Interview with Author Julian Winters

Julian Winters is a bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, and The Summer of Everything (Duet, 2018, 2019, 2020, respectively) received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta, where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow–volleyball and soccer.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been?

I’m great, thank you! Honestly, I’m geeking out at the opportunity to chat with you.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Right Where I Left You? What inspired you to write it?

Right Where I Left You is a geeky, sincere love letter to fandom, friendships, family, and queer teens deserving their happily ever afters. It follows nerdy Isaac, who’s out to spend every waking moment of summer with his gamer-best friend, Diego, before college starts. After an old crush reenters the picture, Isaac’s distracted chasing the love story he’s always wanted for himself, creating friction with Diego. Sometimes, the love we truly seek is right in front of our faces.

The inspiration came in 2018 after I’d seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I remember the overload of emotions (joy, triumph, love) I felt afterward as well as the awe in the younger viewers who’d just seen a hero that looked like them for the first time on the big screen. I wanted nothing more but for queer, geeky teens to experience that feeling in a book.

The cover is gorgeous by the way! What was your reaction to seeing two queer brown boys on the cover of a story you wrote?

Full disclosure: I cried. Happy tears, though! It wasn’t just that the cover had two queer Black/brown boys on the cover, it was that they’re smiling. Laughing. It’s the joy in their expressions. That means a lot to me—to show queer BIPOC readers they can have stories where their happiness is front and center. All the credit goes to the artist, Daniel Clarke, and the cover designers, Samira Iravani and Theresa Evangelista, for creating a cover bursting with love.

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

I was always a writer in some form. Short stories, song lyrics, really bad poetry. I hated reading the books assigned to me in high school. Every character that looked or identified like me had a storyline rooted in their pain, trauma, and eventual death. I needed a way to rewrite that narrative, so I turned to fanfiction. It allowed me to write the happy, impactful endings I craved for people like me.

I was drawn to young adult fiction (and romance) because I remember how difficult it was as a teen to repeatedly read those books. I want young readers, especially queer BIPOC readers, to know they’re more than their pain—they have power, deserve joy, and love shouldn’t be the thing that breaks them or ends tragically. They’re the hero of the story, not the lesson.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite or most challenging parts of writing?

I’m definitely a plotter—I need everything organized before I start. I’m also very big on playlists and Pinterest mood boards. My favorite part of writing is revising/editing. Once all the words are out of my head, it’s easier to piece together the puzzle and see the big picture. The most challenging part is drafting. It takes me so long because I tend to overthink or want things to be perfect instead of simply transferring all the ideas from my head onto the page, trusting I can fix it later.

Since Geeks OUT is basically a queer nerdy organization, how would you describe your own literary/geeky tastes and preferences?

If it’s queer, I’m there. I never had enough queer content growing up, so I instantly pick up anything I know centers queerness, especially if it focuses on queer people experiencing joy, empowerment, and all the other experiences I often saw for straight characters, but never anyone like me. Bonus points if it’s superhero-related or has a thoughtful romance element.

Who are your favorite superheroes?

Definitely Jackson Hyde/Kaldur’ahm. Seeing a queer, Black superhero is always exciting. I’m also a huge fan of Miles Morales, Jonathan Kent/Superman, Wiccan and Hulkling, Tim Drake, Shatterstar and Rictor, America Chavez, Northstar, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Panther, Dazzler.

And what are some of your current favorite fandoms?

Marvel Universe, Young Justice, My Hero Academia, the Untamed.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening to the right and left of you. Where you are versus someone else. But your journey as a writer is unique. It won’t ever look exactly like someone else’s, so take your time. Trust that there are readers who need the stories you want to tell. No one else will write them like you.

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

My next book comes out Spring 2023. It’s a fun tribute to the classic teen movies. Five teens all end up escaping to the same bedroom at a house party, trying to avoid issues from their past and present. There’s promposals-gone-wrong, dares, a lot of comedic moments along with explorations of toxic friendships, identity, queerness, and the weight of expectations.

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

I highly recommend anything by Adib Khorram, Leah Johnson, Kalynn Bayron, Kacen Callendar, Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Becky Albertalli, Alex London, Adam Silvera, Jonny Garza Villa, Jennifer Dugan.Some of my favorite must-read LGBTQIA+ books are: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, the Darius the Great series by Adib Khorram, and the forthcoming Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas.


Header Photo Credit Vanessa North

Interview with author Rachel Hartman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author Cory McCarthy

Cory McCarthy (he/they) is the author of numerous books for young readers. They live with their family in Vermont, where they teach writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

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

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

Hey! I’m Cory (he/they), a nonbinary trans dude. I’ve been publishing for ten years, and I’m releasing my first book about what it was like to grow up closeted in Ohio. If that sounds a bit ominous, errr, you’re on the right path!

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Man O’ War? What inspired you to write it?

Man o’ War is about cultural captivity. The hero, River McIntyre (they/them), is an Irish and Arab American, like me, who has been required to perform femininity and whiteness for the sake of other people’s comfort. We meet them at the tender age of fifteen when they encounter a happy, healthy queer person—and begin the long process of releasing themself. The book follows River into their college years and through gender affirmation surgery, which was a joy to write about for a teen audience.

I was inspired to write this book because of a rather notable part of my small-town upbringing: I grew up down the street from SeaWorld of Ohio. The park has been out of business for many years, but between the memories and the metaphors, I knew that I had to talk about how being trans in a close minded community is exactly like being an orca stuck in a bathtub-sized tank.

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

I fell in love with poetry and memoir writing in middle school and transitioned to screenwriting after undergrad. I’ve always known I wanted to write for a living but finding my niche took three degrees in writing and endless ambition. I fell into YA backwards. I was writing high fantasy and ended up at Vermont College of Fine Arts where I learned that I was already writing what publishing calls YA. I now write in other formats and age ranges, but YA has been quite an education.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite or most challenging parts of writing?

For me, every book is written differently. Over my decade in publishing, my process has evolved to become more fluid. Some books take over a year to write. Man o’ War fell out of me over a few weeks of tears and pain and fingers-on-fire. That being said, my favorite part of writing is drafting. Revision takes more out of me, and requires more time, patience, and planning.

In addition to featuring trans representation, the book also features an Arab American protagonist. Can you speak as to what that intersectional representation means to you?

It is scary to write about being Arab American. While the rampant fear and miseducation quadrupled after the tragedy of 9/11, this country has a long history of forcing Arab Americans to forcefully assimilate. It’s this wildfire fear that River was bathed in from birth. Don’t let people know who you really are…or they might attack you.

This is the same message currently being blasted at trans folks. The echo chamber of intolerance is all the way up to eleven right now. I hope readers of Man o’ War find the strength and courage to live their lives openly and safely despite our cultural chaos.

Since the book is centered around swimming, I was wondering if you have any personal connections or memories about water yourself that you would like to mention?

The book has minimal sports content, although River is a competitive swimmer. The story is very much about water, however, and that parallel of the marine life in the tanks and feeling like a captive animal in the lanes. This is also based on personal experience. I started competing at the age of seven, and it was everything to me. I walked away my senior year in high school because the gender dysphoria I experienced in the female suits was too intense. In the story, River goes on to be a trans athlete in college, something I would have loved to do, so in a way, I rewrote my own story into something much more affirming.

Both you and your spouse, A.R. Capetta, seem to be writers as well as co authoring books together. Would you say your creativity as writers sometimes bounces off each other?

We are indeed both authors! We co-wrote the bestselling Once & Future series, aka queer King Arthur in space, and have heaping individual backlists at this point. (Takes a lot of books to pay the bills!) We definitely bounce our ideas and passion for stories off of each other, and we have very different strengths, which we find to be ideal in a co-authoring situation.

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

Hmmm, I wish people would ask more about how publishing works. It’s an incredibly predatory industry, and until authors feel empowered to talk about it, nothing will change. We are—at a dangerous speed—approaching something that could very well shutdown publishing, not unlike the screenwriter strike in 2007-2008. The industry is currently forcing out marginalized authors with advance payouts that don’t happen until seasons or years after the book is released.  If this continues, the only people who will be writing books will be those who are independently wealthy. And we know what that demographic largely looks like, now don’t we?

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Congratulations! You will write STORIES for a living, and it will set your soul on fire in the best way. Also: condolences! This industry is a trash heap, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for a better future. There is always hope.

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

I have a middle grade sci-fi series rolling out now called B.E.S.T. World, where tweens get augmented bodies to become literal heroes—only the corporation granting the augs has other plans for these youths. But that’s the thing about becoming a hero…no matter who empowers you, what you do with that power is up to YOU.

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

Grand question! Check out Charlie Jane Anders’ new space opera, the Unstoppable series. It starts with Victories Greater Than Death and the newly released Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak. Also, try Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram, and if you grew up longing to go to queer camp, well, L.C. Rosen penned some fantastic summer memories for you in his CAMP, which is on its path to becoming a motion picture!

Thank you so much!

Interview with author Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson (she/her) is Métis and white, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice with a PhD. She believes writing, teaching and beading are political acts. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, her debut YA novel, is out now from Heartdrum/HarperCollins. She lives in Los Angeles.

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

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

Hi, I’m Jen! I’m queer and totally geeked out. I have a PhD in English and Creative Writing but what that really means is I’m curious and love research. I’m Métis and white, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice who is down to protest and do the hard work. My favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip and I never say no to nachos. Never.

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

In 2016, I had just finished my PhD and I was super disillusioned by books and writing. I’d been writing for a long time and kept getting my adult novels rejected by agents. Plus, after graduation, I couldn’t read. As someone who discovered reading for pleasure at Girl Guide sleepaway camp at the age of 12, and read voraciously every day afterward, this was a horror. 

What got me back into reading and writing were the young adult novels I checked out from the library in Wolfville, Nova Scotia that year. They introduced me to the wonderful, challenging world of teen fiction and I got really excited about what you could do as a writer when you wrote for teens. The rest, as they say, follows from there.

What can you tell us about your latest book, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in?

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is about 18-year-old Métis teen Lou, working at her family’s struggling organic dairy and ice cream business alongside her recently-exed boyfriend, her best friend who is going through mental health issues of her own, and her once friend, King Nathan, who has returned to town after a three-year absence. On top of all of this, Lou’s white biological father has been released from prison and he wants a relationship with her—something she does not want. At all. The book features many secrets and lies, and a teen discovering her sexuality and owning her identity alongside tones of ice cream. 

I’ve talked about inspiration a lot in the last few weeks and my inspiration is related to the lack of media where I saw myself reflected. What I’ll double down on here is that I’d never a read a book with a demisexual protagonist until Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love in 2018, nor had I ever read a book with a Métis protagonist until Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves in 2017. So I wrote one.

In a lot of ways, Lou’s story comes out of me finally being ready to write a Métis demisexual teen girl’s journey—so that teens who need stories like this, like I desperately did at that age but didn’t have, won’t miss this kind of representation.

As an Aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more asexual/demisexual representation in the world. Could you talk about what featuring this type of representation in The Summer of Bitter and Sweet means to you?

Oof. So much. 

Like many other marginalized identities, there aren’t enough stories out there about our experience written by us. But there’s something about asexual spec stories: we’re queer, but we’re not the right queer according to so many people.

So to have a book, published by one of the big publishers, that’s very much a story about one ace-spec teen’s experience, I’m completely and totally overjoyed. Wait, no. There is no such thing as overmuch joy. I’m simply thrilled. 

One thing I noticed about the (beautiful) cover was the protagonist’s earring, which I believe in other interviews you mentioned related to Indigenous beading and crafting. Would you mind elaborating on that?

Lou’s mother gets into beading as a way to reconnect to her culture and to find her own way through trauma. I also got into beading when I was processed a lot of the colonial trauma that comes from being Indigenous in Canada. So it was so important for me to include that in the book.

I’m also just totally geeked by the fact that my good friend Katherine Crocker beaded a replica pair of Lou’s earrings for me to wear!!! They are my favorite thing!!!

What are some things you hope readers take away from this book?

That even when life is hard, you have to remember there’s joy too. The bitter doesn’t exist without the sweet, nor does sweet exist without bitter. This can be really hard to remember.

Alongside this, I want readers to take away something about being supported by and supporting your community. That your kin and community are there for you. And that you have to be there for your kin and community too. I’m not saying to keep toxic family in your life. Kin can be those you’ve chosen. But it’s okay to need help, to trust others with the vulnerable parts of yourself. It’s important to learn how to hold the vulnerable parts of others and to keep them safe.

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

Oh, I absolutely dread drafting and adore revising. So it’s always tough when I have to get a new story on the page—but when it’s time to revise and make it better, then I’m having fun. 

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

If you could make any animal into a pocket-sized animal, which would you choose?

Ahhhh, thank you for asking me this!! I would totally miniaturize a buffalo and keep them with me at all times. I love them so much! I’d only buy shirts and dresses with pockets. But if I got to miniaturize a second pocket animal, it would totally be a raccoon. They just get into so much mischief. I do love mischief. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Stop calling yourself an aspiring writer. If you write, you’re a writer.

And bonus advice because I’m feeling it: this business is full of rejection. Even after you have big success, you’re still going to be told no a lot. So work on developing tools to help yourself navigate this. The more tools you have at your disposal, and the more you know how to use, the better on this ride that is called becoming a published writer. 

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

Yes! My second YA contemporary novel is out from Heartdrum in 2023.

The book stars Berlin, a depressed perfectionist bisexual Métis teen; Cameron, a Cree teen who laughs at everything, even the things that hurt; and Jessie, a white settler who is both utterly boy-and-girl crazy. Together they’re going to take down capitalism. Or at least save Pink Mountain Pizza, an independent shop where the ragtag band of teenaged employees are largely left to their own devices to serve up weirdly delicious flavors like peanut butter and jelly pizza, each slice garnished with sharp cheddar. As they try to organize the community, they start to piece together rumors and gossip hinting at a much bigger story: the disappearance of a local Cree teen girl, who Berlin thinks she may have seen, late one night, closing the store, the day before the franchising news was revealed.

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

The queer and trans books on my to-rec list: Laura Gao’s graphic memoir Messy Roots is awesome; I’m incredibly eager for Edward Underhill’s 2023 debut, Always the Almost; I’m in the middle of Racquel Marie’s Ophelia After All and am really excited for Anna Meriano’s It Sounds Like This. In terms of Indigenous writers, I’ll read anything Cherie Dimaline writes and the same goes hard for Alicia Elliott. For both Indigenous and queer/trans writers, my go-tos are Billy-Ray Belcourt and jaye simpson. Get to reading!

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2022

May marks Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month. It’s a month to celebrate and honor AAPI voices and identities around the world. In order to help celebrate this month, we’d like to highlight a number of Michele Kirichanskaya‘s interviews she’s conducted with AAPI authors and artists that are linked below.

Interview with author SJ Sindu
Interview with Author Shveta Thakrar
Interview with Creator Laura Gao
Interview with Xiran Jay Zhao
Interview with Author Adiba Jaigirdar
Interview with Author Emily X. R. Pan
Interview With Illustrator Kristina Luu
Interview with Illustrator Wendy Xu
Interview: Mariko Tamaki
Interview with James Sweeney
Interview With Author Angela Chen
Interview With Emery Lee
Interview with Author Tara Sim
Interview with Ryka Aoki
Interview with Jeremy Atherton Lin
Interview with Author Chloe Gong
Interview with Artist & Writer Trung Le Nguyen
Interview with Author Natasha Ngan
Interview With Illustrator Ariel Slamet Ries

Interview with writer Rex Ogle

With the graphic novel “Blink” from Tapas Media to “The Supernatural Society” from Harper Collings, Rex has written dozens of books and graphic novels for the YA audience! In his very candid and critically acclaimed memoir, “Free Lunch“, he talks about the rigors of high school, growing up poor in an environment with incidents of domestic abuse. Tackling topics of abuse, eviction and mental illness, Rex is as transparent and as authentic as very few writers dare to be.

Chris Allo: So tell us a little bit about yourself.  Your pronouns of course and your initial foray into Geekdom. When/how was that passion ignited? I always loving hearing the queer comic geek’s perspective.

Rex Ogle:  I go by he/him/his.  My inspiration always came from reading.  I devoured everything I could get my hands on, and was reading a lot of adult content when I was way too young.  But given my home life, I had a maturity that allowed me into those worlds.  I also started writing at an early age.  I knew straight away I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I just didn’t know how.  So I started writing every day, and building a practice of spending at least an hour creating something.  From there, I worked my way up 5 or 6 hours of writing every day.  It’s not always easy, but there’s no feeling quite like finishing a piece.

CA: You worked as an intern at Marvel, then editor at DC comics and onto editing for Scholastic and Little Brown Young Readers.  How was that journey?

RO: I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was scared of being a starving artist.  So after college, I packed a duffle bag and four hundred dollars, and told myself, “You’re going to NYC to work in publishing.  Make it happen.  I got a lot of nos but I kept at it until I got that first yes.  I enjoyed my time as an editor, but found it difficult to often be the only queer on staff.  So it’s been really rewarding to see that change in recent years.  

CA: What were your takeaways from editing comics versus prose?

RO: Editing was fantastic, because I got to learn about the inside of the industry. It gave me valuable insight into how books get made.  Some of it is talent, but a lot is also timing and luck.  It helped me realize that rejections didn’t mean my writing was bad, it just meant the timing or editorial champion wasn’t right.  As for comic versus prose, I love them both so much.  They’re so different.  With prose, I get to control nearly every aspect of the story.  With a comic or graphic novel, I’m on a team, which takes some of the pressure off me.  That’s probably why I write both.

CA: Can you tell us some of the projects you’re most proud of from each of those positions?  

RO: I’m really proud of Free Lunch, my (prose) memoir about growing up dealing with poverty and domestic violence.  And I’m not just proud of it because it was my first book (under my own name), but because I truly believe it’s an important story to be told because so many kids are living with similar experiences.  I’m also in love with The Supernatural Society, my recent (prose) middle grade fantasy novel, because it’s very much a love letter to the Universal monster movies I grew up obsessed with.  As for graphic novels, Swan Lake: Quest for the Kingdom, comes out in early April, and it’s been years in the making.  It’s a fast-paced and fun fantasy adventure about friendship and inner strength.  As for comics, I’m ready to write more.  Traditional book publishing is great, but it can take a while, so it’s nice to have the immediacy of a monthly comics.  So yeah, essentially, I’m really proud of every project that I work on.  LOL.    

CA: You’ve written a number of fantastic books and graphic novels. The upcoming, Abuela, Don’t Forget Me, the raw book, Punching Bag, the graphic novels, Blink and Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, to name a few.  Did you always want to write comics or prose?  And what was the moment you decided to do it and then take the steps you took to make the project manifest?

RO: As a young writer, I was always writing prose.  But that was mainly because I had no idea how to write a comic.  Then I interned at Marvel and got to read actual scripts, and thought, “Oh, I can do this.”  From that moment on, I found myself jumping between prose and sequential storytelling, because I loved both styles so much.  I decided pretty early on that I was going to be a write, come hell or high water.  But it took a lot longer than I anticipated.  I wish I could have started getting published in my 20’s, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  Now that I’m doing full-time, the projects are snowballing, one leading into the other, and it’s so exciting.  I can’t wait to see all my books come out.    

CA: You’re very open about your life: growing up poor, struggling with hunger and domestic violence as a kid.  A lot of LGBTQI youth can relate.  What was the impetus for telling your story, so real, transparent, and powerful, by the way? Did you struggle with deciding what you would talk about or did you always know you were going to be completely forthcoming and honest?

RO: I’ve always practiced 100% honesty and life, but I’ve always gravitated towards fiction.  BUT after years of rejection, I knew I was doing something wrong.  Then one day, an editor gave me the advice to try and write a true story about my life, so that I could learn to dig my heels into the emotional core of a narrative.  It turned out that’s what was missing from my storytelling.  And as I wrote it, I knew I needed to be as honest as possible with my reader.  I think that’s what readers–especially young readers–appreciate most.  

CA: You also wrote the OGN Blink with art by the incredible Eduardo Francisco. What are the challenges or the things you like about writing prose and writing for an artist on an OGN?

RO: Prose is wonderful, because I’m in complete control.  Though, with an editor’s eye contributing.  But otherwise, it’s just me (and the cover artist).  That’s freeing.  But with an OGN it’s a partnership, which staves off the completely loneliness and fear of writing alone.  So I try to jump back and forth between the two styles to keep a nice balance.  

CA: In recent years comics have become more inclusive of LGBTQI and brown characters.  Obviously, not enough but things are changing.  As a creator on that front, what are some of the things queer folks can do to help facilitate more inclusivity or even exposure to queer folks and lifestyles?

RO:  I think a lot of folks are supporting queer creators, which is a beautiful thing.  The biggest problem I’ve found is discoverability.  Luckily, both bookstores and librarians are getting better about curating LGBTQIA+ sections for those readers. It’s no longer something to be ashamed about–at least in most places.  And I couldn’t be happier that we live in a time where people of color are getting their due.  It’s been centuries of mostly white males telling stories, so it’s really awesome to see the switch.  There should be room for people of all kinds to tell stories, which is one of the reasons I talk about being half-Mexican myself.  

CA: Who are some of your queer heroes in the comic world both real and fictional and why?

“Nimona”

RO: ND Stephenson, who created Nimona, is just amazing.  She went on to queerify the new She-Ra and it’s such a fun TV watch.  I’m also a massive fan of Mariko Tamaki, Molly Ostertag, and Kevin Panetta for the graphic novels they’ve contributed to the world of young readers literature.  As for fictional characters, I’m definitely obsessed with the X-Men (and have been since I was kid), which are more queer than ever.  But I also have to give a shout out to Midnighter over at DC for being someone who defies stereotypes.     

MIdnighter/DC Comics

CA: What words of guidance would you impart to up-and-coming queer creators who want to work in the mainstream world of comics, graphic novels and prose?

RO:  1.) Get comfortable with rejection.  It’s going to be hard to break into comics, but once you do, it’s going to be so worth it–especially when you hold the final product in your hand.  2.) Create the stories you would want to read.  Don’t try to create for others.  Make something you enjoy.  And 3.) Your art is never going to be perfect.  But it can be done.  So stop mulling over every little sentence and every panel of art.  Just keep moving forward.

CA: What got you into comics?  Who were some of your favorite heroes growing up?

RO: My middle school best friend got me into comics.  I had dabbled in Batman, but it was his introduction to me of the X-Men that made me fall in love.  I soon graduated to New Mutants, where I met Magik, aka Illyana Rasputin, who to this day remains my favorite character.  She’s dark and powerful and survived so much tragedy in her youth, and so she reminds me of me, battling every day to make a happier life for myself.  

CA: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects Four Eyes, Northranger, and Abuela, Don’t Forget Me?

Norton Young Readers

RO: Northranger is my love letter to Jane Austen, as I’m taking her gothic novel Northanger Abbey and updating it with a queer protagonist who falls in love with a cowboy who may or may not be a killer.  It’s a graphic novel, and I’m so stoked for it to come out.  Four Eyes is another memoir, but this time a Disney-version graphic novel of my life, meaning I’m dropping the violence to focus on an almost-universal experience of getting glasses and dealing with the onset of puberty.  And Abuela, Don’t Forget Me is my first foray into writing a novel in-verse.  It started out as a project for my grandmother who is suffering from dementia.  I was writing all of my memories of her down in short verses, so that she could read them with ease and hopefully remember happier times.  But soon I had a book on my hand, and I thought how great would it be to get this published as an homage to supportive grandmothers everywhere.  

CA: Really wonderful, Rex! Thank you so much for your time and the truly fantastic work you’ve been putting out into the world.

For more about Rex and his work check out his website, rexogle.com

Interview with Author Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of Running, her YA debut, as well as two novels for adults. Born in Lima, Peru, she grew up in Miami, Central Florida, and South Texas, and received a BFA from the University of Miami. She currently lives in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @NataliaSylv.

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

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

Thank you, I’m so happy to be here! A few things to know about me: I was born in Lima, Peru and have also called Miami, Fl, Gainesville, Fl, Mission, TX and Austin, TX home. I grew up swimming in my cousins’ pool and pretending to be a mermaid (hence, the mermaid book!) and when I wasn’t in the water, I was reading books and writing poems. I’m obsessed with my various houseplants and two rescue dogs. I’ve been (in no particular order) a magazine editor, a steakhouse hostess, a belly dance teacher, a medical biller, and am currently a copywriter and novelist. 

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

I realized I was interested in writing as soon as I learned to read. Because I was born with hip dysplasia and had many surgeries growing up, my mom used to take me to work with her during the weeks I was recovering from surgery. She had a typewriter in the corner of her office, and I’d keep myself busy by typing up poems on it. 

My first two published novels (Chasing the Sun and Everyone Knows You Go Home) are actually for adults, but for my third novel (Running) I was drawn to Young Adult because there’s something so joyous and hopeful about the moments in life when you’re on the cusp of becoming who you’re going to be. It’s also a hugely critical time, when you’re asking not only, who am I becoming, but who gets to decide who I’m becoming? I still ask those questions. I’m still fascinated by our capacity to grow and change. 

I write YA because when you’re 13 or 15 or 17, you hold all these seeming contradictions—you’re fearless and insecure and apathetic and empathetic and strong and fragile. But really you are everything, and you’re trying out everything, and all of what it means to be human is evolving and alive inside you.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite parts of it? What inspires you to write and keep on writing?

I have tried to make my writing process as gentle an excavation of myself as possible. And what I mean by that is that writing is self-discovery for me, and being honest with and about myself is hugely important…but it can also mean that sometimes, I dig deep in places and wounds that I may or may not be ready to explore. So I write slowly. I let my ideas simmer. I try not to put too much pressure on myself on a day-to-day basis. I feel like, so long as I’m living with the story I’m writing (whether that looks like actual writing or taking a self-care day) then I know I’ll bring it to life on the page in the time it was meant to happen.

My favorite parts of the process are when I write something that totally surprises me but that I instantly recognize to be true. There’s power in finding the right words and finally naming something you’ve felt your whole life. 

Your latest novel, Breathe and Count Back from Ten, features a young Peruvian American teen with hip dysplasia training to become a mermaid. Where did the inspiration for this story (and title) come from?

I was born with hip dysplasia and so I was in and out of surgeries as a child. Even from a young age, I would journal about my experiences. At the same time, I loved swimming and I dreamt of being a mermaid. These things were therapeutic for me. When I was writing or in the water, I felt free and full of joy.

I think in a lot of ways, I’ve been writing Breathe and Count Back from Ten my whole life. It’s just that only now do I have the right words and language to make sense of this story. And I made sense of it by making it about so much more than me. It really is my protagonist, Vero’s story. She and I have so much in common but she’s her own person, and writing her taught me so much about who I wanted to be as a child and who I can still be now. 

As for the title, it’s from the first line of the book! It also has multiple meanings, which I shared a bit about here.

You mentioned on Goodreads, that you “used to hide my scars & now they’re on my book cover.” How does that time of visibility feel?

I get emotional every single time I see the cover. I never want any young person to ever feel the kind of shame that I felt about my body and scars growing up. I’m lucky to have shed that fear and embarrassment, but it wasn’t easy, and it took me years to get here. I love my body for all it is, everything it’s been through, and all it’s helped me become. Putting my scars on the cover was never even a question—it was always simply about being truthful and unapologetic. I’m so lucky that my publisher was on the same page about it. If my scars on a book cover can help someone else feel that same love, every little bit of hardness I ever experienced would have been worth it. 

What inspired the mermaid training element? Do you have any personal connections to mermaids or the water itself?

I’ve always felt at home in the water, which is probably why I dreamed of being a mermaid my whole life. Though I never got to audition to become a professional mermaid the way that Vero does, I was (for a short, glorious time!) signed up for mermaid camp at Weeki Wachee, the springs that inspired Mermaid Cove in the book. Sadly, mermaid camp was canceled due to the pandemic so it continues to be a dream, one that I lived vicariously by writing this book!

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

I have several plants that I’m tending to and constantly propagating. I also really love baking and making art in very hands-on ways. Most recently, I created a mosaic out of vintage repurposed pool tiles, and now it hangs in front of my home.

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

What was the inspiration behind Vero and Alex’s love story?

The book opens with Vero first meeting Alex, the cute new neighbor moving into her apartment complex. They have an almost instant connection and happen to come together at a time in their lives where they can give each other a gentleness that they’ve been lacking in other relationships. I just remember being Vero’s age—looking back at my romantic relationships, there were aspects that weren’t necessarily healthy, and they caused me a lot of hurt. Vero and Alex have both been through so much due to her hip dysplasia and his struggles with depression. I wanted to just give them space to see each other and be there for each other, in a way that didn’t necessarily center their pain. 

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

Be kind to yourself. Writing can be so personal, to the point that we can end up equating our own self-worth with how much we write, how good we think the writing is, whether it gets published, etc. But the best way to nurture your writing is to nurture yourself as a person. 

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

Not at the moment! 

Finally, what books/authors, particularly those exploring Latinx or disabled identity in their work, would you commend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

I’m such a huge fan of Jonny Garza Villa and can’t wait for their next book, Ander and Santi Were Here. Melissa See’s You, Me and Our Heartstrings (out in July) has been happily on my TBR forever. And Bethany Mangle’s All the Right Reasons just came out in February and is next on my list! 

Interview with Author Dean Atta

Dean Atta is a British author from London. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and a patron of LGBT+ History Month. His young-adult novel in verse, THE BLACK FLAMINGO (Hachette Children’s Group / Balzer + Bray), won the 2020 Stonewall Book Award and was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, Jhalak Prize, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. 

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

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

My name’s Dean Atta, my pronouns are he/him, I’m an author from London, England, and I now live in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore album as I write my answers to these questions. 

How did you find yourself drawn to the art of poetry and storytelling? What drew you to write young adult content specifically?

I began writing poetry as a teenager as a way of expressing myself. I performed at open mic events and eventually published a book of poems. That led me to getting an agent who encouraged me to broaden my horizons regarding the types of books I could write. Young adult fiction appealed because I have a lot of experience working with young people leading poetry workshops in schools. In both my novels the main characters write poetry at some point. Michael in The Black Flamingo performs poems on stage, whereas Mack in Only on the Weekends only writes a poem because it’s set as homework. Mack’s main form of self expression is wearing makeup. When I was a teen I didn’t see stories about boys like me, i.e. Black queer boys into makeup and poetry. So I write these books now to make up for the representation I lacked when I was younger. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Only On The Weekends? What inspired this project?

Only on the Weekends was partly inspired by me and my boyfriend moving from London to Glasgow. He had lived in Scotland before and it was much harder for me because it’s the furthest I’d ever lived from my family. Luckily, I had the excitement of being with my boyfriend and making a home with him. But for the book I flipped it and wrote about a boy moving to a new city and having to leave his boyfriend behind. Mack really wants to make his long-distance relationship work with Karim but this becomes infinitely more difficult when local boy Finlay comes into the picture and finds every opportunity to hang out with Mack and introduces him to new and exciting experiences. 

Your first novel, The Black Flamingo, is such a beautiful piece of work in its lyricism and how it explores identity. Had you always intended to write it as a novel in verse? And were there any novels in verse or poets/authors in general who inspired you while writing it?

The Black Flamingo was just one poem at first. I wrote the moment when Michael is with his grandad and they see a black flamingo in a television news report. Michael sees himself in that image of a black flamingo in a group of pink flamingos. To write the novel I expanded the story backwards and forwards in time from that pivotal moment. The novel in verse that inspired me most when writing The Black Flamingo was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado. I was also looking at books by Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander and Sarah Crossan. 

How would you describe your writing process? Is there anything you do to help yourself in terms of motivation or creativity?

One of my favorite things is to attend workshops on topics I’m writing about. For example, yesterday I attended an online workshop by London Queer Writers facilitated by Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile. The workshop title was “Writing as Rioting” and I chose to write about the concept of a riot of empathy because I’m exploring this in my writing at the moment. This evening I’m attending an in-person workshop at Glasgow Zine Library facilitated by Sean Wai Keung. The workshop title is “Memory & Food” and I hope to write about my memories of food and the cultures of my mixed race family. I know Sean explores his own mixed race identity in his work, which is why I picked this workshop. When I can’t find a workshop on any given topic I want to write about, I’ll read books, watch films and listen to podcasts on the topic, which usually sparks new ideas and connections when I sit down to write. 

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

New experiences, new hobbies or activities or putting myself in new and unfamiliar situations is all really inspiring for me. During the first lockdown of 2020 I learned to ride a bike properly and so bike rides feature in Mack’s story in Only on the Weekends. Since moving to Scotland I’ve also done lots of hiking and this helped form a structural backbone to Only on the Weekends. Over the course of the book you see Mack attempting to summit three mountains, each time with different levels of enjoyment and success. Without having done these things myself, I don’t think I’d have written them. 

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

My favorite part of writing is when I feel I’m in the zone, when the story is flowing and I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the rush of words. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the least common experience. The main challenge is sitting to write when I don’t feel so inspired. This may be when I turn to doing more research, making playlists of songs my characters would listen to, thinking about outfits they’d wear. This stuff may not all make it into the book but it helps to keep me immersed in the world of the book until the words come again. 

In addition to the written form, you’ve also done some spoken-word poetry (including this gorgeous video). Do you find yourself tapping into different parts of yourself or your creative energy when you switch between mediums (whether on the page or stage, poetry or prose)? 

I definitely used my experience of spoken-word poetry and drag when writing The Black Flamingo. Michael performs his poetry at an open mic and goes on to perform in drag at the end of the book. The page/stage dynamic was ever-present throughout the book and there are many sections when I’m describing a performance, e.g. when Michael sings “Lady Marmalade” in the school playground, when he sings “Where is Love?” from the musical Oliver! for an audition, as well as the spoken-word and drag performances at university. Since I’ve had experience with all these types of performance they were easy for me to write. 

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

I love food! Yesterday I made really good egg fried rice and I’m still thinking about it today. I’m keen on meditation and yoga but I’m by no means an expert. I love going to see live music. My favorite gig recently was a Glaswegian singer called Joesef. He’s actually mentioned in Only on the Weekends and I definitely recommend you check him out. I’m going to see Harry Styles when he plays here in Glasgow in June and I’m very excited about that! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Don’t be shy to lean all the way into the topics you’re fascinated with, even if they seem too specific and niche. Write about things that excite you. Whether you’re an expert or an enthusiast, both are good starting points for exploring an idea in writing. I think the common advice we’re given is to ‘write what you know’ but I’d say ‘write what you love.’

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

I would recommend Gay Club! by Simon James Green. It’s about the election of a high school LGBTQ+ society president. It’s packed with drama, twists and turns. It depicts many of our real world struggles for LGBTQ+ rights and respect. It has a diverse set of characters that feel fully-formed and loveable but who are also absolutely infuriating at times. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a book!

FlameCast – E10 – Mike Curato

It’s a new episode of the Flame Cast, our celebration of past, present, and future Flame Con guests. Join Kevin in a conversation with Mike Curato, writer and illustrator of the YA graphic novel Flamer, about the importance of books geared toward young queer audiences, especially when so many placers are banning books with these topics. They also talk about his inspirations, where and how he connects with his community, and what he’s getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture.

Interview with the “Shuri and T’Challa: Into the Heartlands” Creative Team

Shuri and T’Challa set out to remove a curse from Wakanda in an action-packed, totally original Black Panther graphic novel, Shuri and T’Challa: Into the Heartlands available now!

The creative team includes Roseanne A. Brown, Natacha Bustos, Dika Araújo, and Claudia Aguirre.

Roseanne A. Brown was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets. Rosie currently lives outside Washington D.C., where in her free time she can usually be found wandering the woods, making memes, or thinking about Star Wars. Her debut novel, A Song of Wraith and Ruin, was a New York Times bestseller.

Dika Araújo is a Brazilian animator, comic artist and illustrator based in Sâo Paulo. Her previous work includes several independent Brazilian anthologies, including Amor em Quadrinhos, which was nominated for the Angouleme International Comics Award in 2018.

Natacha Bustos is a Spanish comic book artist who drew the story Going Nowhere, written by Brandan Montclare, for DC/Vertigo’s Strange Sports Stories. Bustos then made her Marvel Comics debut on Spider Woman before re-teaming with Montclare and co-writer Amy Reeder on the inaugural run of Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, winner of Glyph Award for Best Female Character in 2016. In 2020, she drew the Buffy the Vampire: Willow miniseries (BOOM Studios!) and became part of Marvel’s Stormbreakers Artist program, dedicated to spotlighting the next generation of elite artists.

Claudia Aguirre is a GLAAD and Eisner Award nominated artist and writer. She is co-founder of Boudika Comics. Her works include Hotel Dare (Boom!Studios), Morning in America (Oni Press) and Lost on PlanetEarth (Comixology Originals

I had the opportunity to interview Roseanne A. Brown, Natacha Bustos, and Dika Araújo which you can read below.

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

Roseanne A. Brown: Hi! My name is Roseanne A. Brown, but everyone calls me Rosie. I’m a Ghanaian-American young adult and middle grade SFF author. My debut novel, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, is a New York Times bestselling YA Fantasy inspired by West African folklore that’s been described as what would happen if Aladdin and Jasmine had to kill each other. The sequel, A Psalm of Storms and Silence, came out in November 2021, and I have several more books on the way. On the rare day I’m not writing, I can usually be found watching obscure documentaries on Netflix or trying to cook the perfect poached egg. (It’s really hard!)

Natacha Bustos: Hi! I’m Natacha Bustos. I draw comics and live in Malaga. I’ve enjoyed comics since I was very young, and I’ve always loved telling stories. I like going for a walk in the countryside or having a nice meal in good company. My everyday life is dominated by my two loves: my son, Alan, and my cat, Momo.

Dika Araújo: Of course! I’m a 28 year old Brazilian illustrator. I work in animation and sometimes I make comics.

What can you tell us about your project, Black Panther: Into the Heartlands? How did each of you get involved?

RB: Back in early 2020, my agent sent me an email saying she’d heard that my now editor Lauren Bisom was looking for pitches for a new line of young reader graphic novels featuring some of Marvel’s most popular teen heroes: Miles Morales, Shuri and T’Challa, and Kamala Khan. The idea of a sibling story featuring the prince and princess of Wakanda came to me almost immediately; while there have been both books and comics about the two as youths, there were few centered on their relationship as children. Then during my research, I learned that the two share a father but have different birth mothers. As a member of a large, blended family myself, I really connected to the idea of these fantastical characters dealing with complicated family dynamics just like millions of kids around the world, and the idea for Into the Heartlands grew from there.

NB: Lauren Bisom contacted me to talk about a project that Dika had started. I really like Dika and her art, so the idea of working on a comic with her was appealing. Then, I saw that Claudia Aguirre had also joined the team, which was cool. I’ve known her for about ten years now through social media. I love the Black Panther universe and Shuri’s my girl, so this type of project is a no-brainer.

DA: I developed the character designs and drew the first batch of pre-Heartlands pages. 

Roseanne A. Brown

Before this project, how would you describe your connection to the Black Panther universe? What does it feel like to be working on this project now?

RB: I’m relatively new to the world of Wakanda as I really didn’t know much about the characters before the movie came out in 2018. But I was blown away by the world in that film, particularly by how the creators organically wove in the African influences that created these characters. Shuri, T’Challa, and the Black Panther as a concept are icons in every sense of the word. Getting to write them has been an honor, and I only hope that my entry into the Black Panther world is full of the same heart and power that have drawn people to these characters for decades. 

NB: I’ve done some Shuri and some Black Panther covers for Marvel and I’ve read Kirby’s comics. I love Shuri as done by Nnedi Okorafor and Leonardo Romero, as well as Brian Steelfreeze’s interpretation of Black Panther. They’re really powerful, all told with a singular voice.

Becoming part of the family of Black Panther authors is really a dream come true. So I’m delighted to have added my own little drop into this ocean.

DA: I started paying more attention to it after the MCU movies. Me and my brother hadn’t connected together so intensely to a character before since the Blade movies came out. So it was really exciting getting to contribute a little bit to the Wakanda canon.

Are there any other superheroes besides Shuri and T’Challa that you feel drawn to (excuse the pun)?

RB: I’ve loved Static since I was a child. He’s of Ghanaian descent, like me, and the episode of Static Shock where he went to Ghana was the first time I ever saw Twi spoken in an American media. The Batfamily were my entry point into superhero comics, with the second Robin, Jason Todd, being my absolute favorite. And I have to shout-out my girl Storm. She was a big inspiration for the character of Karina in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. 

NB: Many, including Storm, Ironheart, Ms. Marvel, Doctor Strange, Loki, Miles Morales, etc.

DA: Hehehe, that was a good joke. Yesterday I watched the first episode of Moon Knight and being autistic I could relate a lot to the chaos and general disorientation the character goes through. I could say the same about Jessica Jones. Besides that, I tend to relate to side characters more: Peridot (Steven Universe), Wolf (Kipo), Toph (Avatar the Last Airbender)…

As author of the book, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and A Psalm of Storms and Silence, how did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?

RB: I can barely remember a time before I wanted to write. When my family first immigrated to America when I was three, I couldn’t speak English. After years of struggling in school, it was books that opened up the world for me and helped me connect with my new community. Since then, I’ve wanted to create works that help people feel a little less alone like the books I loved did for me. As for YA and speculative fiction, I love how they’re categories where the extraordinary becomes the extra ordinary. Everything just feels a little more possible in SFF, and with YA, there’s something so refreshing about depicting the world through the eyes of a character with one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood. 

Dika Araújo

How would you describe your writing/illustrating process?

RB: Rather than a plotter or a pantser, I’m what some like to call a headlighter. That’s to say, I write books similar to how someone drives at night—all I can see is exactly what’s in front of me at the moment, but that’s enough to get me where I need to go. All my first drafts are written like that, which often leaves me with an extremely heartfelt, yet incomprehensible manuscript. From there, I’ll revise/rewrite as needed until a structure weaves through the emotion. It’s not the most efficient process, but it’s mine.  

NB: I can be quite chaotic but working digitally provides me with a certain amount of order. I start sketching first off and I tend to be extremely focused at this stage. I can’t have any music on, I need silence. I pretty much skip the penciling stage when working on the final art because I’m working digitally. It’s a really fun stage: my hand is engaged in one thing, while my mind may be elsewhere; I have music playing or podcasts or even a TV series.

DA: Err… Chaotic, time-consuming, but at the same time very orderly. 

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

RB: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is one of my favorite craft books of all time. For plotting, I tend to use a mixture of Save the Cat structure alongside the 7 Point Plot Structure by Dan Wells. But I always say the best craft techniques are the ones that work for you. Pick and choose what fits your writing style! 

NB: I really love Pentel for illustrations; I tend to use it particularly for commissions.

DA: Getting to translate the script into a visual form of storytelling, for sure.

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

RB: Ooh, I love this question! I’ve always wished someone would ask me where the weirdest place I’ve ever written is. The answer would be on the floor of a bathroom in a grimy club in Osaka, Japan. Pass pages for ASOWAR were due, but my friends were visiting and wanted to go out. I learned the true meaning of multi-tasking on that trip. 

DA: “What are your favorite reality shows?”

I love The Circle, Blown Away, Too Hot to Handle… The more random and further removed from my reality, the better. I work in animation all day, and it’s hard to watch movies and cartoons without having my “work brain” on. That kind of show lets me turn off my brain completely.

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

RB: After Into the Heartlands, my next published work will be a short story in the Star Wars anthology Stories of Jedi and Sith, out on June 7th. I’ve been a Star Wars geek since I was a teen, and have written my fair share of fanfiction, so I’m still freaking out that I got to write a canon story in the world. My next full-length book is my middle grade prose debut, Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting, out with Rick Riordan Presents on September 6th. I describe that book as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Mean Girls with a huge helping of Ghanaian folklore. It’s a lot of fun, even if writing it did force me to relive my middle school days. *shudder* 

NB: I have a few projects. I could tell you, but then….

DA: I’m working on a Brazilian animation studio called Copa Studio, and they’ve just released a Carnival special for a series called Jorel’s Brother, on HBO Max! I hope people like it, we made it with a lot of love.

Natacha Bustos

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, whether those working on prose novels or graphic novels?

RB: Give yourself permission to take your work seriously. I always tell people that if you want to play sports at a professional level, you have to be practicing at that level long before you ever make a pro team. Writing is similar. This doesn’t mean write every single day, because I sure don’t do that, but it does mean carve out time for your craft when you can and guard it like you would any other major commitment. You and your art deserve that. 

NB: You need to have a routine and persistence to finish the job. It is also vitally important to have your free time, so you don’t burn out. This is essential for your mental well-being and so you enjoy your work!

DA: Don’t be fooled, it’s a career that requires a lot of hard work, but at the same time you need a lot of luck and privilege to “make it”. I’m not telling anyone to give up their dreams, that’d be an *ssh*le move, but don’t feel guilty or compare yourself to people who may have had more opportunities than you did.

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

RB: Some of my absolute favorite comics as both a reader and a creator are:

NB: Miles Morales: Shock Waves, Ms. Marvel comics, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Shuri, Black Panther! Read some OG stuff by Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Buscema, José Luis García López, Mazzucchelli, etc. In the world of manga, I love Osamu Tetzuka, Shigeru Misuki, Kentaro Miura, Naoki Urosawa, Hiromu Arakawa, and Rumiko Takahashi.

DA: A big inspiration when working on this comic, for me, was The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis. Other than that, all I can say is BUY AND READ ROSIE’S BOOKS. Sorry, I got carried away, haha. Buy and read everything Roseanne writes. She’s amazing.