Interview with Author Preston Norton

Preston Norton is bisexual, slightly genderqueer, and married. His partner, Erin, is trying to put him on a diet, and he’s revolting (both contexts apply). He has taught seventh grade and ninth grade English, mentored drug addicts, and mowed lawns (in no particular order). He is obsessed with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Quentin Tarantino.

I had the opportunity to talk to Preston about his new book, Hopepunk, which you can read below.

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

I’m an environmental science teacher at a youth retreat facility where local private schools send their fifth graders to us for a week, and we teach them how to not fuck up the planet. (So, big Greta Thunberg fan, obviously.) When I’m not doing that, I’m writing. I’m also a nerd for lots of things: from high literature and pretentious, artsy cinema to dorky anime and video games. It’s less a question of “What am I a nerd for?” then “What am I not a nerd for?” What can I say? I like things.

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

I’ve wanted to write for about as long as I can remember. (I remember attempting to “write a novel” as early as eleven years old? I did not get far.) But the thing that draws me most to YA lit is voice, and how these young protagonists tend to feel a lot of things and very often. I am a thirty-six-year-old adult person, and it just so happens that I too feel a lot of things and very often, and I tend to get very voice-y about it. I don’t know what else to tell you other than YA lit and I tend to be a great fit together.  

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Hopepunk? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

It’s a story about rock and roll! And science fiction! And westerns! It’s also a story about social justice, and fighting for what you believe in. But at its deepest core, I think this story is about unapologetically being yourself. It’s about loving people and loving things. It’s about being a nerd, and being queer, and being a sister, and being a friend. But also punk rock! And sci-fi! And superhot cowboys, yee haw!

Hopepunk contains a strong music theme in its rocker elements. What music would you say you’ve gravitated to while writing this book and in general?

I mention a lot of songs and artists in the novel itself, and I don’t know that I would add any others to that already extensive list. But if you’re asking what I like generally, well: my favorite song of all time is “Wide Open” by Chemical Brothers, feat. Beck. My favorite artist of all time is Radiohead. (Favorites include “How to Disappear Completely,” “Reckoner,” and “Burn the Witch.”) My current passing musical obsession right now, which tends to fluctuate on a dime, is a tie between Superorganism (“Something for your M.I.N.D,” “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” and “Hello Me & You”) and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (“Catching Smoke,” “Interior People,” and “If Not Now, Then When?”) Also, while I would not consider myself the most “metal” person in the world, I do have tickets with my partner and friends to see Tool this February. It’ll be the first concert I’ve been to since Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden toured together, back when Chris Cornell was still alive, may he RIP.

With that said…I issued an unofficial “contest” of sorts in an interview I gave to BookPage, and I would like to issue that same contest/challenge here. In Hopepunk, Hope Cassidy and the Sundance Kids perform a number of songs—completely original works of my own creation. However, I really struggled to write the third and final song, and as such, sort of cheated and had to use a pre existing song as a model for writing it, from the lyrical beats and the time signature down to the tune that you do not hear but was very present in my head. The first reader who calls me out on Twitter (aka, tag me) with the song I used as a crutch, I will use your name (or a name you give me) and give it to a minor character in my next book. The contest begins NOW!

An interesting part about the book was discussing the ripple effects of homophobia, how it not only affects the queer characters in this book but also those who love them, as it does the titular protagonist who initially loses her sister because of it. Would you mind speaking about that?

I grew up in a very religious household/community, so my experiences with and proximity to homophobia has always been very close and personal. I think the homophobia that hurts the most is the kind that pretends it is not homophobia at all but rather “Christlike love.” The sort that says, “I love you, but everything about who you are is a sin and wrong.” I am not a religious person anymore, and no longer feel the need to sugarcoat how I feel about this sort of belief, which is that it is fucked up, and I fucking hate it. I truly hope Christianity as a whole learns and evolves past this primitive, hateful stance. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I drink the caffeine, and then away we gooooo!!! 

I consider myself very lucky, the writing process comes so easy and fluid to me. Not only that, but my brain often delivers a high serotonin and even dopamine-reward for my efforts, so when I’m actively writing, it is often the most enjoyable thing I do with my time. Outside of the actual writing process, however, things are tough. Selling my agent on a new book idea, for example. Selling my editor on a book idea that I finally got my agent on board with. Writing a synopsis! Fucking hell, you guys, I fucking hate writing synopses.

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

You know, as voracious of a reader as I was when I was younger, I maybe didn’t find those books as a child/teenager so much as I have found them as an adult. A little late now, but they do continue to shape me and my writing. I would argue that the most profoundly influential ones were Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Looking for Alaska, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the latter of which, I actually like the movie even more than the book, which was incredibly both written and directed by its author, Stephen Chbosky. No, I have not seen Chbosky’s newest, the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hanson. I’ve never heard the word “cringe” used so often in reviews. 

Hopepunk is defined as a subgenre of fiction that looks at dystopia and the world with an element of resistance, optimism, and well… hope. Where did you first encounter this world and why do you think you were pulled to use it as the title, if not the basis of your book?

You know, it’s funny because I did not hear about it until a book blogger on Twitter compiled a list of their top five “hopepunk” novels, and one of my previous novels, Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, made the list. Upon hearing this unfamiliar word, I sort of fell down the rabbit hole of hopepunk’s birth as a subgenre, at which point I realized that hopepunk was definitely my favorite subgenre, and I had only just learned about it! Naturally, I became obsessed, not just about the genre but what it stood for, and what it said about the times we were living in. My natural state is to start thinking about book ideas and plots without even realizing that’s what I’m doing, so the cogs were already turning at this point, and it was almost inevitable that the next book I would write would be called “Hopepunk.” The trick was selling both my agent and editor on the idea…and hey, they both loved it!

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

I am actually a very private person, so wanting people to “know things about me” is actually very low on my agenda. But with that said, I will humor you with a fun fact: I have a scar on my chin that I received from a pillow fight with my little sister that I received when she was maybe only five years old! Intrigued yet? Of course, you are. Now, I was only about six years old at the time, but the very important detail I have withheld is that she was using a couch pillow, and it had a very sharp zipper on it, and the rest is history. I’m sure my six-year-old memory is not to be trusted, but I pretty much remember blood gushing from this grievous wound like the neck stump of that guy that gets decapitated in Kill Bill.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Write! That’s it. The antithesis of writing is not writing—putting it off, waiting until we feel like we’re good enough, procrastinating. The only way that you will become good enough is by making a regular practice out of it. We often talk about people who are naturally good at things and people who become good at things because they work at it. I will be the first to tell you that I was not born a naturally good writer. That did not come to me well until my late 20s, and I had already written several bad unpublished novels leading up to that point. What I was born with was the desire to be a writer. I actually can remember few things I wanted to be as a young child more than I wanted to be an author. Being a teenage mutant ninja turtle was one of them. But even if being a ninja was an achievable goal for me, I think we can all agree that no amount of practice would ever let me become a mutant turtle. All that was left was for me to become a writer.

Just write. That’s my advice.

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

There is nothing official yet, but I have a full synopsis my agent really likes, and we’re just polishing up the sample chapters. Have I mentioned I love video games? I am particularly a fan of Life is Strange, which in my opinion is like the greatest YA novel never written, and there is an element of this story that is heavily inspired by my love of the original game.

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

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert—a very deserving Stonewall Book Award nominee. Kelly is also just the most delightful writer you will ever meet in person. I am not biased, you are!

Interview with Author Aden Polydoros

Aden Polydoros grew up in Illinois and Arizona, and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys going to antique fairs and flea markets. His debut novel, The City Beautiful, is available now. He can be found on Twitter at @AdenPolydoros.

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

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your debut book, The City Beautiful? Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you! There isn’t really much to tell. A couple years ago, I acquired my bachelor’s degree at Northern Arizona University, and ever since then, have been working toward becoming a professional author. In particular, I’m interested in writing stories with queer and Jewish protagonists, since I didn’t have that kind of representation growing up.

How would you describe The City Beautiful? And where did the title and inspiration for this book come from?

The City Beautiful is a queer gothic thriller that draws from Jewish folklore. Set during the 1893 World’s Fair, it is about 17-year-old Alter Rosen, who recently immigrated to the US from Romania, and after being possessed by his best friend’s vengeful dybbuk, is forced to embark on a quest to free himself from the ghostly possession. 

It would seem that a lot of historical research has gone into this book. How would you describe the process and how it intertwined with you writing the actual novel?

It was definitely important for me to get the research right. A lot of it was spent working on the timeline, trying to figure out how to link the different events in the story together. The story follows a very tight timeline, beginning on the Fourth of July and ending the same day as a disaster that occurred at the World’s Fair, on July 11th, so I wanted to keep as close to that timeframe as possible. 

The other research I focused on involved Jewish folklore and customs, as well as the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights. I wanted to figure out how Alter would have acted, talked, etc. during that time, considering both the era, the Jewish communities in Romania at the time, and his level of observance. 

As a queer Jewish person, I quickly want to say how grateful I am that more books like yours exist in the world. I feel like there’s often this gatekeeping or expectation about what Jewish stories can be, or are allowed to be, which usually involves a certain type of pain that you might be familiar with. Could you tell us how you felt writing this story into existence?

I’m not going to lie—this was a difficult story to write at times. I drew from some of my own experiences and feelings, so I became emotionally invested in the project. But it was so important for me to get it out there. Like you said—for me at least, it sometimes feels like there’s an expectation for Jewish stories to focus solely around the Holocaust, and to reduce the Jewish characters in those stories to passive victims. I grew up reading Holocaust stories, and more often than not, the Jewish characters weren’t even the POV characters. I wanted to change that.

What are your hopes for the future of queer/Jewish fiction?

I’m hoping that more queer and Jewish stories will be brought into the world. I already feel like there’s so many of them coming forward, and I’m so excited for what the future holds in publishing. I know that I’ll be working on more. 

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

I can’t really think of anything else. The only other interesting thing about me is my love of antiques. 

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

Probably: What other sort of media projects are you interested in working on? And to answer—I’d really love to someday write for video games or television, or do IP work.

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

I have a few books in the pipeline. My next YA, BONEWEAVER is a dark Slavic fantasy coming out in Fall 2022, while my MG debut, THE RING OF SOLOMON, comes out in winter 2023.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers, especially those looking to finish their first book?

Don’t give up. This industry can be difficult and lonely at times, but it’s important to keep going and believe in the story you’re trying to tell.

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

I’m incredibly excited for HELL FOLLOWED WITH US by Andrew Joseph White. I read an ARC of it, and it’s absolutely incredible. I also can’t wait to read FROM DUST, A FLAME by Rebecca Podos, which is a queer Jewish fantasy. 

Interview with Author Kosoko Jackson

Born and raised in the DC Metro Area, and currently living in Brooklyn, Kosoko Jackson is a digital media strategist for non-profit organizations; which enables his Twitter obsession. Occasionally, his personal essays have been featured on Medium, Thought Catalog, and The Advocate. When not searching for an extra hour in the day, he can be found obsessing over movies or drinking his (umpteenth) London Fog. He is the author of Survive the Dome and Yesterday is History.

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

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

Thank YOU for having me! I’m so excited to be here. I’m Kosoko Jackson. I’m an east coast native, author of Survive the Dome and Yesterday is History. I’m a Scorpio sun, Virgo Moon, Scorpio Rising (fun fact, I have a triple stellium). I love to write, watch far too many movies (in 2022 I’m trying to watch IMBD’s top 100 movies by the end of the year), and I love indie folk music. I say that without any shame.

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

Survive the Dome is basically Black Lives Matter meets Internment by Samira Ahmed. I came up with the book in 2020 during the George Floyd protests. I was in NYC, during the height of COVID, unable to protest with my fellow Black brothers and sisters, and I wanted to come up with a way to resist. I always have believed writing is a form of resistance, so I put my pen to paper and got started. I’m a huge science fiction nerd, and believe science fiction is the perfect grounds for dealing with complex world issues on a grand or microscopic scale. And thus, Survive the Dome was born!

What do you do to help yourself as a writer? Any tips to spark or help creativity?

Most of my books, honestly, come from movie or TV show inspirations. It can be a simple shot, one line, or something I wish the director/writer did differently and wanting to explore that. I get a lot of inspiration from music, too. I listen to soundtracks and albums when writing, and sometimes just one well played line can inspire a whole scene, or book. 

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction and speculative fiction specifically? 

I’ve always loved writing. When I was young, I used to write stories and have my parents listen to them during commercial breaks or shows. I fell in love with writing young adult fiction because, as a team, I didn’t see a lot of positive Black queer characters. When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I knew that I wanted to fix that and add to the tapestry of diverse authors who are helping to diversify our literary canon. When it comes to science fiction, I think I just started writing that because it was a lot of the entertainment that I absorbed when I was younger. Stories, books, movies, TV shows about fantastical worlds where anything was possible, but rooted in science, always interested me the most.

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on?

Personally, and I think it’s a bit of my writing crutch, I really like dialogue. I think you get the most characterization in the most understanding of the world and the internal motivations of said characters through their dialogue. How they talk, what they omit, unique ways to create differences in two different characters simply by their word choice is the most fun part for me. and I’m a big fan of banter also period there won’t be a book written by me, no matter the genre, that doesn’t have at least two or three good solid banter scenes.

Were there any stories or authors that inspired you as a writer coming into your own?

The Pendragon Series by DJ McHale. It’s an epic 10 book series that I encourage everyone reads. I ADORED it and it was probably the series that made me want to be an author. 

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

I’m obsessed with movies! Like, before the pandemic I used to see 100 movies a year in theaters. Starting in 2022, I’m going to try to get back into that, but using more streaming services to watch more movies. By the end of the year, I’m hoping to see the IMDb top 100 movies. Interview me in 2023 to see if I actually achieved it!

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

I never get asked if I could have one superpower, what would it be? And this seems like a pretty easy question, but if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m kind of obsessed with DC and Marvel Comics and I just feel like it’s such a lowball question. The non-nerdy answer would be phasing. If you’re a fan of Marvel Comics then you know of Katherine Pryde, AKA Shadowcat, and I’ve always found her ability to be the most interesting. The nerdy answer would be telepathy, with a focus on psychic surgery and skills augmentation through precise psychic manipulation.

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

I think the hardest piece of advice to follow is to understand that your writing will change. I never thought 5 years ago I’d write adult rom coms, but I’m loving this journey for me. You do not have to stay in the genre, or field, you started in, just because you think that’s right or where you belong. Allow yourself to grow. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t succeed.

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

I cannot discuss some of the cool things I’m working on YET, but I am working on my second adult rom com that I’m very excited about, and something secret!

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

I’m a big fan of anything by CL Polk, Sam Miller, Ryan La Salla! I’ve learned so much about writing from reading their work.

Interview with Author Alechia Dow

Alechia Dow is a former librarian and pastry chef living abroad with her partner in Germany. When she’s not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her daughter, baking, reading or taking teeny adventures around Europe.

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

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

Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Alechia Dow, and I’m the author of The Sound of Stars, The Kindred, Just a Pinch of Magic, a couple of short stories, and more to come. I’m also a former pastry chef, and youth services librarian. 

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

I started writing very terrible stories when I was five years-old. My teachers would write reports home that I wasn’t paying attention in school, but they liked my creativity. I wrote stories about cats in trees and one called Princess in a Jar, where a princess was––you guessed it, trapped in a jar by a wicked sorcerer, ha! Truthfully, though, it was the town library that inspired me the most. I considered the town library my home and the librarians my friends. One day I was going through their MG/YA section and I stumbled upon X-Men comics. I devoured them. I fell in love with the themes, the characters and especially the powers. From there, I read Star Wars books, R.L. Stine, anything compelling, but almost always scifi-fantasy. After baking school, I went into library science, specifically for teens. I’ve always felt that the library and books saved me and that MG/YA fiction is *the* place to inspire a lifelong love of reading. When I started writing stories again, that’s where I found my voice and where I thought I had something to contribute. And I have to say, it’s an absolute privilege to write in this age group and about children and teens. I know how impactful a good book can be at that age, and I hope, somehow, my books inspire compassion, empathy, and future writers!

How would you describe your general writing process?

Straightforward, ha! I sit down and I write. I have a clear idea of what I’m doing or what I’d like to accomplish and I do it. Also, I stay excited about my projects, I visualize them like movies. As I see particular scenes unfold, it not only helps me write them, but also get really pumped about the overall story. Basically, I get excited, I visualize, down to as many details as I can, and then I write it. Sometimes I’ll outline, but not until I’m about 3-4 chapters in. 

Where did the inspiration for your first book, The Sound of Stars come from?

The Sound of Stars was that book that just felt right to write. Out of nowhere, I was inspired by the idea of a secret, illegal library. Which got me to thinking, why is it illegal? And then it evolved over the course of a long walk into a story about a rebel librarian and an alien who loves music. This is often how my mind works, one minute I have a fragment of an idea, and the next, it’s a full-fledged plot bunny that I tend to follow on the page.

Also, as an aspec reader, I’m always grateful for more asexual/demisexual representation in books! Would you mind discussing what it was like bringing that representation to the page?

I think writing elements of my own identity is really natural, almost easy. Sharing it with the world, though, is the difficult part! It’s so important to be inclusive and to give meaningful, unharmful representation, but my brain is constantly worried that someone might read that and be upset that their experiences weren’t similar. Or it doesn’t resonate with them. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine writing another way. So to answer your question, bringing that representation to the page means the world to me and I love writing it, but I also try to be very careful and thoughtful about how I approach it.

In addition to demisexual rep, you’d mentioned in other interviews how personal your writing was to you in terms of reflecting Black and body diverse characters. Would you mind speaking a little about that?

Growing up Black and fat, there weren’t a lot of characters that looked like me, or experienced the world like I did. And some of those that did were villains, dehumanized, and hated. When I finally saw myself on the page in a non-harmful way, that was huge for me. I felt less alone. I felt seen and heard. It inspired me. Now when I write characters––most of my main characters are Black, fat, queer, brown, experience mental or chronic illness––I take a loving approach to it. I want my readers to feel proud of who they are and their bodies. I want them to see people like us being the main love interest, having adventures, saving the world, and living their best lives not despite their identity, but because of who they are.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Kindred and its inspiration?

The Kindred is a story about mind-linked grumpy duke, Felix, and commoner sunshine Joy, after they flee their home when they’re accused of murdering the royal family and crash-land on Earth. It is a love story that explores what it means to be connected when everything and everyone tries to keep you apart. I loved that aspect of Sense8; being mentally paired with someone across the world (or universe) and how this would make you feel as if you’re never truly alone. That you’re seen and loved for who you are by someone you’ve never truly met. It was a pleasure to write.  

From what I gather, food is also a big part of your books and your life as a baker. What yummy foods would you say will be featured in your writing, and what are some of your favorite things to make IRL?

Being able to combine my two careers (three?) is such a cool thing. Becoming a professional pastry chef was intense and taught me a lot about sensory details which honestly helps so much when I write about food. Whether I’m featuring a can of sweet baby carrots in The Sound of Stars or chocolate covered raisins in The Kindred, I get to have fun with how characters engage with food and describe it. In Just a Pinch of Magic, I got to include some of my favorite recipes like Should-Be-Famous Hot Chocolate and Ooo-Girl-You’re-In-Trouble Chocolate Chip Cookies! In real life, I’m always darting between the kitchen and my computer. I love making time-stealing masterpieces like baked Alaskas (making homemade ice cream is my favorite) and developing recipes for simple sweets like chocolate glazed doughnuts, apple scones, or new types of pie. It’s an absolute joy. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Keep writing, even when it’s hard. Find your people. Find CPs who understand your work, and you can trust with a piece of your heart. Find friends who you can trust with your anger and who make you feel good even when you lack self-confidence. Celebrate every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but be prepared to get it, and not in the ways you always want. Stay excited about your work. And lastly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else and JUST KEEP WRITING. Rejections will come and they’ll make you doubt yourself, your writing, and your future…but if writing makes you happy and you have a story you want to share with the world, please write it. There’s so much in the publishing industry you can’t control, but the one thing you can do is write. 

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

I think my writing tells a lot about me already, haha! Let’s see, I have a dog named Biscuit, I’m a mom to a very opinionated (the love of my life) eight-year-old, I will travel for food, and I listen to music probably as much as I write and bake!

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

Q: If The Kindred was a cookie, which one would it be? A: The Kindred is a story about love, friendship, and finding harmony. So I would say it’s a raspberry linzer cookie; the linzer dough doesn’t taste all that great on its own but paired with tart raspberry jam and sprinkled with a little cardamom & cinnamon sugar, it’s beautifully balanced. Like Joy and Felix, they go better together than apart.

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

Just a Pinch of Magic, my middle grade debut, comes out in Fall 2023. It’s a magical foodie book that is so much fun and has a big piece of my heart! I’m currently working on more YA scifi, middle grade mystery, a foodie paranormal YA, and so much more. I stay busy, lol.

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

I love Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love, MK England’s Disasters, Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Crownchasers & Thronebreakers, everything Kalynn Bayron writes, Lora Beth Johnson’s Goddess in the Machine duology, Claire Winn’s City of Shattered Light, Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King, and Adiba Jaigirdar’s collected works as well. I have so many more!! 

Interview with The Big Bath House Creators Kyo Maclear & Gracey Zhang

Kyo Maclear is a critically acclaimed author whose books have received starred reviews, appeared on numerous “Best of” lists, and been published in multiple languages around the world. One of her picture books, Virginia Wolf, has been adapted for the stage, and another, Julia, Child, is currently being adapted into an animated television series.

Gracey Zhang is a freelance illustrator and animator. She graduated with her BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her first author-illustrator picture book, Lala’s Words, will be published in 2021 by Scholastic.

I had the opportunity to interview both Kyo and Gracey which you can read below.

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

KM: Thanks so much for inviting us. I’m Kyo and I live in Toronto (Tkaranto) where I write books for big and little people, across genres. 

GZ: Hello! My name is Gracey Zhang and I’m an illustrator, originally hailing from Vancouver, Canada and am now based in New York.

How did THE BIG BATH HOUSE come to be? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

KM: The story came from childhood memories of hanging out with my Japanese family in Tokyo. There were lots of aunties, cousins and an incredibly strong and kind obachan (grandmother) whom I adored. Every visit would begin with a trip to the local sentō (bath house) where we would disrobe and catch up. I wanted to share this magical matriarchal world with kids. 

GZ: I was passed along the manuscript for THE BIG BATH HOUSE and fell in love with it immediately. My mother had spent her university and young adult life in Tokyo, Japan so she often brought me there when I was younger to revisit her friends and life there. I remember a memorable trip to a bath house with my mother, younger sister, and a family friend. It was such a nice change to openly soak in the nude without embarrassment, something that wasn’t readily available growing up in a small town in Canada.

How did you each get your start in children’s literature? Do you remember any stories that resonated with you growing up?

KM: I wrote my first kid’s story as a chapbook. It was stapled paper in an edition of 30 copies. It was called “Spork” and I created it with my partner for friends and family to celebrate the birth of our first child. Spork is a hybrid—part spoon, part fork—and imagines a multi-cutlery world. It’s a parable about the limits of categories and it eventually became a published picture book, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. So, my entry into the world of kidslit was unplanned but, looking back, it makes so much sense. I’ve always loved visual storytelling. My faves as a child included the Peanuts and the Moomin stories. I love Charles Schultz for the small but profound way he captures big existential questions. And I love Tove Jansson for her trippy world of protean creatures who are always willing to extend a welcoming hand.

GZ: I recently published my first book last summer, while working on it I also had the opportunity to illustrate the stories of so many amazing authors. It’s been exciting to see them being put out in the coming months! 

One of your previous books, the graphic novel Operatic, discusses queerness with a gentleness I really appreciated (and an element that seems to permeate throughout your work.) Could you discuss some of the inspiration and craft process behind that book?

KM: Thank you. That’s nice to hear. Operatic was sparked by my sons’ middle school music teacher. He ran the LGBTQ+ lunch club and rock band club and created a canopy for a lot of students who were coming out and/or transitioning. He also introduced my sons to a broad history of music. 

I knew I wanted opera to be a theme in this book because I think it stokes such strong reactions in people. As someone who generally tends to veer toward the spare and lo-fi, I used to find opera over-the-top. The performances seemed almost laughable, like badly acted musicals with people shouting into each others’ faces simultaneously. But my partner loves opera and over time the form’s strangeness and unlikeliness has receded. What I like about opera is how it gets to emotional essence and deep feelings as quickly as possible. Wayne Koestenbaum has been so brilliant at capturing the affinity between gay men and opera and celebrating the oversize, lavish, ‘too-muchness’ of the genre. So, anyway, opera seemed a perfect backdrop for a story set in middle school where passionate emotions are the norm, where days are mini epics. Opera is basically social realism—I mean, who at age 13 or 14 doesn’t kind of feel like dropping to one knee and announcing a crush in a yelly voice? 

The character of Maria Callas intrigued me because she did not have a conventionally beautiful voice. The Callas voice was considered too melodramatic, too imperfect, even “too manly”. She was thought to wobble on her high notes. I thought she was a great figure to think about what it means to be ‘flawed’ or ‘too much.’ I’ve always been drawn to historical figures who test boundaries and who can’t be tamed into easily acceptable categories. 

I worked with an illustrator, Byron Eggenschwiler, who did a great job translating music into a visual language. We also knew the story would not resolve in a traditional way with a couple riding off into the sunset. It ends with an ensemble of characters to celebrate the power of friendship.

Having read previous interviews, it seems like this project is personal to you both in similar ways. Mind you discussing that a bit?

KM: The story came from childhood memories but I chose to use second person narration to immediately steep the reader in the experience and, hopefully, get away from a touristy lens that might see the bathhouse as ‘other’ or ‘exotic.’ I wrote it with diasporic, immigrant, Asian communities in mind because I think a lot of kids have shared a similar experience of bonding with family despite barriers of language and distance. I also wrote it for my mum, who has been dealing with illness. 

GZ: There’s such a strong difference in the way nudity is treated in the two cultures I grew up in. I remember seeing how many Asian aunties navigated the showers at pools in Canada and how differently it contrasted with peers of mine who grew up in Canada. As a child, it was pointed out to me by a classmate who thought the openness of nudity should be something to be hidden behind changing rooms. It was an observation I hadn’t thought too deeply of at the time, especially as a teenager who kept her swimsuit on religiously while showering and changing at the pools in Canada. Though now I’m quietly delighted when I’m at the YMCA and see New Yorkers of all ages and origins walking and talking in the nude. 

When it comes to body positivity in children’s literature, it seems we’re still at an impasse in the West when books like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen keep getting banned for showcasing nudity. How did it feel touching this subject directly in your book?

KM: Sigh. I know. Why the impasse? Why this weird puritanism? I recently blurbed a graphic memoir called My Body in Pieces by Marie-Noëlle Hébert that delves into body image issues and what really struck me about it was how seldom I see work that represents different body types, let alone work that openly addresses the violence of fatphobia. 

In The Big Bath House, I didn’t set out to deliver any direct or grand message about body positivity but I realize it’s there unapologetically, particularly because of Gracey’s amazing art. I love seeing Asian bodies take up space on the page and seeing Asian women caring for each other. We live in a culture that promotes beauty dogma and body hatred from such a young age so I am always looking for ways to challenge ideas of what beauty is. I want us to embrace and show all the parts of ourselves.

GZ: One of the first questions I asked when I received the manuscript was “Can I draw the people fully nude, front and back?” It felt important to me to show the bodies without having to hide or sneak in ways of censorship. The bath house is such a place of communion and relaxation and having to cover any part of the body felt antithetical to the spirit of it.

As Geeks OUT is an LGBTQ+ website, I’d feel it be remiss not to mention that when it comes to spaces like hot springs and open baths, there’s still much anxiety for many in our community, though some spaces have been becoming better. What are your thoughts on this and how inclusive these spaces can be in general?

KM: Thank you for raising this. It’s so important! The world I wrote about in our book is an old one and it has been a while since I visited Japan. I hope that the onsen and sentō are becoming more hospitable places for LGBTQ+ visitors, especially those who identify as transgender and nonbinary. Bath houses could and should be places of healing for bodies that have borne so much, over centuries and lifetimes. (The history of backlash against queer bathhouses is a whole other issue but maybe not unrelated to the way marginalized people have been denied spaces in which to self-tend, flourish, and practice community sexual health.)

GZ: I try to show and illustrate stories based on lived experiences and memories but also worlds that I want to see and live in myself. The hope is that they give a sense of belonging to those looking for it or give a wider lens to those unfamiliar to it.

I hadn’t known of the The Rainbow Furoproject (mentioned in the second article) but was so happy to see this initiative! Unfortunately in many cases, familiarity comes before inclusion but it gives me a lot of hope that there are many putting in the work to foster safer and inclusive spaces, especially in environments like a bathhouse that are supposed to nurture and heal.

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist to translate that into art?

KM: Writing children’s books, I realize, isn’t just writing words that go with pictures on each page. I need to imagine the entirety of the book as part of the experience of the story. All of the visual elements (images, lettering, endpapers, etc.) are an important part of the narrative and I always want to leave room for the illustrator to do at least half of the telling too. This means I try to pare my words back as much as possible. Sometimes I write brief art notes but I try to do so sparingly because I don’t want to over-direct things. Part of the joy is surrendering to the collaboration.

GZ: I like to let a manuscript sit with me for a bit and let the imagery ruminate before I commit anything to paper. The sketch process changes for each project, I like to do research and find references for objects, environments, (looking up clothes from different years and eras is also a minor obsession). Certain scenes feel concrete to me as soon as they’re sketches out and some are constantly changing, though sometimes you realize that initial sketch was the one that worked the best!

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing?

KM: Leaving things unfinished so the illustrator can come in and work their magic. I like watching the chemistry that occurs when word and picture meet in unexpected ways.

GZ: Being able to create a world that exists beyond yourself, just like Sims but limitless character options.

What advice would you have for aspiring picture book creators? 

KM: What I love most about picture books are their outlaw possibilities. I think children’s publishers, or at least the ones I work with, are willing to take risks. I encourage creators to test cultural conventions, marketing expectations, literary prejudices, narrow preconceptions of form and audience. I have always been drawn to work that jumps fences and am happy when my picture books appeal to adults, too.

GZ: Create for yourself, be critical but don’t let that hold you from getting separate eyes on it. Reach out to others (publishing people are extremely nice), take some time away from the work and sometimes the blur becomes clearer when you’re a few steps back.

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

GZ: What my favorite toppings are for shaved ice in the summer! I’ve been craving it as well as warm humid summers—my favorite toppings are mung bean, chewy glutinous rice and taro balls, sweet stewed peanuts, and barley. 

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

KM: I just finished a picture book called Kumo, illustrated by Nathalie Dion, about a shy cloud who, one day, is called upon to take the main stage. I also have a picture book coming out next year about cities, both real and imagined. It’s called If You Were a City and it’s illustrated by Francesca Sanna. On the adult side, I am completing a hybrid memoir about plants and family secrets.

GZ: Something with lots and lots of yeowling, howling, furry four legged friends.

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

KM: I am a huge fan of Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu. It’s a beautiful and fierce graphic novel about an older queer Asian woman named Kumiko who is being stalked by death. Kumiko is tough and ingenious and the story moves between literary realism and poetic fabulism with hints of Miyazaki and mukashibanashi. But Hiromi makes the story entirely her own. It’s so, so good. And it’s a portrait of aging I’ve seldom, if ever, seen.

GZ: My choice of literature has been a little all over the place as of late, I recently read Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi that I never wanted to end. All of Taro Yashima’s picture books are beautiful and I’ve been attempting to collect them all. I’ve also been finding solace from the cold in a lot of YA romance fiction. Penelope Douglas has been sustaining me and a few friends for the past few months.

Interview with YA Author Kate Pentecost

Kate Pentecost is from the forest on the Texas/Louisiana border. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children &Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of Elysium Girls (2020,) and the forthcoming YA dark fantasy romance That Dark Infinity.

She loves tea and flowers and ghosts, and she is obsessed with the Romantic Poets. She lives in Houston with her dog, Stevie Nyx. 

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

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, That Dark Infinity?

Hi! Thank you for having me! I’m a writer and former teacher. I live in Houston, I have a dog named Stevie Nyx, and I love history, creepy stuff, coffee, and flowers. I identify as bisexual and genderqueer and use she/they pronouns. 

That Dark Infinity is a dark fantasy/slowburn romance that focuses on healing from both physical and emotional wounds. It follows the Ankou, a mercenary cursed with a cycle of death and resurrection, and Flora, a handmaiden from a destroyed nation who is her nation’s only known survivor. They both are looking for something that seems almost impossible to find. Flora is looking for the princess she loved and nearly died trying to protect, and the Ankou is searching for a way to finally die permanently. Together they travel to the fabled City of Fates where only one of them can receive their deepest, most impossible wish.

Where did the inspiration for The Dark Infinity come from? Did you draw on any outside sources for inspiration or influence? 

I actually wrote the first version of this book when I was twelve. At the time it was very light-hearted, set in Ireland, and had a Terry Pratchett sort of vibe. Then the book grew with me. When I experienced the deaths of my grandparents and, shortly after that, a sexual assault, the book grew darker. The Ankou got his curse, Flora shared my experience, and I learned to heal with the characters as I wrote it.

What inspired you to get into writing, especially YA fantasy? Were there any writers or books that made you think “I want to do this, too someday”?

I grew up in a family of teachers and was constantly surrounded by children’s books, and when my teachers encouraged me to write, it fell into place naturally. I preferred YA because I tend to write longer works with older protagonists, but I’d love to write middle grade too. My main inspiration when I was younger was Bruce Coville, who actually wrote to me and gave me advice when I was a young fan trying to be an author too. We’ve reconnected, and it’s really awesome that I can call him a peer now.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing?

When I think of writing I really enjoy it. I love writing that is very atmospheric and really gives you not only a sense of place and time, but a feeling of being immersed in the world. Atmosphere was incredibly important to me as I wrote That Dark Infinity. I wanted it to feel lush and dark and slightly sad. I always say I wanted it to feel like you were reading a Hozier song. I hope I accomplished it at least partially.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer website, could you talk a bit about the queer representation/themes we can see in the book?

Flora, like myself, is bisexual. Flora’s country, Kaer-Ise is a place where religion and virginity are important to their culture, but I wanted to create a place that had those elements but didn’t include homophobia. So a range of sexualities are very normal in Kaer-Ise. In the book, she loves the princess, her best (straight) friend. This also mirrors my own life, as I grew up understanding that my feelings for my childhood best friend were not straight feelings. Flora gradually falls in love with the Ankou, who is understanding of her bisexuality, as my cis-male partner is understanding of mine. 

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

Do as much research as you can about the industry because most creative writing programs focus on craft and don’t include much about the business of publishing. Also, prepare to have a lucrative day job that you enjoy in addition to writing because the way advances are paid (even large ones) necessitate a side hustle at the very least. You’re not less of a writer if you can’t write full time. Most of us don’t!

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

Q) Why do most of your books feature inter-dimensional travel, an illness, someone mentally or physically decaying, and a mysterious female god who is present but never communicates? 

A) I don’t know, but I’m going to talk to my therapist about it because that’s weird. 

OR 

Q) What details or Easter Eggs did you include in That Dark Infinity?

A) References to Beowulf, the Gardens of Babylon, the Hoia Baciu forest, mellification of corpses, Breton folklore including the Ankou, the City of Ys, and the Bugul Noz, Nikola Tesla, particular poems by Edgar Allan Poe, the quests of Heracles, Mesopotamian gods, and, of course, the Bible.

In addition to being a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

Soon I’m going to begin my Master’s in Thanatology, the study of death and grieving. I’ve always been drawn to death as a subject. This book and the things I processed during its writing have equipped me, I think, to be an effective grief counselor, and I want to explore that in the future.

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

Yes, but not that I can talk about yet! 

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

Anything by A.R. Capetta and/or Cory McCarthy, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Interview with Author Abigail Hilton

Abigail Hilton finished her first novel when she was fifteen and never stopped writing. She has a science background and a day job in healthcare.

She frequently travels for work, but comes home to the Pacific Northwest, where two elderly tabbies and two Japanese bobtail cats maintain her home in perfect condition. (Haha, j/k; they try to wreck it.)

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

Hi, fellow Geeks! Thanks for having me. “Novelist” has been near the top of my personal identifiers since I was young. I’ve worked hard to build a life with books at the center. I started podcasting my novels back in 2008. I narrated the books myself at first, then moved on to elaborate fullcast productions, all of it “for the love.” Around 2011, Kindle upended things in the publishing world. I discovered that people would pay for my books, which made it easier to justify the massive amounts of time I was spending on them. I moved into ebooks and paper, then into more professional audio. Along the way, I’ve dabbled in all kinds of commissioned illustrations, promotional art, and comics.

My Abigail Hilton books all feature non-human characters. I love the biological sciences and xenofiction. However, I finally realized that most humans would rather read about other humans. I launched my A. H. Lee pen name in 2017, partially to publish steamier titles, but also to see whether I was right there being a larger audience for human characters. Sure enough, that pen name did really well. I still write under both names, though, and I publish everything from children’s books to adult romances. All of my books are some flavor of fantasy, and I gravitate to high fantasy/epic fantasy. Queer characters have been showing up in my stories since that very first novel.

Congratulations on your upcoming series release, Pirates of Wefrivain! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the books came from?

Pirates of Wefrivain is a redemption story about a couple of dudes who realize they were working for the evil empire and try to switch sides. They fall in love and fight dragons. That’s the first 2 books. Then it opens out into a broader epic, following some of their friends and enemies through war, nautical adventures, and airship battles. All the plot-lines converge in the final book. This series goes to some very dark places (all the trigger warnings), but I promise I am not a nihilist, and you’ll get a happy ending if you stick with me.

Unfortunately, Pirates has a confusing publishing history. The first book was published in 2010. It was originally published as two separate, interlocking series, and the tale spills over into a couple dozen short stories, which were originally published separately and on Patreon. With the publication of the last book, I have repackaged everything into 5 volumes and put it all under the Pirates of Wefrivain series title. New readers can skip all the confusion.

You asked where the idea came from. No clue. The Elder Gods. Lord Frith. Somewhere beyond the Ninth Gate. Sorry, ideas are mysterious and complicated, and I’ve been writing this series for over a decade. This was my second series set in the world of Panamindorah, so it’s not like the world itself was new to me.

What can you tell us about your most popular series, The Knight and the Necromancer? Where did the inspiration for these books come from?

This one is a little easier, because The Knight and the Necromancer (K&N) was fully planned and completed before anything was released. (I had a lot more publishing experience by then.) K&N did not develop organically over many years like Pirates. K&N occurs in my Shattered Sea universe, which I had already fleshed out in The Incubus series. In that way, I guess it is like Pirates. It’s the second series I wrote in an already-established universe.

The Knight and the Necromancer is about the titular characters, who meet under false pretenses, find that they like each other, and then learn that they are natural enemies. Then they have to solve a problem together. This is a well-trod setup, but it’s one that I particularly enjoy, and I had a lot of fun coming up with all the necromancy magic.

The world was influenced by Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books, all things D&D, a little HP Lovecraft, Jonathan Stroud’s massively underrated Bartimaeus trilogy, and many things I’m probably forgetting. Also, don’t judge me, but James Harriot (I mean, for the farms and farmers and livestock-related plot points). The character dynamics were influenced by C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince, KJ Charles’s entire catalogue, probably a bit by T. Kingfisher, and perhaps even Terry Pratchett. 

As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy, especially epics?

This is another of those “where do the ideas come from” questions. I write the kind of stuff I like to read. I feel like there isn’t nearly enough gritty epic fantasy with queer characters who are allowed to have happy endings.

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

I most enjoy writing gay and bisexual men. Most of my books include at least one gay or bisexual male couple, frequently (though not always) in the lead. But I also like variety. There’s a trans man who is a stealth favorite in K&N. My Hunters Unlucky xenofiction epic includes a lesbian couple, as well as many gender-bending species. There’s an MFF triad in my Pirates of Wefrivain series, in which one of the ladies is on the ace spectrum. I like writing polyamory, although I’ve come to realize that the market for it is limited, so I feel pressured to write about monogamous couples. But my Incubus Series is unapologetic MMF.

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

Write something before bed. Even if it’s just 200 words. If you go to sleep thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it. Sometimes you solve a problem in your dreams.

As an author, what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Nothing will ever be as fun as writing the novel and sharing it with your friends. Making money, being approached by publishers, seeing positive reviews – all that stuff is nice, and you think it will make you happy, but that happiness lasts, like, 5 minutes. Writing the book is the fun part – that state of creative fugue, where it feels like you’re taking dictation. Second most fun is sharing it. Receiving related artwork comes in as a close third, whether it’s art you commissioned or fan art. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do the fun stuff.

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

I wish I’d known that I would eventually “make it” in the sense that I have an audience and make a living wage. I spent a lot of time worrying about failure in my teens and twenties. I’m not usually a jealous person, but I felt insanely jealous of traditionally published novelists back then. It turns out, I was already doing the fun stuff! And I would eventually get paid for it, so I needed to just cool my jets.

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

I’m currently writing some follow-on novels to my Hunters Unlucky series. That’s one of those not-at-all-commercial projects, haha. But they have been insanely fun to write, and a small group of (the coolest) people are excited about them along with me.

The next thing I’m planning to write that I think a large number of people might want to read is a new series that I’ve been calling the Sleipner-verse. This is a new setting, where sailors hunt Lovecraftian monsters for their magic, chasing them through multiple universes in world-hopping ships. The story is about a young man from a wealthy, magic-wielding family, who befriends a lower-deck sailor from one of the slipper ships. They proceed to get into all kinds of trouble. 

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

Entertaining my cats, growing carnivorous plants, reading (of course), hiking in out-of-the-way places, and using my passport as often as possible.

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

What formats are my books available in?

ebook, paper, and audio. You can get most of my audiobooks in many places besides Audible. You can buy them directly from me on my website, which is generally the cheapest way (coincidentally, I also get paid the most). You can also get them on some library platforms.

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

My first experience of gay fiction was Marry Renault. I still return to her work sometimes. She probably seems stilted to a modern audience, but the language is so beautiful, and she can get a sentence wound so tightly that it twangs. Her Alexander books, including the non-fiction biography, absolutely broke my heart. Scenes and lines from those books stick in my head to this day.

I really like KJ Charles. She’s most known for her historicals and her historical urban fantasy. However, my favorite book of hers is neither. It’s The Henchmen of Zenda, which is a queering of the classic Prisoner of Zenda. The book is full of quote-able lines and genuine wisdom. I rarely see anyone recommend it – an under-rated bit of her work.

I’m sure everyone reading this already has an opinion about C.S. Pacat, so let me pitch something of hers that you might not have read. Her short story, “Pet,” is maybe my favorite thing she’s written. It’s set in the Captive Prince universe, but stands on its own, and you can tell that she’s bringing everything she learned from writing CP to the table. It’s deft and understated, gentler than CP, but still has some teeth.

Interview with Nina Moreno and Courtney Lovett

Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick. Her second YA novel, Our Way Back to Always, was published by LBYR in Fall 2021.

Courtney Lovett received her BFA in Visual Arts and Animation from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She works in different mediums and artistic disciplines, including illustration, character design, and animation. As a Black American and a native of the DC, Maryland, Virginia area, her work reflects her heritage and upbringing, which adds to today’s cultural shift of creating diverse and relatable stories from perspectives that are often underrepresented or misrepresented in art and media.

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

NM: Thank you! I’m a Florida girl who was born in Miami but moved to a small town outside of Atlanta after Hurricane Andrew. I returned to my home state and attended the University of Florida (go Gators!) where a class about kid lit reminded me how much I used to love reading and got me back to writing.

CL: Thank you, I’m honored. I am from the DMV, born and raised in Maryland, where I currently live. I specialize in illustration and character design, but I am passionate about all things storytelling. I love reading it, watching it, analyzing, and discussing it. Switching off that part of my brain can be difficult, sometimes to the annoyance of my family whenever we’re watching movies and tv (haha). My family is my biggest inspiration for my work and beyond. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the outpouring of love and support from them and the community that raised me. I’m also passionate about kids and education, so when I’m not creating stories, I teach digital art at a local art studio.

Where did the impetus to create Join the Club, Maggie Diaz come from? How did you both come to work with each other on this project?

NM: The initial spark actually came from my editor, the incredibly funny and fellow Florida kid, Shelly Romero. As someone who was working on YA novels, I hadn’t planned to write a middle grade story yet, but Shelly came to me with an idea and my imagination just took off. I love writing about friends, families, and communities and fell in love with writing MG. And when Shelly and the team showed me Courtney’s illustrations, the entire project came alive in this really exciting way. Courtney’s work is amazing and she brought so much to the story and characters. It’s a total dream team. 

CL: I was excited to work with Scholastic since their imprint was on so many books of my childhood. When I read Nina’s writing, I fell in love with the project. I saw so much of myself in Maggie and her journey, and she’s so funny! The grounded story combined with the laugh-out-loud scenarios fed into my inspiration. It was also enlightening for me as a Black woman to learn more about Cuban American culture. Representation and diverse stories are important to me, so any project that reflects that, I’m all in.

Photo by Craig Hanson

Do you remember any books or authors/artists growing you that touched you or you felt reflected in your identities in any way?

NM: I loved going to thrift stores with my mom when I was younger and searching the shelves of used books. That’s where I found all of my books as a kid, and so discovering Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban on one of those shelves was a really big deal to me. The title alone was a thrill. I loved reading and tended to secretly imagine some mentioned brunette was Latina like me, but that was the first time I realized a story could be so specific to me and my family’s experience.

CL: Hmm, it’s difficult to say because growing up I wasn’t exposed to many books that reflected my identity as a Black girl. The only one I can think of was the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake I read in fourth grade. It was the first time I read a story that reflected my experience and had characters that behaved and spoke as I did. There weren’t many protagonists that looked like me, but interestingly it wasn’t something I was fully aware of. In the same way I related to Maggie, I latched on to the characters’ personalities and journeys. Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors growing up because her stories had some of the most relatable characters I ever read. The lack of representation wasn’t something I paid attention to until I started comparing it to what I saw on television. I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s watching many sitcoms where Black people were at the center. One of my all-time favorite shows that inspires me to this day is The Proud Family because it combines two things I’m passionate about – animation and representation. I was not seeing that reflected in children’s publishing. Now the landscape has changed and there is a push for representation from all walks of life. I believe both are necessary. Kids should see themselves as heroes of their own stories, but they can also engage with stories where they are not at the center. Everyone gets a seat at the table, where we all can acknowledge our similarities as well as celebrate our differences, where all of us are seen. To me, that is what it means to be inclusive.

What do you think pushed you toward going on the paths you went?

NM: It took me a while to realize that writing and publishing was even a possibility. I loved books, sure, but to become a professional writer? That meant being able to afford going to some fancy college for a hundred degrees or becoming a journalist. It meant having connections or being brilliant and I was not that shiny of a student. But then I rediscovered my love for reading and writing after college. I remembered what it was to be a voracious reader and I had so many story ideas that I knew I had to try. So, I went to the bookstore and bought this huge book about queries and it had all these literary agents listed in it. And then I got to work.

CL: I always knew I wanted art to be my career choice. I didn’t, however, foresee how much the dream would change. At first, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, then I wanted to be a comic artist, then I wanted to be a cartoonist, an animator, a writer, a teacher. After I earned my degree, I dabbled in freelance, where I tried anything and everything that would land me more work. My current path in publishing started in 2019 when a client I personally knew approached me to illustrate her picture book. I realized through that experience and my time in undergrad that what I was truly passionate about wasn’t simply the art or being an artist. When I think about all the dreams I had, there is but one through line – storytelling. Once the book was self-published nine months later, that same year I signed with my agent and began my career as an illustrator. The amazing irony of where I am now is that publishing allows me opportunities to live in nearly every dream I named earlier. I’m an illustrator, a cartoonist, I create short comics, I dip into writing, and outside all of that I am a teacher. It’s crazy to think about all these pivots when my career has only begun. The path of a creator is beautiful and unpredictable in that way.

Your first book, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, is a lovely YA novel reflecting grief, magical realism, and Cuban identity. Where did the inspiration for this book come from and what was it like writing it?

NM: I wrote Don’t Date Rosa Santos while I was on submission with my first book that never sold. I was feeling burnt out and anxious over whether this whole writing thing was going to work out. Instead of worrying about that book, I started to write something new that was bursting with stuff I loved. I wanted something where a girl like me could live in a cute, seaside town and not have to sacrifice any parts of herself or her culture to be the main character. I love Rosa so much because writing her book reminded me why I love doing this and that there’s always another story around the corner.

Photo by Jacadra Young

As a writer, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

NM: The blank page can be as intimidating as everyone says it is. There’s such a thrill to coming up with a new story and getting lost in daydreams about it, but then you have to somehow get what’s in your head onto the page and when it’s not clicking or working, it can be really tough to keep writing. But that’s why, for me, I love editing and revising so much. It’s the promise of making it better and knowing you’ll be able to step back later and see the bigger picture. If I can just get those first words down, I know that I can fix it in edits and get the story to that place I imagined or somewhere even better.

As an illustrator, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

CL: The most difficult part of the process is the beginning. A blank canvas can be intimidating. How I learned to work through the fear is to get inspired – an engaging book, a fun movie, browsing artwork from my favorite artists, sometimes a walk – and then come back to the blank canvas with a much more relaxed mindset. The best part of creating is to witness an idea evolve into a completely different result from what I initially envisioned in my head. I find, more often than not, allowing myself to play and be fluid in my process lends itself to better results.

Could you describe your artistic background in some detail, like how did you get into art and what your art education was like?

CL: Since I was very young, I was captivated by the cartoons I used to watch with my siblings. Actually, the reason I started drawing in the first place was that my elder sister did it, first. Like any little sister, I wanted to try all the cool things my siblings did (haha). From that point, I couldn’t put down my pencil. I kept drawing and eventually caught the eye of my second grade art teacher. She invited me to enroll in her art program More Than Conquerors (MTC) Art Studios, where I trained over ten years in the foundations of visual art. Once I graduated from that program, I attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where I earned my BFA in Visual Arts and Animation. I’m so grateful for the solid foundation I received at MTC, which prepared me for any challenge I met in undergrad. I credit my training there for my ability to adapt to different art styles and mediums.

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

NM: I live for the moments when I’m able to capture a feeling or idea. When the words click together in a satisfying sentence that says exactly what I hoped it would. I’m a pretty big outliner and like to work on story beats when I’m daydreaming the story. It feels a little like detective work figuring out what might happen next and it helps me stay engaged and in love with the idea. I’m at my best when I’m obsessed with something, so I love losing myself to a story idea and finding my way around it. And with those beats and outline I feel more confident when it’s time to finally face the blank page.

CL: Much like my body of work, my process can be quite eclectic and my style varies from project to project. For Maggie Diaz, specifically, I was heavily inspired by Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Where my approach deviated from Jeff Kinney’s brilliant style was the amount of detail I included in each spot illustration. My goal was to capture the warm setting of Miami in the environments and the richness of the Cuban American culture in the characters’ features, the hair (my personal favorite part), the details in the food, and so much more. That is what I love about illustration – the opportunity to explore settings and cultures outside my everyday experiences.

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

NM: I’ve never been asked this! I love getting to talk craft and inspiration. Writing stories so closely linked to my identity is a gift that I don’t take lightly, but sometimes it can feel like I get put into the Latinx box and left there until our heritage month rolls around. But getting interviewed about this book has been really fun because I get to talk so much about comedy and humor now too. 

CL: What motivates you to create stories? Kids. Whenever I’m making a decision on any project, young people are always at the forefront of my mind. It was the stories I read and watched as a child that inspired me to become an artist. At the very least, I want to bring joy to young lives. Beyond that, I want to help bring out that same spark in another child and encourage them to use their voice and tell their story no matter who they are and where they come from.

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

NM: Remember to stop and fill the creative well with the books, art, and media that inspires you and gets you excited to create. Turning something we love into a job can be tough as the work and all the deadlines hit, so it’s important to rest and hydrate and remember.

CL: Harkening back to my previous answer – allow the dream to change. Have a goal, yes, but do not be so rigid as to limit your options. Explore. Play. Try everything. You never know what skill or insight you will acquire from trying different art forms, or even things unrelated to art. One of my course requirements in undergrad was screenwriting, which I initially had little interest in. It ended up being my favorite class and broadened my interests beyond illustration and animation to writing and directing. You might think because of what I do that my biggest inspirations are other illustrators and cartoonists, when in fact, I am most inspired by performing artists – singers, dancers, actors, musicians, and theater performers. The best advice I can give is to never stop learning and to expose yourself to a wide range of influences.

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

NM: I am working on something and because this is publishing, of course I’m not able to discuss it yet. Ha! But I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to share!

CL: Yes! I recently signed on to a 4-book deal with Scholastic. It is an early chapter book series Disaster Squad written by educator and STEAM expert Rekha S. Rajan. Each book follows a family that travels the U.S. as first responders to natural disasters. The first book will be released in fall 2023.

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

NM: I love Mark Oshiro’s books so much and their latest is a fantastic middle grade debut called The Insiders that is so full of heart, some magic, and is all about honoring ourselves. And This is Our Rainbow just released and is the first LGBTQA+ anthology for middle graders with a wide range of stories and amazing authors! 

CL: Oh, good question. I recently read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera, and I could not put the book down. It’s beautiful, it’s emotional, and relatable for any young person simply trying to navigate life. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel Here’s To Us.

Interview with Illustrator Eleanor Crewes

Eleanor Crewes is a London based illustrator, she graduated from Illustration at UAL in 2016. Her debut graphic novel The Times I Knew I Was Gay was released in April 2018 and has already taken her to exhibit at Toronto Comic Arts Festival and receive review from websites like The Quietus and Broken Frontier. She specialises in graphic storytelling and enjoys mixing autobiography into her projects wherever she can. 

I have the opportunity to interview Eleanor, which you can read below.

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

Hey, thanks for having me! I’m Eleanor Crewes. I live in London with my partner and I draw graphic novels!

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What draws you in about this medium of storytelling?

I was introduced to comics by my Dad, he’d always get me single issues like Mary Jane Loves Spiderman and graphic novels like Courtney Crumrin and The Night Things. I’d enjoy reading them, but mostly I liked copying the characters into my own comic books. It was fun to reimagine the stories from my own perspective. I’d pick characters that I felt represented me and my friends, and draw them in scenarios that were exciting to me—most of the time this was just ripping off the original comic, but it made it feel like it was mine. What I enjoy about making comics hasn’t changed much since then, although all the material I write is now officially my own, not stolen!

Who would you say are some of your artistic influences? Are there any artists or books you look to for inspiration?

When I went to Art School my attention moved completely away from comics for about four years, and I spent most of that time pouring over children’s picture books instead. This now means that my illustration inspirations are a happy muddle, so what I look to depends on the project I have on at the time. That being said, the artists I will always love are Matt Rockefeller, Carson Ellis, Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky and Isabelle Arsenault. 

Your first book, The Times I Knew I Was Gay, is a graphic memoir of your evolution as a gay person, and discovering your queer identity. How did it feel translating your memories onto the page? 

The first book that really inspired me to make my own work was Vanessa Davis’ Make Me a Woman. I read this just after coming out and although it didn’t follow the same narrative, I felt comforted reading about Venessa’s sloppy teenage kisses, and connected with her experiences of not feeling totally sure in your own body. The Times I Knew I Was Gay started as tiny drawings I made on scrap that explored me in different scenarios saying “I’m so gay!”  Making them gave me a route to consider all the times I maybe could have know that I was gay, and that led me to asking myself: ‘why didn’t you know?’ — and that felt like something I really needed to explore. I really enjoyed making The Times I Knew I Was Gay, especially once I was working with my my editors. I was surprised by how many more memories came up for me, but I’d already had such a warm and kind response to the indie publication (in 2018),  that it made me want to give back to the readers who had already supported the story. 

Was there anything you wished you had included in the book that you didn’t get a chance to?

When I was working on the first chapter of The Times I Knew I Was Gay I got to draw lots of memories from my early childhood, particularly a section about how my Dad would take me to Camden market to buy cool T-shirt’s from the stands that were run by punks with Mohawks and the biggest platform boots you’d ever see. When I completed the first full re-drafting of The Times I Knew I Was Gay it was over 400 pages and we had to cut at least 100 of those out. I always liked how warm and gentle a lot of those drawings were.

A large part of The Times I Knew I Was Gay includes an experience I’m sure is familiar to many queer people, such as fighting heteronormativty in order to discover and accept one’s queerness. Would you mind expanding on that a bit here?

I think this fight is a big part of my long experience of coming out. As I detail in the book, I tried and tried again to fancy boys and to dress a certain way. I really wanted to want these things, but in the end I couldn’t. It’s funny, because heteronormativity is the pressure that I would have been feeling, but at the time that’s not the word I would have used for that massive struggle. I would have seen it as ‘growing up’ or ‘being a girl’ or ‘teenage angst’. Which is also why heteronormativity is not just a trap or a fight for queer people, but for everyone. Heteronormativity is a vicious system that tries to trap all of us! I just feel lucky that I could keep on fighting.

What are some of your favorite parts of making comics and the creative writing process?

I used to be really averse to colour, but since pushing my visual style I am now a true fan of colouring in! Once I’ve drawn out all of the lines and markers, I put on my audiobook and can colour in for hours, that’s a real happy place. 

What advice might you give to those hoping to make comics?

Don’t give yourself too many hard and fast rules. The Times I Knew I Was Gay started out as a zine that I hand stitched and delivered to shops by bike, and the style of the book—no panels, black and white illustrations and very few speech bubbles—has not changed!

Aside from comics, what would you say are some of your other hobbies and interests?

Cooking! I love to cook, my mother’s family are Italian and she’s definitely passed down the food bug to me and my brother. 

Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, Lilla the Accidental Witch? You mentioned in the book, that the story is personal, not only for its queer themes, but for being inspired by your family background? Could you discuss your familial connection and your inspiration?

When I was little I would spend every summer staying with my family in Italy. Everything about these memories of the four, uninterrupted weeks out in the hills with my Aunt is so idyllic. Most days were spent playing Playstation with  my brother and cousin for hours; but it was also magical because of the conversations I’d have with my Aunt. She’d read to me from her childhood book of ghost stories, on long drives she’d tell me about the local ghosts and witches, and out in the fields she’d help me collect wild herbs and flowers that I’d later turn into spells. With all those stories washing around my head, looking out at the vast landscape and traipsing through woodland—the house is so high up you can watch the weather change in the next town over, before it reaches you—I’d say it would be hard not to be inspired. Once I’d written The Times I Knew I Was Gay I knew I wanted to move into fiction, and the pleasure I found in drawing those scenes from my early childhood (the ones that didn’t make it into the finished book), crept over into Lilla the Accidental Witch. When I first pitched the story, I said: “This is the coming out I wish I’d had, when I was small I knew I was different, but I thought that difference was being a witch.”

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

I’d have to say ‘how did you find your drawing style?’ And the answer to that is – by coming out! It’s probably a big cliche, but before I was out of my tightly locked closet I would jump between as many artistic styles as I did fashion trends. I really didn’t know what I liked or how to find it, and I’d go from creating photo realistic portraits (or as good as) to block printing abstract shapes overnight. Once I came out it was like I’d taken the longest, hottest bath of my life and had finally relaxed. That relaxation also affected my drawing, my style became looser and my idea of what I wanted also changed. I stopped being so hard on myself and cultivated what I was actually good at.

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

At the moment I’m continuing to flex my fantasy muscles, but I’m going right back to what I’ve always loved, and that’s ghost stories. I’m working on a collection of short stories in graphic format. My aim is to combine what I admire about the old masters (M.R. James, Edith Wharton) and combine that visually with my own illustrative style. I’m enjoying making this new work so much. 

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

So many! Recently I finished The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, but I also loved In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. There’s the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s SKIM which is one of my favourites, as is Jen Wang’s The Prince and The Dressmaker. At the moment I’ve been listening to Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth while I work and it’s more than I could have asked for from a book!

Interview with Author Katherine Battersby

Feature Photo Credit To John W. MacDonald

Katherine Battersby is a fan girl of comics, ice cream, tea and travel. In her spare time she is the president of the Cranky Club and can be found grumbling about bananas, loud music and exclamation marks. She is also the critically acclaimed author and illustrator of eleven picture books and one chapter book, including Cranky Chicken, Trouble and the popular Squish Rabbit series, which have been published around the world. Her books have been reviewed in The New York Times, have received starred Kirkus reviews and have been shortlisted for numerous awards. She is regularly booked to speak in schools, libraries and at festivals and she is a passionate advocate for literacy and the arts.

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

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

Hi – thanks for hosting me on your gorgeous, queer, colourful blog! I am a fangirl of comic books, ice cream, mischief, tea and travel. I am also the author and illustrator of a whole bunch of quirky picture books, like TROUBLE and PERFECT PIGEONS, and I also now get to make my very own comic books (CRANKY CHICKEN is my first!). I grew up by the beach in Australia and now live by the mountains in Canada. I can be found most days either making books, reading books or sharing books with my three year old (and occasionally even my dog).

How would you describe your latest book, Cranky Chicken? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

CRANKY CHICKEN is a humorous comic book / graphic novel about a very cranky chicken who accidentally saves the life of a super excitable worm. Worm decides they are going to be BFFs – Best Feathered Friends. The book follows their quirky and unlikely friendship across three mini stories.

As for where the idea came from, well … would you believe I’m scared of chickens? Because all chickens are cranky chickens (I was chased by a lot of chickens in my youth). Then one day, during one of my author school visits, I met this tiny girl who was a huge fan of chickens. She told me, “They’re not scary – they’re hilarious!” I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I decided to spend some more time drawing chickens. CRANKY CHICKEN is what emerged. It turns out we were both right – chickens are cranky and hilarious.

The story itself is inspired by the mischief my best friend and I used to get up to as kids. She was an extrovert who was an only child, so she was always turning up on my doorstep just like Worm – full of excitement and ready to play. Whereas I was an introvert who was part of a big blended family. I never had any time to myself, so I could be a bit of a cranky chicken. Even now we often laugh at how different and yet similar we are. Chicken and Worm are a lot like that, too.

Reading Cranky Chicken, I loved the relationship between the two different personalities, Chicken and Worm. What was it like writing their relationship together?

Chicken was the first character who turned up in my brain and she burst onto the page with that unwavering unibrow. It was clear right from the beginning that she was going to be spectacularly cranky. But she only truly became alive to me when she met Worm. I always find characters most intriguing when you see them in contrast with someone else. When they have someone to react to and bounce off of. So as soon as the two were together on the page, I got a pretty immediate sense of who they were and how, despite their differences (and possibly because of them) they are perfect for each other. I love mismatched friendship tales – maybe because I feel like all my friendships are slightly mismatched. Maybe that’s what friendship is? With my very closest friends I share deep core principles, but there is always so much about us that is different, too (and often quite opposite!). It’s these differences that allow us to challenge each other and provide alternate perspectives and allows for great conversations. Chicken and Worm are just like this, and they are always learning together. These characters are so vivid to me they almost write themselves. They are such a joy to work with.

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on?

I do love the craft of writing and illustration. All the little decisions and ideas and skills and thoughts that add up to make the magic that is a book. I love talking about it, learning it, teaching it, practising it. I love it all! I think my favourite might be whatever I feel my current weakness is, because I do love a good challenge. Before writing CRANKY CHICKEN, my weakness was dialogue. As soon as I admitted this to myself, my brain threw me the idea for CRANKY CHICKEN. My brain is cheeky like that – of course it went and threw me a dialogue only concept when I felt that was my weakness. So I studied and learned and challenged myself to be better, and I hope I did Chicken and Worm proud!

Could you describe your illustration background in some detail? Like how you got into art and what your art education was like?

As a kid, I always turned to drawing when I was moved by something. It was my way of trying to make sense of a complex world. I loved art all through school and was always known as ‘the girl who draws’. That said, drawing never came as naturally to me as writing. I felt like I could call myself a writer but I was never quite as confident in my art. So when it came to university and deciding what I was going to do with my life, I was too scared to follow my secret goals as an artist and chose something else.

I studied occupational therapy, having always been drawn to working with people (specifically children), and went on to specialise as a paediatric counsellor. I worked in this field for about ten years and I can see now, looking back, that I was kind of becoming a specialist in the hearts and minds of children (something that is really useful now that I make books for kids!). At some point I realised working as an OT wasn’t fulfilling me in quite the way I’d hoped and I turned back to art in my spare time. A friend pointed out that all the art I was making (and the stories I was writing) was clearly for children’s books, which was news to me. Once this was said out loud it was like a door opened up inside me that I didn’t even know was there and very quickly I realised that this was my calling. 

After that I did everything I could to make it a reality. I read everything about becoming a children’s book author / illustrator I could find online, attended workshops, wrote and wrote and wrote and drew until my hand was sore. At some point I realised that I needed some formal education in the arts if I was going to break into illustration professionally. There were no illustration degrees where I was living at the time, but there was a great Arts School and an equivalent to a Graphic Design degree. So I enrolled in that (part time as I continued to work) and basically used my electives to pick and choose and create the degree I was hoping for. I managed to make nearly every one of my assignments into some kind of kids book! My first published children’s book, Squish Rabbit, came from a character I designed for one of those assignments.

For those curious about what goes into making a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? 

For me, the thinking part of storytelling always takes the longest. An idea stays in my head anywhere from six months to several years before I commit anything to paper. This is because it takes that long for an idea to become rich enough to be worth working with – I need to consider it from every angle, watch the characters move and talk and react to each other, consider all the different possibilities and start building the world of the story. Then, eventually, I start making notes and doing some character sketches. Typically I work with the words first, developing the script over time. I let the characters talk to me and flesh out the story bit by bit, letting in unroll in my mind and then on paper. After that I break up the manuscript into pages, figuring out where the page turns will be and how to pace the story across an entire book. Through all this I will also be developing the visual style for the book – playing with how the characters will look, the colour palette and building the visual world. Next comes storyboarding, where I do quick rough sketches of each page, working with the classic comic book panels and challenging myself to come up with fresh perspectives and to match the illustrations to the developing emotions of the narrative. I also have to rough out how the speech will look on the page, fitting it into all the speech bubbles (in CRANKY CHICKEN I use a font I created based on my handwriting). After this I rough out which colours I will use on each page, making sure there’s good variation across the book and that the colours match the mood of each spread. Then comes the final art – doing all the line work and colouring. And then I sleep.

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 this question. I haven’t had the chance to talk about gender representation in comic books yet, which is something I’m really passionate about. As a young reader I loved comic books and grew up surrounded by ones my parents collected on their travels – Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin, Footrot Flats (a New Zealand comic) and The Far Side. But at some point in my teens I realised all the comic books I had access to were written and illustrated by men (and featured all male leads). Of course this has changed a lot over time, but it’s still quite a male dominated industry. This only made me want to make my own comic books even more. As soon as I stumbled across Chicken, I knew she’d be my perfect lead – she’s spectacularly cranky and somehow more loveable for it, plus she’s got this admirable confidence that comes from being pretty comfortable with who she. I wanted to put her front and centre in a book that joys in all her cantankerous ways (we so rarely celebrate female grumps in stories, which is another reason I fell in love with Chicken as a character). All that said, I never use gender to shape a character, but rather allow my characters just to be exactly who they are. Chicken identifies as female, Worm is more gender fluid (which is something I can relate to and is how worms actually present in nature) but both play with different gender norms throughout the book – play is something I enjoy a lot in gender expression. Interestingly, because the entire book is in first person speech there’s no pronouns and therefore few gender signifiers in the book, and I’ve found about 90% of reviews automatically assume both characters are male. It’s a shame that male is still our default – not that I blame individuals, this is a long entrenched societal norm. But I’d love to be a small part of the change! 

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

Well … try not to listen to too much advice! Or at least, figure out what works for you and only listen to that. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there and it can often steer people wrong. I think the best thing you can do is read lots of great books, watch lots of great films, engage with all the art you’re drawn to, do all the things that bring you joy and then write and write and write (or draw and draw and draw). Play with the ideas that fascinate you, as opposed to the ones you think you should pursue. So there’s my advice, which I also advised you not to listen to, so do with it what you will.

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

Yes – so much more crankiness! I have just finished proofing all the final illustrations for CRANKY CHICKEN 2 and last week I handed in the final manuscript for book 3 (phew!). While waiting for feedback from my editor I have a little time to work on a couple of picture book manuscripts I have knocking around my mind. One I’m currently storyboarding and the other one I’m still writing (it’s currently with my critique partners for feedback). I also have a newer idea for a middle grade graphic novel which I’m currently collecting ideas for and world building. I always have many stories on the go, all in various stages of development. My brain is very active and needs to be kept busy.

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

I could spend my life just reading graphic novels and comic books and have so many I’ve loved. Here are just a few that are on my desk currently…

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, Treasure in the Lake by Jason Pamment, The Daughters of Ys by M.T Anderson and Jo Rioux