm in Fiji and hadn’t begun school. For a long while, I thought I wouldn’t be able to write anything but poetry. I have taken many writing classes that have, whether intentionally or accidentally, shaped my writing, but almost all the professors who taught them told me that I had no future in writing. So, of course, I had to prove them wrong. I write YA because when I was a young adult, I never could find the books that I saw myself in. I want to change that for other young adults like me who are searching for reflections not just of their faces and persons but of their lives. I want to write a book that is a friend, a home, for someone who might not be welcomed elsewhere.

Where did the inspiration for your latest book, The Wild Ones, come from?

The Wild Ones is fueled by anger. It came from the girl in the mirror who was determined to take the awful experience she had gone through and create something out of it that would render her more than just a victim. THE WILD ONES is a scream out in this world where women are considered expendable, dismissed, an afterthought. Women, especially POC women, are constantly fighting to be heard, to be respected; we put our dignity on the line, we put our lives on the line, every time we step out of the door. The Wild Ones is an explicit call to arms and also an invitation to a sisterhood. A sisterhood that’s often denied and denigrated. 

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

The first thing I learned after writing my first book is that no, writing one book does not automatically mean you know how to write books. Every project is a different beast and often requires a different set of processes. However, there are certain ones that work for me. I start with a question and then elaborate on that question. I do a lot of work before I start writing the novel. A notebook accompanies me as I write and I fill it with character profiles, book aesthetics, research, plot, questions so that at the end, I end up with two books instead of one: the actual novel and a book that documents the journey that led to the novel. Drafting is the most difficult step in the process for me. Every word feels like it’s torn from me so when I’m drafting, I write a maximum of 2k words per day every day. It’s the longest process and the most painful one. I like to work in complete silence so I end up working late nights. I only work on one book at a time because I immerse myself completely in the world to the point that I feel like I miss entire seasons and months when I’m writing.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? 

This might sound odd but for all writers looking to write professionally, understand that writing is a business. Yes, it is art but it is also a product to be consumed. Don’t be too attached to your way of doing things. Your way of doing things might make artistic sense but if it doesn’t make retail sense, you will be in for a lot of heartache. I wish I had understood that at the beginning. Sometimes success does not depend on the quality of your prose but on how saleable your story is. 

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

There are so many. I gravitate toward female writers like Kate Elliott, G. Willow Wilson, Alison Croggon, Stephanie Burgis, Sylvia Plath and poets like Pablo Neruda, Warsan Shire, Safia Elhillo, Fatimah Ashgar. I am also inspired by my fellow writers like London Shah, Julian Winters, Adib Khorram, Axie Oh, Kat Cho, Karuna Riazi amongst many others. Their passion for their stories, for their works, inspires mine.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I read webtoons! Korean webtoons are a whole new level! I watch dramas, accompany my mom while she gardens (I have a cherry tree I call Gerard). I returned to embroidering during the pandemic and I enjoy creating explosions of colour on fabric. I bake cakes and play with my niece and nephew who think that like them I’m also under ten. I take pictures of flowers and dream up more stories I want to tell.

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

I just finished a draft of my second novel for S&S and all I  can say about it is that it’s a faery tale. I’m also working on an adult fantasy which is a whole new ball game as I’m discovering. I have many more stories planned. Hopefully I get to write a good lot of them.

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)? 

“Is there really a sugar festival in Lautoka (the first city the Wild Ones visit)?” Answer: Yes, there is! I was born in a village a few km from Lautoka and the sugar festival which takes place in August (or took place in this Covid-fested world) was one of the highlights of the year. I have many fond memories of attending the festival. 

What advice would you have to give to aspiring writers? 

You’ve already made the decision to be a writer and it’s probably because writing is in your blood. The bad news is: success the way it traditionally looks doesn’t come to everyone. The good news: we live in a new world and you define what success is. So the only thing between you and success is your grit and your willpower. Write every single day. Read everything, even books that don’t speak to you because those are the ones you will remember longest. Share your work with people whose criticism won’t cripple your creativity but also know that writing as a craft is one you will be working on forever. Learn to do close reading. Write in different styles. Be bold but also be respectful. Some stories you can tell, others you don’t have a right to. Respect that.

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

Instead of books, I will recommend authors whose books are lovely in their exploration of romance. Mason Deaver, Julian Winters, Adib Khorram, Zen Cho, Benjamin Alire Saenz.Tasha Suri‘s newest book is amazing in its representation. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is also great.