Interview with Author Bill Konigsberg

Bill Konigsberg is the author of six books for young adults, which have won awards including the Stonewall Book Award, the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and the Lambda Literary Award. Bill lives with his husband, Chuck, and their two Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Please visit him on Twitter @billkonigsberg.

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

CW: Discussion of mental illness and suicide.

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

Thank you, and sure! I’m the author of six young adult novels, all of which explore the lives of LGBTQ characters. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, with my husband, Chuck, and our Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Before turning to YA lit, which I did by publishing my first novel in 2008, I was a sports writer for ESPN and The Associated Press. In fact, I became the first openly gay man at ESPN when I wrote an essay called “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays” in 2001.

As a journalist for websites for ESPN, how would you describe the transition from sports writer to young adult author? Would you say there are any times where your former writing experience bleeds into the other?

It’s really a different world. With sports journalism—any journalism, really—you’re looking to be as concise as possible, using an economy of words. Creative writing allows me to really branch out and explore language in a way that journalism never did. I would say that a bunch of my novels include athletics, and (hopefully) I do that well. ☺

Where would you say your ideas for books usually come from? Do you look towards anywhere specific for inspiration while writing?

It’s kind of all over the place. Sometimes, like with my most recent, THE BRIDGE, I get inspired with a concept and move forward from the idea. More frequently with me, I want to write about a specific character whose voice I hear in my head. It’s like I’ll get a line of dialogue or something that triggers me to explore more, as if a character is leading me and saying, “Hey there, come see about me!”

Some of your books, including The Music of What Happens, deal with the subject of masculinity, of characters trying to figure out what it means to be a “man” as well as navigating toxic masculinity. Could you lend us your thoughts on this?

This has been such a huge theme in my life. Maybe because of my youth, in which I played a lot of sports but was also dealing with what was at the time a secret, that I liked other guys? I think over time I began to really focus in on those questions about what it means to be a man, as opposed to the lessons we learn from media, or in our society. I think standing up and being counted even when you’re different is more courageous than so many of the toxically masculine attributes—violence, being taciturn—are. So yes, I seem to come back to that issue a lot. I think it’s important that we allow boys to be who they are, and not try to live up to some bogus and false vision of masculinity that breaks down the more you look at it.

Your latest book, The Bridge, deals with some very strong subjects, including suicide and depression. What drew you to writing about this? Is there any advice you would want to give to other writers writing this topic?

I was drawn to write about suicide and depression because of my own history with both. I have been dealing with chronic depression since I was a teenager, though at the time I don’t know that I knew what that was. In my mid-to-late 20s, I attempted suicide by taking pills. The pain in my life was just too much for me to bear, or that’s what it felt like at the time. It took me a long time to write about these things, because it’s such a vulnerable thing, talking about mental health. I didn’t want people to judge me based on that, but really over time I began to realize that was the same thing as not wanting to be judged for being gay. My life’s work, it seems, is to keep uncovering the things I’m not supposed to talk about, and writing about them in great detail. 

As for advice for someone writing about this topic: I would stress the importance of not glamorizing suicide. Suicidal feelings can be so powerful, and what is most helpful, in my opinion, is letting people know that they are not alone, that other people have felt the same way. The most dangerous thing we can tell people who are struggling is that something good comes from completing suicide. We need to stress how important it is for all of us to stay another day, even when it’s really hard.

What advice would you give to writers in general, especially those looking to finish a book?

I’d stress that when we talk about finishing a book, often we are talking about finishing a first draft of a book! And by that, I mean that novels generally take at least three rounds of revisions to get really good! So instead of comparing your first draft to someone’s third (or eighth, you never know!), just get the words down so you can see what you have and get into revision, which is where a lot of the magic happens.

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

I love spending time with my dogs, and I love spending time with good friends. Those are probably the things I spend most of my time doing, and I really enjoy both.

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

That’s a tough one. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years! Maybe something about legacy, about what I hope I have given to young readers. And the answer to that would be that I hope some young readers have seen their own hearts in my writing. That they have recognized something innately wonderful in my characters that they can also identify in themselves, and feel really good about.

As a writer who has been in the game for a while, how have you seen the landscape of young adult literature change since you first entered and today, or even since you were a young adult yourself?

In the 13 years since my first novel came out, the landscape of young adult literature has changed drastically. I remember winning the Lambda Literary Award with that first novel, Out of the Pocket. There were maybe 25 books that year to choose from that had LGBTQ protagonists. Now, on a yearly basis, there are probably 300! I think the quality of writing has improved a lot. I think the diversity of voices has grown significantly, though we are still working on that. I think the types of intersectionality seen in these novels today dwarfs anything that was happening 13 years ago. In short, I think we’re in a YA renaissance, where some incredible work is being done.

Are there any questions you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I have a novel coming out next May called DESTINATION UNKNOWN. It’s about two boys meeting in 1987 New York City, with the AIDS crisis looming all around them. I have read so many books about AIDS, and have always dreamed of writing one. Having grown up in that time and place, it has been a huge issue in my life, and I think I’ve needed to write about it for a long time.

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

So many! 

ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King

TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE… by Benjamin Alire Saenz

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian

LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB by Malinda Lo

FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Calendar

To name a few…

Interview with Author Gabriela Martins

Gabriela Martins is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (Keep Faith) with all funds going to queer people in need. When she’s not writing, she can be found cuddling with her two cats or singing loudly and off-key. Like a Love Song is her debut novel. Find her on Twitter at @gabhimartins and on Instagram at @gabhi.

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

Thank you so much for having me, friends! I’m super excited to be here! I’m Gabriela Martins, a Brazilian author, and LIKE A LOVE SONG is my debut. I was an English teacher for ten years and I’m also a linguist, now writing full-time while my cats cuddle on my lap.

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

I’ve always written fiction. My first-ever book was a rip-off of one of my favorite books at 11 years-old, only it was a lot gorier, and the protagonist was suspiciously like me. From then on, I wrote fanfic for many more years before starting to try to get published traditionally. And I tried and tried for a decade! I queried a handful of books, and they were all YA. I was always drawn to narratives that explore firsts, and being around teenagers for such a long time as a teacher has also definitely helped.

Your debut novel, Like A Love Song, features a Brazilian protagonist along with a variety of queer characters. As a queer, Brazilian author yourself have you ever felt like you were writing yourself, or parts of yourself, into this story? Also, was the title inspired by the Selena Gomez song?

I think we all write parts of ourselves in our stories, but being queer, especially so when we’re writing a story about finding out who you are, and having the courage to own up to it. My main character in the book isn’t queer, but she faces her own issues with self-acceptance throughout the book, more in relation to her heritage.

While Natalie, our main character, isn’t queer herself—which is also a conscious choice, as I grew up with the social and cultural message that queerness was contagious, and not truly who I was, just a product of being around so many queer people—her two closest friends and love interest are. I align way more with chaotic bi and sweatpants-loving Brenda than with all of Nati’s glamour in being a pop star, but I think there are bits and pieces of me in all of them in different ways.

The title actually came way later! The book’s initial title was You Can Call Me Nati, but our publishing team wanted that could tell you right off the bat that it was a romcom book and also showcase the musical aspect with a song as the title. I absolutely loved their suggestion, and we ran with it!

How would you describe your writing process? What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?

I wish I had known that revision is a biiiiiig deal. Before the shift from aspiration to day job, I am embarrassed to admit that… it’s not even that I wasn’t good at revising, I simply didn’t do it. I queried lots of books without having properly revised them. I didn’t even know how to. I write relatively clean drafts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need tons of revisions! Working with skilled editors—my agent has a decade of history working as a RH editor prior to becoming an agent—helped me understand where my weaknesses are, so I can do a slightly better job at self-revising before I show anyone else my work. But I will say that I won’t be caught dead sharing a first draft with anyone, ever! That baby needs to sleep for a few days before I read it over and convince myself it’s not as bad as I think it is before I can even share with my critique partners. lol

Aside from your own book, is there any Brazilian media (i.e. books, movies/TV, music, etc.) you would want people to know about?

There are so many good things. Brazilian art is deeply prolific, and some of my favorite medias of all kinds are Brazilian. My favorite romcom movie of all time is Brazilian (“O Homem do Futuro”, a romcom/scifi crossover that is hilarious, nostalgic, and ultra-swoony). My favorite pop singer, IZA, is Brazilian, and I grew up with rock stars who were out and proud and defined rock’n’roll in Brazil: names like the late Cazuza, Cássia Eller, Renato Russo, but also Lulu Santos. Netflix recently released a Netflix Original called “Cidade Invisível” (Invisible City), a crime/fantasy show about Brazilian legends with a new spin.

Since your debut book is obviously inspired by music, did you listen to any specific artists while writing it? And who would you say are some of your favorite artists?

The album “Lover” by Taylor Swift had just come out, so I had that on repeat while I was drafting and revising. Funny thing, then “SOUR” by Olivia Rodrigo came out earlier this year, and I’ve been listening to that non-stop ever since! I feel like “Brutal” is just perfect for the book. I wish that song had been around already before the book was published, so I could add it as an epigraph. It’s just perfect. 

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

I read a lot and across a lot of different genres, so I feel like I should say books, but I do that for pleasure. What fills my well and ignites my veins really is music. Even little sparks of a story—a trope, a character name, the idea of a situation—only really take shape once I start listening to songs that fill in the blanks, and it snowballs from there. Some of the albums on repeat on my Spotify lately are SUNMI’s “1/6”, Taemin’s “Advice”, Olivia Rodrigo’s “SOUR”, Sum 41’s “Underclass Hero”, and Kid Abelha’s “Educação Sentimental”.

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

In summer 2022 my sophomore book comes out, also with Underlined/PRH. It’s called BAD AT LOVE and it features Daniel, a rocker with a bad rep of being a player—but who’s actually super shy and only suffered a million tabloid misunderstandings—and Sasha, a stubborn and cynical teen journalist with no chance of going to college… until their paths cross. Daniel is challenged by his bandmates to date Sasha for the whole summer on a bet, and she’s offered a chance at a scholarship if she can find the dirtiest dirt on L.A.’s favorite bad boy. He is demi and she is pan, and I can’t wait for you to meet them too!

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

Adiba Jaigirdar is one of my favorite authors of all time, and she has a new book out this year, called HANI AND ISHU’S GUIDE TO FAKE DATING. It also features fake dating, and Adiba’s wonderful prose!

Interview with Author Daniel Aleman

Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and Mexican food. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. You can connect with him on Twitter (@Dan_Aleman) and Instagram (@danaleman). I had the opportunity to talk with Daniel, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your new book, Indivisible! Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Thank you so much! This story came from a deep desire to tell a story about immigration in my own terms. I wanted to write a book about immigrant characters that felt human, compassionate, and sincere, and which showed us a perspective that is different from what we tend to see on the news.

I feel as though representation of immigration in media tends to focus on the political and legal dimensions of this crisis, and I wanted to talk about it for what it really is: a human issue.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How did you find yourself coming into the creative writing field?

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. I started writing short stories when I was seven or eight years old, and I went on to write full-length novels by the time I was a teenager. Writing has always been such an intrinsic part of who I am, and the thought of becoming a published writer has always been in the back of my mind.

I started pursuing the path to publication when I was in college, which was when I began to learn about the process of finding a literary agent. It took me four different manuscripts and many years to sign with my agent, but ultimately, I feel like all the rejections I received helped shape me into the writer I am today.

What books or authors inspired you growing up? Who and what inspires you now?

I have deep admiration for series like Twilight and The Hunger Games, which sparked in me (and millions of other readers) a huge passion for young adult literature.

Nowadays, a couple of authors I absolutely love are Angie Thomas and Jodi Picoult, who have inspired me in more ways than I can count. I love books that tackle complex topics in a human, nuanced way that is accessible to broad audiences, and that is something that both Angie and Jodie do flawlessly.

The book’s focus on deportation and inequality in America’s treatment of immigrants is a truly relevant issue for all of us to focus on, especially now. As an immigrant, do you feel like have own life experiences have influenced your process writing this book?

Absolutely! There are many pieces of myself and my family in this story. Many of the emotions that the characters experience in INDIVISIBLE come from a very personal place, and I do believe I was able to portray a unique experience in this book, seeing as my own family immigrated from Mexico.

There is a famous quote, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” What are your thoughts on the ability of fiction as a medium for truth-telling and activism? 

I adore that quote, because I believe it’s so accurate. I find that fiction can reveal so many things about ourselves and the world around us. In my case, I use fiction to understand myself better. In my writing, I explore many of the things that I fear and that I wish to change in the world, and my characters often mirror my own identity and experiences. 

I also think that, as readers, fiction has a way of opening our eyes to the realities of people who are different from ourselves. Books have the enormous power to build empathy.

Besides being an author, what are some other things you would want people to know about you?

I am absolutely obsessed with Mexican food — particularly tacos. If I could pick a single food to eat for the rest of my life, that would definitely be it (particularly Al Pastor tacos, which remind me so much of Mexico City, where I grew up). I am also a dog person and an avid coffee drinker.

In regards to the realm of LGBTQ+ narratives, there are still many narratives that haven’t been told yet. As a queer person, would you say you intentionally sought out to write a story that you personally wanted to see in the world?

Definitely! With Indivisible, I wanted to tell a story that was a bit different from what we’re used to seeing. I think that stories that center queer issues have always been and will always be deeply relevant, but I also think that we need stories where we see queer characters dealing with issues that don’t necessarily center their queerness. With Mateo, I wanted to write about a boy who is loved for who he is and who is accepted by his friends and family — and who is also faced with challenges and ambitions that are unrelated to his identity as a gay teen. 

What advice would you want to give other people who want to tell stories, especially their stories?

I think it’s so important to lead with honesty. As writers, we often feel pressure to adapt to what other people expect from us, but I think that the stories that come from a deeply personal, honest place always have a way of standing out.

It’s also important to persevere through rejection. Keep writing, keep creating, and eventually you will find someone who believes in your story as much as you do.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

Yes! I’m currently working on my second young adult novel, which is somewhat similar to Indivisible in terms of themes and tone. Though the plot and characters are entirely different, this will be another book about immigration, identity, family, and growing up too quickly. I am also working on a third young adult novel, which is a departure from my first two novels. I can’t say much about that project yet, but I’m really excited about it!

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

I always recommend Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, which I feel is sharp, poignant, and compulsively readable. Other recent favorites are Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore and Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June. If you haven’t read these books yet, you need to add them to your TBR now!

Interview with Authors P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

#1 New York Times & #1 USA Today bestselling author P.C. Cast was born in the Midwest, and, after her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. PC is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, Booksellers’ Best, and many, many more. Ms. Cast is an experienced teacher and talented speaker who lives in Oregon near her fabulous daughter, her adorable pack of dogs, her crazy Maine Coon, and a bunch of horses.

Kristin Cast is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author who was born in Japan and grew up in Oklahoma where she explored everything from tattoo modeling to broadcast journalism. After battling addiction, Kristin made her way to the Pacific Northwest and landed in Portland. She rediscovered her passion for storytelling in the stacks at dusty bookstores and in rickety chairs in old coffeehouses. For as long as Kristin can remember, she’s been telling stories. Thankfully, she’s been writing them down since 2005.

I had the opportunity to interview both P.C. and Kristin about their latest book, Spells Trouble, which you can read below.

First of all, congrats on your latest book, Spells Trouble. Could you tell us in your own words what it’s about?

PC: Twin witches attempting to save their world and deal with teenage drama!

KC: Thank you! Spells Trouble is about two witches who, through protecting their town and learning more about their magic, find out not only what it means to be family but also what it means to be truly comfortable with yourself.

P.C. Cast

What are your favorite parts of the writing process? What is your least favorite?

PC: My favorite part is always the last third of a manuscript. I fly through those pages. My least favorite part is outlining and revising. 

KC: I am the opposite. I love both outlining and revising. It’s the writing of the first draft that I absolutely do not enjoy. Funny since writing the book makes up the bulk of my job.

Kristin Cast

As mother and daughter, what would you say your artistic collaboration is like together? What would you say are the benefits of drawbacks of working with family?

PC: I love working with Kristin. Writing is such a solitary job that it’s wonderful to have her in the trenches with me. It’s great that she and I understand exactly what’s going on in the manuscript, so if I’m having an issue with a scene I can reach out to her for help – and she to me. Drawbacks? NONE! Because I’m the mom! (Insert maniacal laughter)

KC: I think that I bring the more regimented, organized side of the book creation process to the table whereas Phyllis brings spontaneity and creative freedom. She has really taught me to trust my creative instincts and to let my writing flow without judgment. The drawback of working with family is that work creeps into everything. It’s difficult to draw that line between personal life and work life when part of your personal life is wrapped up in work. 

As Geeks OUT is an LGBTQ+ centered site, could you discuss some of the queer elements of the book?

PC: Kristin writes our wonderful queer character, Hunter, who I adore. Hunter is such a complex, interesting and strong character. 

KC: Hunter Goode is a lesbian. Being the only person in the small high school of her small town who is out, she feels like an outsider. It’s always been interesting to her that others put so much of an emphasis on her sexuality when who she’s attracted to doesn’t make up who she is. Throughout Spells Trouble, Hunter struggles with her confidence and feeling at home in her own skin.

What advice would you give to other writers, especially those interested in fantasy or at least those trying to finish their first projects?

PC: Keep writing! And rewriting and rewriting. Read constantly. Research the job of being a professional author as you would any other job/career. 

KC: Give yourself grace. Missed writing days, being emotional over rejections, not reaching word count or page count goals, needing space away from projects and people—these are just a handful of things that you’ll encounter on your writing journey. When they come about, be kind to yourself. You’re doing your best.

What LGBTQIA+ book/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

PC: I love love love Caleb Roehrig’s THE FELL OF DARK so much! It’s smart and funny and way scarier than I thought it was going to be. Actually, all of Caleb’s books are great! 

KC: The two authors currently on my mind and at the top of my Audible library are V.E. Schwab and Tirzah Price. Schwab is one of my favorite authors. She wrote The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, but she’s written so many other amazing adult and YA stories. If you see one of her books in the store/library, get it immediately. I also recently listened to Price’s first YA novel, Pride and Premeditation. It is excellent, and she is so fun to follow on Instagram.

Interview with Author Julia Lynn Rubin

JULIA LYNN RUBIN received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from The New School in 2017. A lover of film, psychology, and literature, Julia has been writing creatively since first grade, and her short stories have appeared in publications such as the North American Review. She currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is currently freelancing while working on her next book. Julia is the author of Burro Hills and Trouble Girls. I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia, which you can read below.

First of all, congrats on the release of Trouble Girls! In your own words can you tell us what it’s about?

Thank you so much! Trouble Girls is a queer, Sapphic reimagining of Thelma & Louise, following the story of two best friends sick of their Rust Belt town who set out to go on a weekend camping trip together, but that gets derailed by a night of violence at a local bar. The girls make a run for it and become the face of a #MeToo movement they never asked to lead as their journey across the country grows darker and more dangerous. It’s a love story, but also one of teen girl rage, resilience, and hope.

What drew you to writing, particularly queer young adult fiction?

I’ve always loved writing and anything creative! I was a voracious reader as a kid and always wanted to write my own “books” (in spiral notebooks, mostly, and some even had mocked up copyright pages!). I wrote all of the time: poems, short stories, half-finished novels. I got into writing young adult in particular through reading authors like Laurie Halse Anderson and being inspired by the voice-driven narratives. I also write general short stories and “adult” fiction, but they tend to be about younger people and often teens, so it was a natural fit. When I applied to my MFA program for Fiction, I was actually asked to be in the Writing for Children program because they thought my voice and style suited it, so I agreed!

Trouble Girls is said to be inspired by the film, Thelma and Louise, set in modern day #MeToo era. What draws you about this film, and what inspired you to make an adaption of it?

I’ve always been a huge movie fan, and when I was in high school, I’d rent at least one to watch at Blockbuster every week or every other week. Thelma & Louise was one movie I adored. It was dark and harrowing but also full of adventure and light. It championed female friendship, and was groundbreaking for its time in being one of the first “girl buddy” road movies and also one of the first to directly address the issues of sexual assault and rape.

The movie has Sapphic undertones and subtext that many people have read into it. I also love Bonnie & Clyde, and the idea of two people in love on the run. I thought it would be a really concept to piece together and adapt to YA, telling the story from the perspective of a queer teen girl while giving it my own spin, of course.

In addition to queerness, you also explore themes relating to class and mental health and how it affects the characters’ lives. Could you expand on this?

My first book, Burro Hills, is about working class kids in California. I wanted to write another story about working class teens, as I think there needs to be more of those stories in YA fiction. Trixie and Lux, my main girls, have enormous privilege due to being white, but they come from broken families, and Trixie’s mother has early Alzheimer’s dementia and she is her primary caregiver, so they don’t necessarily think of themselves that way. I wanted to show the nuances of life for queer working-class girls, and how in some ways, they are blind to their privilege as it keeps them alive on the run for quite some time. I also wanted to depict a segment of American teenage life that isn’t wealthy or middle-class. Mental health ties into everything. It affects Trixie greatly, and Lux to a degree as well. The trauma they experience from the incident at the dive bar stays with them, and leads them into a brief fantasy period in which they indulge in things they know they can’t afford, a way to escape from the horrors of what they did and what happened to them.

As a fellow student of the New School MFA Program, I’m curious about your experiences in the program. Could you describe it and some of your favorite parts of the program? Would you say it helped you grow as a writer?

I absolutely loved the program! I met some of my best friends in it who I’m still very close with to this day; many of them came to my book release party and launch. I especially enjoyed workshops and reading each other’s work and cheering everyone on; it was so fun to watch us all evolve as writers and see where each other’s stories went next (and possibly have some say in that). I also loved David Levithan and Coe Booth’s class on YA fiction, which was amazing and immersive. I won the MFA Chapbook award in my concentration in my graduating year, and that was so special. I felt so supported by everyone and it was great to be among fellow writers.

What advice would you to other queer writers, especially those trying to finish their projects?

Never give up. Your stories matter, and they need to be told and heard. They need to be shared, and they deserve to. If you can, find a writer’s group that can hold you accountable, whether it’s friends online, a workshop class, it doesn’t matter. Read widely, and read outside of the genre you want to write in. Read classic queer literature and new queer literature. Promote other writers and authors, and get involved in the community. That’s a great way to make friends and find writing buddies. Above all, know that this is a long game. Keep at it, no matter how many rejections you receive. Treat each one like a badge of honor. Persevering through rejections will often lead you to great success.

What LGBTQIA+ book/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Oh wow, this is the hardest question I’ve had to answer, as I love so many!! Here’s a shortlist:

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich (coming in December)

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

In Her Skin by Kim Savage

When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan


Cover photo by Max Mauro

Interview with Author Jay Coles

Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, and invites you to visit his website at jaycoleswrites.com.

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, Things We Couldn’t Say! How did you find yourself coming to write this story? 

Thank you, thank you. Gio’s story came to me quite easily during the period of time I was stuck in my house in quarantine this past year. I knew that once Gio first popped into my thoughts, that his story was one about love, parental abandonment, forgiveness, second chances, and all the ways that family can hurt each other. Gio’s story is one that I can really empathize with because a lot of Gio is actually, well, me. 

What drew you to writing when you first started? What keeps you motivated to keep writing despite the challenges? 

I’ve always been a writer. Before I wrote books, I wrote instrumental/symphonic music. The idea of telling a story (whether it’s through words or music notes) is the joy of my heart. Also, I love the idea of starting a task and completing it. There’s no greater feeling, in my opinion, than finishing a draft of a book. I feel like that’s an easy motivation for me to finish writing, but to start? That’s a whole other thing. 

Your book explores an interracial relationship between the two characters, Gio and David, who come from very different places mentally? What were the hopes in writing a relationship like this? 

I wanted to show just how two VERY different people can come together and love each other well, to reveal layers of each other they didn’t know they had, and to show how even people who feel like love aren’t meant for them or in the cards they’ve been dealt are worthy of love, of any kind, if they want it. Also the trope of unlikely romantic love interests will forever have my heart. Wait. Is that even a real trope? 

Part of the book’s beauty in navigating family, navigating the pain caused by those you love as well as the joy in found family? Was this always something you wanted to explore? 

I looooove talking about found family and how family can be those we are born into or those we walk into later in life. Long story short, family can be complicated. Family are the people who know us the most and who are supposed to love us the most, but they can also be the ones who hurt us the worst and cut deep wounds into us that last years and years and years. I feel like this is super underexplored in YA, so I’m very glad to continue that conversation through Things We Couldn’t Say. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked? 

I wish people asked me about the playlists in the book. Now, I know, I know. The book isn’t out just yet, but I’m hoping people ask me about the music in the book. 

Besides being a talented author, what are some things you would want readers to know about you personally? 

I’m a professional musician! I play drums!

What advice would you give to other writers on their own writing journeys, especially QPOC writers? 

I hate when people give advice to write every single day; that’s SO unrealistic. The only thing I’ll say to young writers is to enjoy the journey – enjoy the initial drafting stage, the editing, the querying, the eventual publication, etc. We are all somewhere along in the journey of life together, let’s enjoy the little moments, even the ones that feel incredibly hard to enjoy. 

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about? 

I am working on SEVERAL projects, but sadly none I can talk about just yet. But stay tuned!!

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUTJay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June, Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve, The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer, and Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson! For middle graders, I’m a big fan of GEORGE by Alex Gino.


Cover photo of Jay Coles by Victoria Ruth Photography

Interview With Author Kalynn Bayron

Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of Cinderella is Dead and This Poison Heart. A classically trained vocalist, she grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family. I had the opportunity to interview Kalynn, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, This Poison Heart. Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?

Thank you so much! I like to describe This Poison Heart as equal parts Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden with a Greek mythology twist. It’s about 16-year-old Briseis Greene, a young woman born with a unique ability—she can grow plants from seed to full bloom in seconds. She’s struggling to keep this power in check when she finds out her aunt has recently passed away and left her a sizable estate just outside of Rhinebeck, NY. When she and her parents go up for the summer they realize that nothing is what it seems. The house comes with a specific set of instructions and a walled garden filled with the deadliest plants on the planet. Briseis begins to uncover her family’s complicated and deadly history while learning to lean into her own power. 

Where did the inspiration for the book come from? Were there any music/media/ stories you were influenced by while writing this book?

Little Shop of Horrors and The Secret Garden were some of the biggest influences for this story. but I was also fascinated by the real-life poison plants in the Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. I wanted this story to have the feel of a gothic novel set against a contemporary backdrop. I love how atmospheric it is and that was heavily inspired by my love of gothic horror.

How did you find yourself becoming an author? Do you remember some of the notes of your own origin story? Did any writers or books inspire your writing journey?

I’ve always loved storytelling. The medium didn’t matter to me—music, tv, movies, theater, literature, I loved them all. I read everything I could get my hands on. One specific story was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. My teacher read it aloud when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I remember having such a strong reaction to it and being unable to get it out of my head. It was the same thing with musicals. I watched Annie, Wizard of Oz, and Little Shop of Horrors on loop from the time I was little. A neighbor introduced me to The Phantom of the Opera when I was ten and I became weirdly obsessed with the Phantom. I wanted to know why this man was living in the sewer and why everybody was so scared of him. So I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in the parts of popular stories that don’t get as much attention. 

I wrote my first novel when I was 19 and it was awful, but it taught me that I could start and finish a manuscript which, as any writer will tell you, is half the battle. Storytelling has always played such an important role in my life—stories helped me cope when things felt overwhelming, they provided an escape. When I sat down to write Cinderella is Dead in 2016, I wanted to tell a story that might provide an escape for someone else. 

Along the way the work of literary giants like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston have inspired me to tell stories in the way that I want to tell them and to be unapologetic in my work. I return to their stories any time I need a reminder of what we are allowed to be on the page.  

Besides being a writer, what are some small facts you would want your writers to know about you?

I’m a classically trained vocalist. I love musicals. I love Biscoff cookies and I really think they should sponsor me the way brands sponsor athletes. 

How would you describe your writing process? What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?

I wish I’d understood that there are a lot of non-writing things that count towards the development of a story. All the time I spend thinking about the story, the characters, the setting, the world building—it all counts! In fact, I now recognize it as an integral part of my process. I need time to sit with my ideas for a while before I get them on the page. 

For me it starts with an idea, or a collection of ideas. Once I have a good idea of the scope, I start a zero draft which is essentially just a few plot points in chronological order and some character work. As I’m doing this, I’m thinking about the story but it’s really just vibes at this point! No plot just vibes! Then, if I feel like a firm grasp on the story, I’ll work through a detailed synopsis and then a first draft. The synopsis acts as an outline for me and because things always change, I’ll write added scenes on index cards and lay them out and attach them to the outline. It’s usually not until I complete the first draft that I know my story and characters well enough to go back and really fill out the narrative. My process is always evolving and I’m always picking up new tricks and practices that work for me.

Your first book, Cinderella is Dead, is a Cinderella remix with some horror/dark fantasy elements. Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing this specific story and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn back to older fairytales when making new stories?

I have a lot of nostalgia associated with fairytales. I loved fairytales as a kid but it was painfully obvious that there was never anyone who looked like me in those stories. I wanted to do a Cinderella retelling that addressed the issue of feeling like I was an outsider looking in on this tale. I wanted to show the ways in which something as innocent as a children’s fairytale can be used as a tool of both empowerment and oppression depending on who’s penning the story.

I think we return to these stories again and again because there’s comfort in the familiarity of them but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be examined and critiqued, sometimes critically. As creators, especially those of us from historically excluded backgrounds, it’s important for us to be able to reclaim these tales on our own terms.

Which books or authors does Cinderella is Dead and The Poison Heart stand in conversation with?

I’d like to think Cinderella is Dead stands in conversation with the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella and the Charles Perrault version.  And I’d like to think This Poison Heart stands in conversation with The Secret Garden and contemporary fantasy in general. To be able to compare and contrast my work with the stories that inspired them is a great way to think about the ever-evolving process of storytelling. I’d also like to think of both This Poison Heart and Cinderella is Dead as being in community with books like Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow because contemporary fantasy is such a perfect place to interrogate who has, and who has not, been allowed to take folktales, or fairytales, or specific myths or legends and reimagine them. 

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love musical theater and I’m really looking forward to being able to get back to live shows. I love music. I love scary movies. I’m looking forward to seeing the Candyman reboot! Other than that, I really enjoy spending time with my family. I’m very much a homebody. 

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

That’s a tough one! Most people know I have a musical background, but nobody has asked me yet about my favorite opera. I get asked about my favorite musicals but never about opera! My favorite opera is Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor. Fun fact—there’s an aria in Act 3 of this opera that, even if you’ve never seen it, probably sounds familiar because it was in the movie The Fifth Element.

The Poison Heart features a Sapphic badness with a proclivity towards plants and poisons. Any relation to Poison Ivy? And on that note, how would you imagine any interactions between the two?

I love Poison Ivy! She’s a queer icon! I’m definitely inspired by her and I’ve heard that Poison Ivy was originally inspired by a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called Rappaccini’s Daughter. It’s a story about a man who raises his daughter around a collection of poisonous plants and in doing so she becomes immune to their toxicity. The story has also been adapted into several operas. If the folks at DC Comics ever need someone to do a one-shot deal for anything Poison Ivy related, I would jump on it. I’m just sayin.

Poison Ivy is a morally gray character. She does villainous things and sometimes with not-so-villainous intentions. Bri is kind of the opposite of that but I can totally see Poison Ivy trying to recruit Bri for some nefarious purpose. I don’t think Bri would sign up, but I don’t think that would stop Poison Ivy from trying.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Try to have some fun with your writing, don’t be afraid to take risks, and take any sort of writing advice with a grain of salt—even mine.

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

The follow up to This Poison Heart comes out next year and so does my debut middle grade debut. The middle grade is called The Vanquishers and it’s the story of 12-year-old Malika “Boog” Wilson. It takes place in an alternative San Antonio where vampires were known to have existed but were wiped out during an event known as the Reaping by a group of masked vampire slayers called The Vanquishers. However, when Boog’s new classmate goes missing, the local community starts to think maybe a vampire is responsible. I like to describe it as Stranger Things meets Watchmen with a Buffy twist. I’m SO excited about it! 

What books/authors would you recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?

There are so many but everyone should be reading Tracy Deonn, Bethany C. Morrow, Tiffany Jackson, Claribel Ortega, Ashley Woodfolk, Leah Johnson, Roseanne A. Brown, Dhonielle Clayton, and J.Elle.

Interview with Author Tara Sim

Tara Sim is a YA fantasy author who can typically be found wandering the wilds of the Bay Area, California. She is the author of the Timekeeper trilogy, which has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and various media outlets, and the Scavenge the Stars duology. When she’s not chasing cats or lurking in bookstores, she writes books about magic, murder, and explosives. I had the opportunity to interview Tara, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you get into writing? What drew you to the Young Adult genre specifically?

My dad loved telling people about how I would dictate poems and stories to him when I was 6. I dabbled in writing random stories (especially when I learned how to type) and I loved fantasy books, which eventually led to me writing my first novel at 15 (which was very long, and very bad). Some of those first fantasy books I loved were young adult, so I’ve always had a soft spot for those types of stories.

As a Young Adult writer, how would you describe your writing process? Would you describe yourself as a pantser, a plotter, etc…?

Solidly in-between. I like to plan out the big moments in a story, such as plot twists, and let the rest come to me while drafting. That way I have somewhat of a roadmap while discovering important landmarks on the way I wouldn’t have been able to see ahead of time.

According to the fact that both your series, The Timekeeper trilogy and the Scavenge the Stars duology, are speculative fiction, you seem to be a big fan of those mediums? What draws you to fantasy/science fiction?

I was basically raised on it, though unintentionally on my parents’ part. I think Disney movies had a part to play, as well as the discovery of certain fantasy books that were popular when I was younger. By the time I was in high school I was reading thick door stopper adult fantasy books, watching anime, and playing Final Fantasy video games. There’s just something about magic and different worlds that really compels me.

As a writer you have featured both LGBT/BIPOC characters in your books, creating a diverse, fantastic world? Would you say your own experiences as a queer author of Desi descent motivated this, and have you ever incorporated your own experiences into your stories?

Absolutely. I never found myself in books growing up, and I wanted to change that for readers like myself who feel left out. I like creating safe spaces in my work (even if my characters are undoing harrowing circumstances).

What are some of the challenges of writing historical fiction, fantasy or otherwise? What are some of the joys?

The research. I never thought I’d end up writing historical fantasy as my debut, and I’ll probably never do it again, but it was as fun as it was aggravating. I could play with an alternate timeline even as my editor forced me to become BFFs with etymology and realizing a phrase I wanted to use wasn’t invented yet.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked before or wish you were asked more often?

I wish I was asked more goofy questions! I love talking about my characters and how they’d react to weird situations.

What advice would you have to give to authors, especially those struggling to finish their first stories?

I would tell them that a first draft is supposed to be bad, and you can’t make it better until you finish it. That, and to not be afraid to write what you specifically love, not what you think others will love.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

My adult fantasy debut, THE CITY OF DUSK, comes out April 2022 from Orbit! I’ll also have more YA news on the horizon.

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

I’m a big fan of GIDEON THE NINTH, WILDER GIRLS, THE LUMINOUS DEAD, and STRANGE GRACE.

Interview with Author Julia Drake

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare’s best heroines in her high school theater program, and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned. Her debut novel, The Last True Poets of the Sea, is available now. I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia, which you can read below.

First of all, when did you want to be a writer? What drew you to creative writing?

I have always written, though it wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I took my first creative writing class and started taking writing more seriously. Writing for me was always a balm, and a way of thinking, a way of slowing down and sorting out the chaos of my inner life. I have always found Joan Didion’s assertion in “Why I Write” to be relatable: “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.”

What were some of the first books you fell in love with and why? What were some of the first queer books the clicked with you?

As a child, I read and re-read Charlotte’s Web a thousand times. It’s such a beautiful story of friendship, change, and the passage of time, and I returned to it during the pandemic and found myself completely undone. When I was a little older, I loved books by Sharon Creech, especially Absolutely Normal Chaos and Mary Lou Finney’s hilarious take on the world. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of queer lit growing up, but I remember a short story called “Cowgirls & Indie Boys” by Tanuja Desai Hidier (author of Born Confused) in an anthology called Sixteen: Stories About that Sweet and Bitter Birthday. I must’ve been thirteen or so when I read it, and it was remarkable to me at the time because it was a short story that ended happily in two girls kissing, and no harm came to them. It was the first time I’d seen queer young women validated and celebrated, and I found myself so moved by it without quite being able to express why. 

Where did the inspiration for The Last True Poets of the Sea? Were there any authors or books that influenced you while writing this novel?

The original inspiration for this book was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which has long been a favorite of mine. Viola and Olivia are both such great characters, and I wanted to explore their relationship through a queer lens. I thought a lot about Sharon Creech’s books while I wrote, and how she manages to create stories that are both extraordinary and ordinary. 

So the title, why the sea? Why poetry?

The title comes from a line from Jacques Cousteau’s Diving for Sunken Treasure, a book that the character Sam adores. I don’t want to spoil the meaning, but the line felt applicable for many reasons. While the book isn’t expressly about poetry, it felt fitting to me: Violet finds herself moved by an Adrienne Rich poem and later winds up writing song lyrics; Toby, her uncle, reveals he writes poetry.   

Often for queer fiction, there’s almost this pressure to write “clean” sanitized narratives where the characters are morally unambiguous and practically perfect, and your story and characters are anything but. Was it always your intention to write this kind of messy queer character in this messy queer story?

Absolutely! Who among us is perfect? I’m extremely interested in characters that make mistakes and don’t have things figured out, because those are the only kind of people there are (especially true when writing about teenagers). At the same time, it was important to me with this book that Violet’s messiness not come from her queerness, but rather exist alongside it. She’s not messy because she’s queer, she’s messy and she’s queer. 

Mental health/illness is a strong theme within this book, and the spider-like-threads it weaves between the different characters in the book. Was this always something you wanted to cover and what would you say about the process/trials of discussing mental health in YA?

I truly did not set out to write a book about mental health – I wanted to write a whimsical book about having a good time in an aquarium! But mental illness found its way in because it’s been so much part of the fabric of my life, both in terms of my personal history and family and friends. Writing about mental health is for me, always a balance between being authentic and vulnerable, but also about not being afraid to invent and fictionalize. The trick comes in being empathic towards and honoring characters whose experience differs from your own. 

As a queer woman, would you say you have incorporating any of your own experiences/memories as a queer person navigating their identity?

I am very lucky in that Violet’s experience of being met with love and acceptance has been my experience as well. I’m very straight-passing, and I share in Violet and Liv’s discomfort when others make assumptions about their identities. Liv’s parents, for instance, suggest that both girls will eventually meet a nice man someday, and Violet finds herself thinking something along the lines of, or person, or no one at all

Aside from writing, what hobbies/interests do you enjoy exploring in your free time?

This past year, watching TV and going on masked walks were my principal interests. But I’m excited to get back into swimming this summer, and maybe even read a book or two if I can muster the focus! I also have an extremely handsome bunny who I spend a lot of time with and discourage from eating my houseplants. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers, especially those trying to finish their first books/projects?

Commit to small and consistent goals, especially when you’re starting out: thirty minutes a day, and you’ll get to the end eventually. Learn to be patient with yourself and your progress – if it takes a long time, you’re doing it right. There really is no shortcut. 

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

I wish someone would ask about the great mind behind the amazing fish puns in the book, because the majority of them come from my brother-in-law, the incomparable BJ Thompson, who also took my author’s photograph. I am forever in his debt! 

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

Yes! I’m working on a second book that will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2022. There’s a road trip in it, and a dog. 

Finally, what queer books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 
Ashley Herring Blake writes heartbreakingly beautiful, moving young adult and middle grade novels that I wish had been around when I was growing up – I would have devoured all of them! Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh was another book I really enjoyed this past year. And James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room should be required reading for everyone, everywhere.

Interview with Author Jonny Garza Villa

Jonny Garza Villa is a product of the great state of Texas, born and raised along the Gulf Coast, and a decade-long resident of San Antonio. They are an author of contemporary young adult fiction that maintains a brand of being proudly Latinx, and the most queer, and embracing the power and beauty of the chaotic gay. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is their debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview Jonny regarding their debut novel, which you can read below.

CW: Discussion of toxic relationships/parental abuse.

First of all, congratulations on your debut novel, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun. Could you tell us a little of what it’s about?

Thank you so much! I like to call Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun part of my own adolescent traumas, part Selena’s “Dreaming of You,” and part Patrón. It’s a coming of age, contemporary romance that follows Corpus Christi, Texas teen Julián (aka Jules) Luna, who’s just trying to have a lowkey senior year, hang out with his friends, get into UCLA, and finally be able to move away from all the environments that have kept him closeted his entire life. That is, until he accidentally comes out as gay on Twitter after getting tremendously drunk at a party. And in the days and weeks and months that follow, Jules will realize all the good that comes from allowing ourselves to live openly and authentically—like having a long distance Twitter crush slide into his DMs—as well as the bad, like figuring out how to come out to his extremely machista dad.

Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Were there any books/media/music that inspired you prior to or while writing it?

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun was hugely influenced by Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, as well as its film adaptation, Love, Simon. I love both of them so much, but they also left me with the question of what would Simon Spier’s journey look like if he was a Chicano kid living in a socially conservative, Mexican, Catholic household in South Texas? Because there would absolutely be drastic differences, and I felt like there needed to be something that gave queer Chicane and Mexican American youth the same chance to see ourselves as Simon did for so many.

Also, specifically with characters, On My Block had a lot of influence on a couple in particular. I like to say that Jules is very much like Ruby meets Simon Spier, and his friend Lou takes a lot of influence from Jasmine and how wildly and wonderfully chaotic she is.

How would you describe your writing process?

Constantly changing. I pantsed Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, which basically means I came into it with a very vague, basic idea of what I wanted the story to be and then just started writing it without any sort of outline. Even my second book, Ander and Santi Were Here, was largely pantsed. However, I have started embracing the idea of outlining and, I think, all of my current projects have been plotted and thought about much more intensely before just going at it. In the end, I’m a fan of both and figuring out what works best for you, whether it’s one or the other or somewhere in the middle.

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there techniques/ strategies/ advice that helped you finish your first draft?

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is the very first book I’ve ever written and only the second idea I’d ever attempted, so I definitely went into it with very little knowledge on craft or best practices. But what I think helped was that I had a deadline. I drafted it during National Novel Writing Month, so having that set, last day of November deadline to get as much of this idea out onto a page helped keep me focused.

I’m also a big advocate of things that aren’t writing but are still absolutely creative productivity. If I was having a hard time thinking of words, I’d spend the afternoon creating playlists or listening to music that felt close to the vibe I was going for in the next scene. I’d go on Pinterest and make mood boards. I’d cook. I’d think about any random situation and how these characters might react.

A significant part of the book involves exploring toxic bonds, including family ones. If you feel comfortable would you mind discussing that a little?

Yeah, of course. So, while I love writing about the cool and beautiful parts of my culture and being Chicane, I also feel compelled to write about the not so great aspects of my community and, specifically here, that meant calling out how harmful machismo philosophy is and specifically its prevalence when it comes to raising sons or AMAB children.

Also, while I get it, I’m not huge on crappy parents in YA suddenly becoming this embracing or even at least tolerant person. Like, realistically, just because we ourselves decide we’re gonna stop hating this specific part of ourself, that doesn’t mean everyone around you jointly decides they’re going to stop hating that part of you too. And I think that needs more attention. I think it’s okay to recognize those relationships that are going to always be bad for us because that then allows us to rely on those that are good for us.

What are your favorite parts of this book and of the writing process in general? What message did you want to send with Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun?

I love those specific scenes where Jules is with just one of his friends. Those times with Jordan or before Homecoming with Lou or that one scene with Rolie or in the days after his birthday with Itzel. Friendship and platonic relationships were, for me, as important as the romantic plot between Jules and Mat, and in those times of intimacy between Jules and his friends, they were and are so incredibly special and meaningful for me.

My favorite part of the writing process is revisions. That feeling of knowing I’m getting closer to what a book is supposed to be is such a driving force for me.

And the message I wanted to send with Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, specifically to anyone who knows what it is to be in Jules’ shoes, is that I hope you find love and acceptance in this story, even if it’s alone, in the quiet of your room, between just you and Jules and Mat and Jordan and Itzel and Rolie and Lou and Piña and Xochi. And that I hope you know that you are enough for this world just as you are.

Upon reading the book, the reader tends to notice a moon and sun theme coming up, especially with the lotería themed character art cards of Jules and Mat drawn by Mars Lauderbaugh? Where did that symbolism come from?

In all honesty, at first I thought it was just a very clever thing, personally. Like, oh what if there’s moon in his name and sun in his name? That would make me the greatest writer of all time. I’m obviously the first person to ever be this creative with language. But as Jules and Mat’s personalities began to really take shape and then I learned that there’s actually a trope that is literally sun type and moon type (absolutely crushing my ego and idea of originality), I ran with it and embraced it.

What’s a question that you haven’t been asked but wish you were asked (along with your answer)?

One thing I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about is Jules relationship with religion and specifically as a gay Catholic. While I’m not anymore, I was raised and was pretty devoutly Catholic, which left me with an appreciation for what it is at its best while also with the ability to be critical. From the beginning I knew that I wanted Jules to, one, not be a character who was trying to convince himself he isn’t gay but instead just a closeted gay boy waiting for his chance to not be closeted, and, two, that I didn’t want his sexuality to be a hinderance in his personal relationship with his beliefs. Originally there were at least a couple of scenes with him actually at Mass and pretty committed to practicing his faith. I wanted the God he believes in to be one that doesn’t care who Jules loves. I wanted to show the difference in those who believe religion to be a tool of love, like his Güelo, compared to those who use it to oppress, like his dad. And, ultimately, I didn’t want it to be a story of someone running away from their faith but as someone who knows he can exist as he is. That it was never God who was withholding love, but those who believe to know God best who are the ones withholding love and, in the end, we don’t need it from them.

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers? What advice might you have to give as a debut author specifically?

To aspiring writers, I would say to not listen to anyone who says you have to write every day. Write when you’re able. Write when you feel like it. Don’t push yourself. Don’t create a relationship with writing that makes it into something you force on yourself.

And to debut authors, don’t procrastinate! Got a cool preorder idea? Want to get with a local indie for a virtual thing? Get on that now; do not wait.

Are there any project ideas you are currently thinking about and are at liberty to speak about?

One project I’m currently (slowly) revising is a rivals to lovers story that centers around high school mariachi. Big ego, Leo sun main character and a love interest who will not be pushed into the background. Less coming of age feels and more strictly romance, which has been pretty cool to write, as much as writing coming of age stories is my favorite.

And I feel like I can mention these because they’ve been brought up publicly already, but I am putting some thought into what happens after the end of Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun; also, there is some pondering going on about a potential co-written YA gay cowboy story with one of my favorite people that I’m very excited about.

What books would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

For contemporary, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera; Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram; Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee; The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters; and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp.

For contemporary fantasy, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas; Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz; and The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon.

For fantasy, We Set the Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia; Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro; and Crier’s War by Nina Varela

For speculative contemporary, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante

For romance that’s not YA but still has that coming of age feel, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers