Interview with Dahlia Adler

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, the overlord of LGBTQReads by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of several anthologies and the author of seven novels, including Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books. I had the opportunity to interview her which you can read below.

As a person who wears multiple hats in the literary community/publishing industry and as an author/editor/book blogger and more, how do you maintain a balance between all of those responsibilities as well as work/life balance?

Not well! I mean, I’m sort of kidding, but the truth is that when you love so much about what you do, it can be really hard not to overload yourself, or least that’s true for me. Probably the most balancing thing is that because I observe Jewish Sabbath, I’m completely offline from Friday night through Saturday night, which means nothing but family, food, and reading. 

I also try as much as I can to be absolutely done with things by 5 p.m. I might do social media stuff or beta read with a baby sleeping on me, but thanks to both my husband and me working from home during the pandemic, we actually get to do family dinner pretty often. This does mean a lot of pressure to back things in during my workdays and Sundays, and I’m learning hard lessons this year about there just not being any way to pull more than 24 hours into a day. 

As a bisexual writer, you have discussed the importance of canon bi representation to combat biphobia/erasure as well as provide validation for those who are questioning. Could you speak a little more on this?

Bisexual books have been so heavily gatekept for so long, and even when we started to finally get some actual bi rep, it always had to be the “perfect” kind of bi who never leaned into any stereotypes. But anyone who’s actually gone through the process of questioning as a bi person knows that it comes with a lot of messiness and complexity, and those stereotypes exist for a reason; they’re just not who a whole person is. I think telling people they can’t ever have conflicting feelings or wonder “what if?” or experiment to see where your heart and head are at because it’s “bad representation” is not only invalidating but harmful. I embrace the messy. And I love the other bi books that embrace the messy. 

Your latest book, Cool for the Summer, features a bisexual Jewish main character. Did this story feel in any way personal to you and what are your thoughts on queer/Jewish representation in the YA world today?

It’s definitely personal to me, although Lara’s experience with Judaism isn’t reflective of mine, being that I’m considerably more affiliated and observance. Truthfully, Jasmine’s Judaism, despite being further from my background with her being Syrian, is a little closer. But I’m grateful to have been able to show two of the million ways to be both queer and Jewish, and I love how much more queer Jewish lit we’re seeing, and queer religious lit in general where those two aspects of a person don’t have to clash. I think that’s one of the most important directions YA can take, and I’m really excited to see more of it. 

Aside from Demi Lovato, whose song obviously inspired the title for your latest book, what other musical artists have inspired you? Which singers or songs would be the go-to on any of your characters’ (previous or new) Spotify playlist?

I tend to write girls with some fire to them, so I love artists like Hole and Halestorm and Garbage and The Pretty Reckless. Lara is a little softer than my usual, so Cool for the Summer is more Demi and Taylor Swift—the song “Betty,” which I obviously hadn’t heard until my book was already done, is a shockingly dead ringer for the story. 

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

What would you put in a book box dedicated to Cool for the Summer? Random, I know, but it’s a really fun thing to fantasize about! Obviously heart-shaped sunglasses, and a packet of coffee, because Lara’s a barista. An art print by one of the illustrators behind Lara and Jasmine’s mutual favorite graphic novels, probably Wendy Xu because I’m obsessed with Mooncakes which means so are they. A cheesy little souvenir from the Outer Banks—I personally have a flip-flop-shaped magnet with real sand inside. A mini bi pride flag. And sparkly peach body lotion, for Reasons. 

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

A few! I’m currently revising my next f/f YA novel, which is tentatively titled Home Field Advantage and hopefully coming out in Summer 2022 from Wednesday Books—it’s a dual-POV Romance between an aspiring cheer captain and her high school’s very unwelcome first female quarterback. I’m also editing my next anthology, At the Stroke of Midnight, which is a collection of fairytale retellings releasing in Fall 2022 from Flatiron Books—my third anthology with them. And in the background, I’m also treating myself to writing a Chanukah rom-com novella I’ll probably ultimately self-publish. 

What advice would you give for writers who are stepping into their own creativity?

Don’t get in your own way. That means don’t shoot down your own idea for sounding too similar to something out there—I sold a bi YA Grease to the imprint that published a gay YA Grease!—don’t edit into oblivion as you go as an excuse not to finish your draft, and don’t tell yourself you suck; there’ll be enough people eager to do that for you in publishing. You’ve gotta be your own cheerleader and advocate, especially if you’re going to ask people to spend their time and money on your books. 

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

Oof, so many. It’s an incredible time for LGBTQ+ lit in all categories, which is so new. I definitely haven’t read as many of this year’s titles as I should, but a few that feel like perfect Geeks OUT reads are It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, about a one-time all-queer, all-girl band that blew up when they were in high school and then fell apart, and their potential reunion despite all the bad feelings, a painful romance, new lives, and one of the members no longer identifying as a girl; Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, which has so many fun romance tropes and a rare main character who’s already confidently out as trans, plus a love interest who’s still working through gender identity and trying out different pronouns; Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, which is a take on Romeo & Juliet with beautiful mental health rep and set in the world of comics; and a great riff on Empire Records but with a bookstore and a super queer cast, The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters.

Interview with Ashley Shuttleworth

Ashley Shuttleworth is a young adult fantasy author with a degree in English literature and a slight obsession with The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. They currently live in Ontario, Canada, with their cat named Zack and a growing collection of cosplay swords. I had the opportunity to interview Ashley which you can read below.

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? What were some of the first stories that grabbed your attention and inspired you?

I knew I enjoyed writing from a very early age. I spent much of my childhood writing fan fictions for the shows and video games and books I loved, filled so many notebooks with handwritten chapters (because back then, I was more into writing scenes than full complete stories) and eventually took to online communities to post the fanfic I wrote. Some of the first books I can ever remember adoring were The Bailey School Kids books (I love my paranormal mystery novels) and the Artemis Fowl series, which played a huge role in developing my fascination with faeries. A little later on, I discovered Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES and I was hooked.

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, A Dark and Hollow Star, come from?

A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR was influenced by a number of things—my university studies in English Lit and Ancient Greek and Roman history/mythology; my love for video games like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda; books I enjoyed reading such as THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor and CITY OF BONES series by Cassandra Clare. I’m also heavily influenced by music and shows and day to day things in my personal life, but I think the biggest inspiration for ADAHS was the lack of LGBTQ+ representation I had growing up, and my desire to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I just wanted to write a book full of different identities, all being accepted and represented in a casual, normal way while at the same time, leaving nothing ambiguous.

Your book, A Dark and Hollow Star, is a queer urban fantasy that touches upon fairy mythology. Are there any urban fantasy authors/stories you looked to for inspiration while writing this project?

Well I was definitely inspired by Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES and Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES (particularly VALIANT, my favourite) when it comes to who I probably have to thank for my fascination with urban fantasy. But honestly it was probably FINAL FANTASY XV that I looked to the most for crafting my particular world, an expansive world of its own that blended high fantasy with urban fantasy in a really neat way. I like to try and balance reading fiction with “research” for my projects though, so I did pick up a few books on European folklore and the science of alchemy. 

As a queer author, what were some of the LGBTQ+ stories that first caught your attention? What kind of stories did you feel were missing or lacking and did this inspire you as a writer today?

ASH by Malinda Lo stands out to me as one of the first LGBTQ+ books with a queer MC to really grab my attention. A fairy-tale retelling of Cinderella, at the time of reading this I hadn’t come across too many traditionally published works that were both Young Adult and fantasy in genre, that depicted main characters doing and going through the same sort of fantastical and every-day things you’d encounter in books about allocishet characters. Growing up, there really wasn’t all that much available to me that had openly queer characters with meaningful development, going on grand adventures, falling in love, and exploring magical settings. It definitely inspired what I write now, my desire to put more content into the world like what I found in ASH.

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

Well, I’ve never been asked which author I would choose to do a panel/event with, if I could pick from anyone—and I’d have to say I would love to do one with Laini Taylor. Her books have been a pretty big inspiration to me and I really admire her talent. It would be fun (and also intimidating) to get to chat craft with her.

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

I do have a few things on the go right now, a couple that are just private tinkerings I hope to unleash on my agent, and then the public, one day soon. For now, I’m currently working on the second installment in the HOLLOW STAR story, where I get to expand on the characters introduced in the first, as well as bring a new play or two into the mix whom I hope people will enjoy.

What advice would you give for writers who are navigating writing and publishing?

The best advice I can give is to find your community—other writers to keep you company and share in this experience with you—and honestly just to keep writing. The road to publication can be a difficult journey at times. It never goes the way anyone expects it to, and set-backs can become discouraging the more of them you encounter. But if authoring books is something you genuinely want to do, first and foremost you just have to write that book. It’s okay if it isn’t perfect, if you need to edit it multiple times, find beta-readers and critique partners to help you catch what you miss on your own—it’s okay even if that story ultimately gets shelved and you have to start a new one. It’s all experience that will lead you to the story you need to tell, but nothing else is worth worrying about without that first draft to work with. So just keep going, learn how to drown out the impostor syndrome (which never really goes away, I have to say, but it does get easier to manage with writing friends as support, and time) and focus on things one step at a time.

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

There are so many incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out this year—definitely buy and read as many as you can! But a few that I’m personally VERY excited for:

SWEET & BITTER MAGIC by Adrienne Tooley (out now)

IN THE RAVENOUS DARK by A. M. Strickland (May 18th 2021)

THE WITCH KING by H. E. Edgemon (June 1st 2021)

ACE OF SPADES by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (June 1st 2021)

GEARBREAKERS by Zoe Hana Mikuta (June 29th 2021)

IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao (September 21st 2021)

Interview With Musician And Author Adrienne Tooley

Adrienne Tooley grew up in Southern California, majored in musical theater in Pittsburgh, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife, six guitars, and a banjo. In addition to writing novels, she is a singer/songwriter who has currently released three indie-folk EPs. Sweet & Bitter Magic is her debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview Adrienne, which you can read below.

First of all, congrats on your new book! Where did the inspiration for Sweet & Bitter Magic come from?

Thank you!! It definitely started with a few big concepts. At the heart of it, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is a book about grief, love, and  power. These concepts are explored through the eyes of two very different girls. With a dual POV I got to see the world through the eyes of Wren, a girl who feels everything, and Tamsin, who feels nothing (though not by her own volition). 

I also wanted to explore the idea of strength and power and how that affects the world and the individual. When being told that strength is good, and weakness is bad, how does that affect the ways a person can grow? How does that affect their relationships? How does that affect their own perceived value? And then, on the flip side, how does a person deal with the consequences of that power? In SWEET & BITTER MAGIC I got to attack those concepts head-on. 

How did you find yourself drawn to storytelling and the YA genre specifically? And what was it about fantasy that drew your attention?

The books I read when I was a teenager are the books that have stuck with me, even to this day. There’s so much room for exploration in YA. When you’re a teenager, that’s the first time that you’re really finding your place in the world, and those are the stories that really call to me as a writer. Fantasy also offers the ability to build a world on top of a story. Especially as a queer writer there is a freedom in fantasy and building a world for your characters to inhabit that is different than the world we live in.

In an essay you wrote for YA Pride, “Finding My Queer Self Through Books,” you had discussed a little bit of your publishing journey, including telling potential agents, “All of my books will be queer. In every age-category or genre I choose to write. This is important to me and I want to make sure it’s important to you, too.” With publishing, I feel like there’s sometimes this hesitancy for new writers to advocate for themselves, especially those from more marginalized communities, i.e. the LGBT community. What made you decide to say this?

I definitely recognize the privilege in being able to advocate for myself in that way. Not every publishing gatekeeper will respond positively to something like that, but I was fortunate enough to find an agent who prioritizes queer stories, who didn’t even blink when I made that request. In no way do I think writers should need to out themselves in order to write queer stories, but for me personally, I live the rest of my life out and wanted to make sure that my writing career was in the hands of someone who understood and respected that. 

Besides queer witches, are there any other mythological or magical elements are you are hoping to explore in future stories?

I’m hoping to delve deeper into different types of magic and magical systems in future books. I’m also fascinated by cults and hope to explore something like that in one of my future stories. One of the best parts of world-building is getting to create brand new lore and legends and religious figures and deities, and in that sense, the possibilities are endless! 

As an out author, what would you say to your young queer self? What message do you hope to give to young queer readers and writers out there?

You matter. Your heart matters. Your love matters. Your words matter. So keep supporting and seeking out and writing those books that make you feel seen, because there are so many stories to tell, and there is room for your voice. 

What advice would you give for aspiring authors who are navigating writing and publishing?

Be diligent, be patient, and always be looking for ways to level up your craft. Read widely and often! Since so much about what happens to a book after you write it comes down to luck and timing, it’s important to focus on what you can control: ie your characters, the heart of your writing, constructing an intriguing voice, and studying and improving your craft.

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

Yes! My second book, SOFI & THE BONE SONG is a standalone fantasy about a young musician whose future falls apart when another girl wins the title she’s been training her whole life for. It’s got magic, music, taverns, an endless winter, and an exploration and dismantling of the idea that people should suffer for their art. Also, it’s sapphic!! Currently, it’s slated for a Spring 2022 release. 

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

There are some INCREDIBLE LGBTQ+ books coming out this year! This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, She Drives Me Crazy  by Kelly Quindlen, These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy, The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez, & The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould are just a few that immediately come to mind!!

Interview with Author Liselle Sambury

Liselle Sambury is a Toronto-based Trinidadian Canadian author. Her brand of writing can be described as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” She works in social media and spends her free time embroiled in reality tv because when you write messy characters you tend to enjoy that sort of drama. She also shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author. I had the chance to interview Liselle, which you can read below.

Congratulations on your debut! Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, Blood Like Magic?

Blood Like Magic is about a family of Black witches living in a near future Toronto, and in particular, sixteen-year-old Voya Thomas who is given the horrifying task of either killing her first love or losing her family’s magic forever.

What drew you to writing? Do you remember the first stories/authors that inspired you to write or simply strengthen your love of reading?

There wasn’t anything specific that drew me to writing, I just wanted a way to vent my feelings and tell stories that distracted me when I was having a hard time, and writing ended up being that medium. I honestly didn’t even read much. I volunteered in the library in elementary school because I wanted to be indoors during recess. I was that kind of kid. But I did love to go to the public library, and I would basically pick out anything that interested me. I was a big fan of the Saga of Darren Shan which was a gruesome vampire series. I devoured those books so it’s not surprising that I hopped right on the Twilight train when it came around. 

As a writer, where do you find your sense of inspiration and what sources do you draw on to refresh your creativity?

I find that books, TV shows, and movies are fantastic fuel for my inspiration. Books so often make me think ‘wow I wish I could write something like this’ and spur me on that way because I’m so invested in trying to create an experience like that, or, like in the case of Blood Like Magic, trying to add to an experience I didn’t get when I was younger. With TV Shows and movies though, it’s often that there’s an aspect unexplored that nags at me, and I have to write that unexplored premise. Anime is usually where I discover a lot of different ways of telling a story that I’ve never seen or heard of. Some anime just blows my mind with the sorts of narratives they weave, and that’s also incredibly inspiring.

Your debut book is said to feature a magic system with strong New Orleans roots. Could you tell us something about that?

The magic in the book doesn’t draw from anything existing in New Orleans purposely because I truly don’t know enough about those cultures and that history. Those practices that have real ties and significance in that region, and I don’t know enough to write it into my work. However, I was familiar with some of the historical events during the period of slavery that happened in New Orleans when it was the U.S. Territory of Orleans. The particular event that stuck out was the revolt that occurred nearby, led by slaves in sugar plantations. With the combination of the history within slavery and of African folk magic in that area, it just felt like the right place for the Thomas witches have ancestors from.

I actually tried to dig into my ancestral history to see if I could pinpoint where my ancestors were from when they were slaves in the U.S. to use that location, but due to the nature of colonialism and records, I unfortunately wasn’t able to find anything.

Your protagonist, Voya Thomas, comes from a Trinidadian-Canadian background like yourself, correct? Was it always your intention to have this aspect mirrored in your fiction, and what are your thoughts on Caribbean representation in the YA world today?

I had always intended to write Voya as Trinidadian-Canadian because I really wanted to put that experience into a story. Prior to Blood Like Magic, I hadn’t explored that in my fiction and thought it would be fun to show that experience. I was truly putting a lot of myself into the story and that’s such a huge part of me.

I think we’re starting to see more Caribbean rep in YA now which is really exciting like Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart and Where The Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass, which are both coming out this year. I haven’t read a lot of stories with Caribbean rep in YA so I’m really happy to add my voice. Especially within a Canadian context because I find that to be less common in YA as well.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book, including the main character’s love interest who is a trans man?

Of course! Luc, the love interest is trans man and he’s my snarky genius. Voya’s cousin Alex is a trans woman, and she’s the fashionista of the family with a talent for sewing and design. Voya’s other cousin Keisha is lesbian and demiromantic, does modelling part-time, and never holds back her opinion. Johan is the head of a family with close ties to the Thomases and he’s gay. One of his sons, Topaz, is also gay, but it’s not explicitly said until the second book.

Aside from witches, are there other magical/mythological/ spiritual backgrounds you are drawn to?

I am a big fan of ghosts which is hilarious because I’m actually really fearful of death and have no desire to ever experience a ghost sighting. But I think there’s something super intriguing about the idea of unfinished businesses and the world beyond death that can be explored in really interesting ways. I loved Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour because she took the idea of ghosts and created a completely unexpected story that was so beautiful.

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

I don’t actually think that I’ve asked who the easiest and hardest character to write were, but I love that question. I have found that Voya is the hardest for me to write because I frequently struggle with getting her motivation as a character just perfect, and it’s hard to make a character who has difficulty with decisions active in the narrative. I’m so dedicated to telling her story right that I tend to spend a lot of extra time with her. On the flip side, I find her cousin Keisha the easiest and the most fun to write. I have no idea why. I think she just asserted herself as a character with a really strong voice and so it just flows. I absolutely love her.

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

Right now, I’m working on my first novel-length adult project which is currently uncontracted. It’s going to be a horror, but no ghosts this time. It’ll edge on thriller and include discussions about toxic workplace environments and culture.

What advice would you give for writers who are exploring their own creativity and looking to step up their game?

I would highly recommend reading and writing craft books. That’s something that I do a lot even now and there’s so much you can learn from them. And I would say to read a variety because you may find some you agree with that work for you and some you don’t. They also often have exercises that you can do to experiment with your writing and find what works best for you. I just find that guidance to be so helpful. 

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

I would definitely recommend Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas which is about a trans brujo who accidentally summons a ghost who won’t leave. A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth about four queer fae teens solving a murder mystery (also set in Toronto!). Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley which is a fantasy about a girl cursed to live without love and a girl trying to save her father who makes a bargain. And finally, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass which is about teens escaping from a conversion camp and has such an amazing use of atmosphere and dread.

Interview With Emery Lee

Emery Lee is a kid-lit author, artist, and YouTuber hailing from a mixed-racial background. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, e’s gone on to author novels, short stories, and webcomics. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find em engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs. Find em online at emeryleebooks.com. I had the chance to interview Emery, which you can read below.

How would you describe yourself to people who haven’t met you yet?

I’m an author who writes stories about marginalized kids having fun, falling in love, and discovering themselves. I always shoot to do things a little unconventionally and bring something new to the table that I desperately needed as a teen but have yet to really find. 

What are three facts that you would want people to know in particular?

I’m a YA author, an anime nerd, and a huge fan of boba tea.

How did you come to realize you wanted to be an author? 

I never actually planned to be an author. I started writing when I was really young just for fun and to satisfy my chaotic imagination and all the things I felt weren’t resolved in the media I was consuming. I used to carry notebooks around and scribble whole books in them, and when I was maybe ten or eleven, I started sharing them with friends and classmates, and it just became a universally accepted truth that I was the class author and would go on to write a million books one day.

Where did the idea for Meet Cute come from? Was anything about it inspired by real life?

It was inspired by a road trip I went on with my best friend! In Colorado, she had what we called a “near meet cute” and I turned to her and said, “if this were a book, you’d be marrying that guy right now”, and it just struck me that it would be such a fun idea to write about a character who just took every real-life run in like that and wrote happily ever afters to them.

In your book, you discuss neo-pronouns and other examples of gender inclusive language we don’t often see enough of yet in fiction? Would you care to discuss that?

So I use neo-pronouns (e/em/eir) and a common issue I run into is people just straight up telling me they didn’t realize they were pronouns at all. Just asking people to use they/them is really difficult for some people, so introducing these words that people think are brand new or made up (all words are made up, and most neo-pronouns have been around for 30+ years) just really trips them up. I wanted to put a book out into the world through a major publisher that just treated these things as normal. I wanted to help show teens that you can question your identity and change your labels and cycle through as many as you want, and the only limits are the limits you have on your own language. But it was really important for me to emphasize in the book that normalizing these things should start early, and that ultimately, it’s not hard to pick up gender inclusive language and changing your identifiers doesn’t have to be hard or miserable. It can actually be really fun and freeing.

Title aside, you seem to be a big fan of romance tropes. What are some of your favorites, and which ones can we expect from the book?

My all time favorite trope is enemies to lovers, but I love most romance tropes, as long as they’re used well—childhood friends to lovers, only one bed, fake relationships, marriage of convenience, etc. MEET CUTE DIARY obviously calls on meet cutes and fake dating as major plot elements, but I also throw in some hate to love, mutual pining, friends to lovers, and forced proximity.

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from? 

I’m gonna say the characters from Becky Albertalli’s Simonverse because I feel like Noah would really have a great time making friends with so many great queer characters!

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

“Which boba tea flavor would each of your characters be?” or “Who would win in a fight? Your main character fighting Katsuki Bakugou in which both of them have a quirk? Or if neither of them have a quirk?”

What are some trivia facts about the characters in Meet Cute that you would love to share with our readers? As a self-professed anime/manga fan, what are some of your favorite examples?

oah’s an anime fan, his favorites being My Hero Academia and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Devin hates sprinkles and really love the scent of lavender. Becca has a Yorkie named Noodles. Drew’s favorite show is Rick & Morty.

As a debut author, what advice can you give to aspiring writers, both in terms of creativity and promotion?

I think writing and promotion can often feel at odds with each other. Sometimes it feels like the more you look to sell yourself, the harder it is to write or the more you focus on writing what feels right, the less marketable you become. Ultimately, I think the key is learning when to turn off the noise. It’s good to learn from other people and incorporate what they do well into what you do, but learning how to take a step back when things become too much and go back to that place where you can just be you and just write what you love and not have to think about it too much is a vital skill to surviving publishing, and I think it’s a good one to start learning early.

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

I’m currently working on a short story that’ll appear in the ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES Anthology edited by Candice Montgomery, Cara Davis-Araux, and Adrianne Russell. My story’s all about a reclusive brujo who has to help the school jock get over a bad breakup only to realize he’s developing feelings for him, and that comes out in 2022. I’m also working on several other novels, but those can’t be revealed just yet.

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

I highly recommend anything by Ryan La Sala, Phil Stamper, Kacen Callender, Claribel Ortega, Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli, and Aiden Thomas. I also really loved FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN by Jonny Garza Villa which releases this June!

Interview with Author Ethan Aldridge

Ethan M. Aldridge is a New York Times and Indie bestselling author and illustrator. He is the creator of the fantasy graphic novel ESTRANGED (a Junior Library Guild selection, Indie Bestseller, and YALSA Great Graphic Novel For Teens), and its follow up THE CHANGELING KING. Ethan was raised in a small town in Utah.Growing up, Ethan’s favorite things to draw were monsters and whatever dinosaur he liked that week. He now does more or less the same thing for a living. Ethan lives in New York City with his husband, Matthew, and their dog, Kitsune. I got the chance to interview Ethan, which you can read below.

To start with, how did you first come to realize you wanted to be an author/ illustrator? What were some of the stories that originally drew your eye as a child or inspired your artistic journey?

I’ve enjoyed telling stories, and telling stories visually, for about as long as I can remember, though it wasn’t until I was about 16 or so that I realized that doing things like making comics and illustrating books was something I could do as a living. I adored strange detailed fantasies, everything from the book “The Dragons Are Singing Tonight” by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis to the epic fantasy films of the 80’s like “Willow” and Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.” I poured over them again and again as a child.

Much of your work centers around folklore and fae mythology, particularly that of the changeling. What drew you specifically to this story?

I’ve always enjoyed old folklore and fairy tales, for all of their beauty and strange, surreal poetry. Just prior to starting work on my graphic novel series “Estranged,” I became  fascinated with changeling stories, where faeries would steal a human baby and replace the child with one of their own. Sometimes the stories are silly, and some pretty sinister, but at their core they all seemed to be about the same thing; a parent is convinced that the child in their care is not who they thought they were. As someone who grew up queer and in the closet, and who didn’t figure myself until much later, these stories seemed all too familiar. In the folktales, the swap is always discovered and the rightful baby returned, but I wanted to see what would happen if that wasn’t so. I wanted to see if the parents would learn to love the child they had, instead of the child they wished for. I wanted to give the story a happier ending, at least for the changeling.

Within your books, the Estranged Series, there are many parallels between one of the protagonist’s dual narratives as a changeling and as a queer teen, including the sense of being and feeling different from the people around you. For years, queer people have often gravitated towards fantasy, why do you think that is?

There are so many themes and tropes in fantasy that resonate with the queer experience; outsiders finding their way through a strange world, transformations, hidden identities. People find impossible loves, change form and gender, escape from inescapable isolation into a world wider and more strange than they ever imagined. Fantasy is all about a life and a world outside of what we are told is possible, and I think that sense is something that speaks to a lot of queer people. We grew up with those feelings in us, so we gravitated to the stories that told us those feelings meant something true and important and beautiful. From changelings to voiceless mermaids to love-lorn princesses locked away in remote towers, queer people have been using fantasy as a way to express feelings of queerness for a long time.

You are currently working on a new project called The Legend of Brightblade. Can you tell us in your own words what it’s going to be about?

It’s a brand new graphic novel about a long journey undertaken by a trio of bards, people who use music and storytelling to weave literal magic. Alto, the youngest child of a storied hero, runs away to create his own legend, and bumps into all sorts of trouble he’s not prepared for. It’s part epic journey, part coming-of-age adventure, and part Battle of the Bands rivalry. It’s about the way stories of the past affect us, and how we tell our own stories in response. It’s also got trolls, elves, a long-haired goat named Knud, and at least one dragon, and that’s always fun.

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from?

That’s a tricky question! The stories I tend to like the most have very messy protagonists, and the boys from “Estranged” don’t always play well with others. Imagine Edmund from my books meetings, say, Edmund from the Narnia books? It would be chaos. And a lot of sulking.

As a creator what advice would you give to other budding artists/writers on their own creative journeys?

If what you’re interested in is telling stories, then go ahead and do it. Don’t wait for a book deal or a publishing offer. Make sure it’s something you’re interested in, not just something you think you could sell, and make sure it’s something you can finish. Short comics are great for this. Having a complete story you can show to people is very beneficial, both for you and for your would-be readers.

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

There have been so many great ones, especially ones that have come out lately! Some of my favorite recent LGBTQ+ comics are “Snapdragon” by Kat Leyh, the Witch Boy series by Molly Knox Ostertag, “Beetle And The Hollowbones” by Aliza Layne, “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, and “TAZ: Petals To The Metal” by Carey Pietsch and Justin, Travis, Griffin and Clint McElroy. There are more coming later this year, like “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen, that I’m very excited about

More of Ethan’s work can be found online at ethanaldridge.weebly.com, and on twitter and instagram at @ethanmaldridge

Interview: Julian Winters

Once a manager trainer from the outskirts of Atlanta Georgia, Julian Winters (He/Him) is now an acclaimed author of queer YA fiction, including his debut book involving soccer and boys crushing on other boys, Running with Schools. A lovely writer, with a heart of gold and wonderful sense of humor, Julian Winters strives to write intersectional queer literature, focusing on LGBTQ+ characters with multifaceted identities. Now coming out with his latest book, How to Be Remy Cameron, Geeks OUT had the privilege and opportunity to sit down with Winters for an interview. 

When and how did you first realize you wanted to become an author?

I first realized I wanted to be an author, not just a writer, probably…it was later on in life. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think there was any actual space for me in the author community being black and being queer and writing the stories I wanted to write. It was later on when I started writing fanfiction and people actually started saying “Oh, my gosh. This is really good. You have really great stuff.” And I was like, “oh wow, this is not just me sitting at a computer for hours, dreaming stuff up,” this is like a real thing. And so that’s when I realized I could maybe do this, but it took a lot of pushing from like friends because otherwise I was just content doing fanfiction and that would have been the end of it.

It’s funny about that. I actually wrote an article about how fanfiction is so important to the queer community because we kind of like get to deconstruct and reconstruct like something that’s in the cannon, and tailor it to our audience. 

Exactly! That is exactly what it is, because these are things that are already deemed what’s acceptable, the cannon that’s already created for these characters and what not. And so, us being able to take something that’s considered “acceptable” and actually making it out own, and making it about us, makes us in a way feel accepted. But I think it’s such a great leap. I encourage people all the time, if you’re nervous about writing, nervous about the things that you write, write fanfiction. Because you’ll find not only an opportunity to kind of build off the stuff that’s already there, but you also find this great supportive community. Like the fandom community is amazing. Amazing. 

It can have its trolls.

Yeah. Like with any great thing in life it has its downfalls, but I still have so many friends from fandom who read my books, and it’s awesome.

Awesome. I personally think there are some fan-fiction writers who write better than actual published authors.

This… listen, I don’t want to get into trouble,

(Laughs) 

but there are many a fanfiction writers that I have encouraged to take it to another level where they can actually profit off of what they do. They are some tremendous writers, but they’re also very comfortable in that sense of community, and sometimes it’s very hard to step of it. Like it was very nerve-wrecking for me to step out of this community that had already built around me, and step into a whole other world where people did not know me, and you kind of have to…it’s that whole starting over, like high school or any kind of thing where you’re moving from a place you’ve always called home. It’s always that starting over things that’s like, “oh, wow. Let me just stay where I’m like comfortable.”

Are there any LGBTQ+ authors or themed books that have inspired you or your own work? 

Yes, I will say there are definitely ones that inspire me. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. That book is life-changing in so many ways and I turn to it all the time. When I’m in a reading slump I go to it. When I need some kind of creative energy I go to it because I think it’s just so masterfully done in the way that he makes everything so simplistic, but it’s so deep and there’s so much emotion behind it, and I absolutely love it. So I definitely turn to that one for inspiration. Anything Becky Albertalli writes, I swear… I just feel like she understands my inner-geek. She understands my inner-romantic. She understands who I am… I don’t know, so I enjoy everything, and at the end of the day I just feel good reading her books. So stuff by her. One of my biggest inspirations right now is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. Oh, I will never stop talking about that book. It is simply amazing in all the different layers and things that it tackles without feeling like it’s an overwhelmingly messaged book.

It’s not didactic.

It’s not at all. It’s just so good and so human and at times so soft, but at times so complicated, which I love because it shows that you can be both, you don’t have to be one or the other. So these are my big ones right now.

If the characters of your book, Running with Lions, could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, which characters would they be and where would they be from? 

Oh gosh. They would interact with the kids from Shady Creek in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Only because I think the team would get along with their soccer team, obviously. I don’t know if they would be rivals or if they would just be friends and what not, but I love Bram, so I would love for any chance for Sebastian or Amir to interact with him. I love Garrett, too. He’s just like the biggest dude-bro, but also like deep too. And so I love that. He’s comes across as like this guy who you’re like “you’re just a stereotypical jock” kind of thing, but you find out like Leah in Leah on the Offbeat that he’s actually a lot deeper than that. He’s actually a really cool person. So I definitely like them to interact with them.

Which characters from your Remy Cameron book? Who would they interact with?

Oh gosh. Who would Remy interact with? This is a great question because I have to think about it. If anything, I think Remy would interact with… you know there’s a book called Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I think Remy would interact well with that universe in the sense that book is so much about music and friendship and you know, kind of defying the odds, and also kind of like defying labels put on all those characters. Because it is the best book when you want a book that defies every label possible when it comes to you know what a jock is, or what popular is, or relationships and stuff like that. So I think Remy would definitely interact very well with that. 

I’d also love to see Remy interact with Starr from The Hate U Give because I love Starr period and I think Remy enjoy being around her because they both share the same kind of sentiment where they’re in-between worlds in the sense that, you know, Starr goes to this posh private school.

A very white, posh private school.

Yes, a very white, posh private school. But she also has this home life that is completely different from that. And Remy is in, at that point, where he recognizes that he goes to this school where he’s one of five black kids in the entire school, and so at times he’s at odds with, “Oh ok, I love the same things that some of them do, but they also don’t share a lot of the background or challenges that I have to go through.” And so I’d just love for him to be around her, because she was just so inspirational. Even through everything she had to go through through that book, she was still just so inspirational in the sense that she was Starr the whole way through. It’s just a great evolution.  

Got it. I actually was asking this question because I noticed you’re a fan of Quinn Dreaming by TJ Ryan.

Oh gosh! That’s a great one. I didn’t think of that one.

And I imagined them interacting with Sorrell and Quinn. 

I think, and I know TJ Ryan very well, they’re awesome.

They did fan art of Running with Lions.

Yes, they did fan art of Running with Lions. I love TJ. And I didn’t think of that. I think that Amir and Sebastian should definitely hang out with Quinn and Sorrell. It would be fantastic. 

Just sports fans. Fellow bisexuals.

Yeah. Fellow sports fans. Fellow bisexuals. Fellow great time people. Like they just generally have a great time. So I can’t believe I forgot about that. But read Quinn Dreaming the web-comic, it’s awesome.

Recently, many prominent athletes have come out and are playing openly in interactional competitions, such as Gus Kentworthy and Adam Rippon at the Korean Winter Olympics. Do you believe this increased level of visibility has begun to affect everyday lives of other LGBTQ+ youth and athletes? 

Yes. I am so grateful for them. I’m grateful for the people who have come out in soccer, people who have come out in rugby recently. I believe there have been some swimming or diving people who have come out also. I think what they’re doing is beyond brave because the sports world has never really been accepting of any kind of LGBTQ person.

Or plus anyone who’s like non-white or able-bodied.

Exactly. Exactly, and I think there’s a lot of barriers to break through there. But I think what they’re doing is awesome. There is a blog that I follow happily called Outsports that has actual high school or college athletes who get to tell their own coming out story, written by them. And it’s so inspiring to see how many times they quote these athletes, and say you know they helped me to be able to say to my teammates, “Hey, this is who I am. I hope that you still accept me.” And the stories are just so joyful because the teammates are accepting, the coaches are accepting, the community, the parents, the family. It’s awesome how much they stand behind these athletes because they recognize you’re still gifted at the sport you’re playing, and that’s the part that should be the deciding factor of whether whether or not you’re on a team or that you’re competing. It should have nothing to do with your sexuality. It should have nothing to do with your gender. And so seeing that is just so gratifying. But knowing that these prominent, popular athletes are out there competing and still saying, “Hey, this is who I am,” it’s amazing to me.

Yeah, I think so, too.

In previous interviews you had mentioned that you integrated personal details/ elements from your own life and personality into your protagonist, Sebastian. Can you expand on this?

Yes. Um, wow. This is a fun question. It’s always fun when you get to go deep into your own self. So for Sebastian, I struggled severely in high school with what I was going to do after high school. Because I was so content with my friends and club organizations that I was a part of, and that’s where I was happiest, and I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school.

Same.

In fact, I actually picked my college based on what my best friend chose. And biggest mistake in the world because that college was great for her. It was not great for me. But that’s just the element that I was in, and that’s definitely what Sebastian goes through in the book is facing that challenge of who are you outside of your friends, outside of your comfort zones, and things like that. Another thing I wrote that was very personal was Sebastian’s body issues. You know, while everyone else is around like saying, “Oh, you’re perfect. You’re healthy. You’re in shape,” and this and that, he was not comfortable throughout the book with who he was physically. And that’s something I struggle with even now is who I think I am in other people’s eyes physically and who I see in the mirror kind of thing. And so writing that was challenging, but I think it was so important because it’s not often depicted that males have issues with their body and representation like that and I needed to have that in there. And I needed to show it’s ok to say to someone, “Hey, I have this issue,” and get healthy outlets to kind of help you work through that. And so, those were the two major things I wrote about there about Sebastian that was very personal, very much me in Sebastian. 

Yeah, and you included a lot of personal stuff with Remy, too.

Oh right, well Remy is super personal, and when I have to start really talking about that I think I’m really going to have to work my way through my way of how I’m going to talk about that. But a lot of Remy’s things is issues with identity. He goes through issues with whether he’s feels black enough, he goes through issues with whether he’s too gay. A lot of these issues that I think aren’t discussed that we face throughout the world, being a person of color, or being somebody whose sexual identity is other than straight, being, you know, who we present ourselves to others, it’s a lot and I wrote it all throughout Remy. Like through the whole book. But with Sebastian, it was a bit easier because there were certain sections that I tackled these things, but with Remy it’s like throughout the book that I’m just exposing parts of myself to show people that this is just not like an isolated incident, and that you’re not alone in this, and you know there’s a place where you kind of can let these things out.

Prominent queer and African-American poet, Audre Lorde wrote, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Within your book many characters have intersectional identities, which include issues related to mental health, religious identity, race/ethnicity, queerness, and more. How did you handle capturing the intersectionality among your characters? Do you have any advice for other writers specifically on how to handle this topic?

I think one of the things you have to draw from is the world that you live in, and fortunately for me I live in a world where I’m friends with or I associate with people who have so many different intersectional identities, so I’m able to kind of pull from that and show a space that it exists, it happens. I myself have intersectional identities, so it is in a way easy for me to be able to say “Ok, I can write this because I live it” kind of thing. It’s always based on my own experience kind of thing.  

But I also suggest if you want to write these things and you’re not from that identity, you’re not from that world: one, research, obviously, but there’s only so much Google’s going to tell you, ok. Get to know people, talk to people. For Remy, I actually sat down and interviewed friends, and said, “talk to me about the things that you face. Talk to me about the joys that you have, you know, with your intersectionalized identities, but also talk to me about the struggles that you have.” I seek out sensitivity readers all the time because it’s like, yeah I want to write about these things. I want to expose it. I want people to see and live these joys, and also see the problems that they face. But I also want to get accurate. I want it to be honest. I want it to be authentic, so I always suggest you get sensitivity readers, even if it’s something you’re just the least bit unsure of. Ask a friend from that identity and say, “hey can you just read this over for me and let me know does this sound ok, does it sound stereotypical, does it sound like it’s contrived, things like that I always suggest. But yeah, just get to know people.  Like this world is brimming with fantastic, amazing people. Just talk to them, and don’t talk to them in a way that’s just like, I want to know about this part of you, where are you from, what language do you speak, things like that, or what are the struggles you face.

Just get to know them as people vs. identity.

Exactly. And then you’ll kind of see the parts of their humanity that are so much like you, but the parts that aren’t, that maybe you didn’t think of, “oh wow, I didn’t realize this person might face this,” as you know, this part of their identity that I don’t actually face and I’m thinking “well no one else faces,” because we all sometimes live in our own heads that these are our own struggles and no one else faces them. Or these are own own struggles and everyone faces them. So I definitely suggest like those things: research, sensitivity reader, get to know people.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d also like to share with us?

Oh gosh, I love this question. Ok, so I am a part of an anthology that comes out next year. There was an anthology that came out two years ago called All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell, and the next edition of the anthology is called All Out Now: Queer We Go Again, which I love, and it’s a group of contemporary stories, and so I have a short story in there that I’m super excited about because it was so much fun to write about a father-son relationship and the ways… because oftentimes in the queer community it’s either one way or the other with the parents. It’s either they’re supper accepting or they’re super not accepting. And it was fun to kind of write about how the layers of sometimes a parent-child relationship, it’s a bit different, you know, in the ways that each of them deal with the coming-out process. So I’m super excited about that one.

I can’t wait to read it. 

And then I’m working on another book… when I say working I mean thinking a lot about it. (Laughs) It is going to be a book about teens trying to go to a comic con convention, but of course, you know conventions are not cheap, and so they kind of have to find a way to go to the convention without actually having passes to get in.  Super queer. It’s going to be very comic book geeky, which that’s me whole-heartedly, so I’m going to explore that, and I’m also going to explore the lack of representation that we have throughout, you know, graphic novels, comic books, and what not when it comes to queer representation. Which is super like good for me to talk about because for so long I just accepted, you know, “ok, well these are just comic books, these are just superheroes, these are just villains, and that’s how it needs to be,” and whatever, but I’m happy to talk about that. And then with any book of mine it’s going to be a quirky little rom-com on the side, which I hope has a plot twist that people aren’t expecting, but the way I’m writing I’m sure they’re going to figure it out pretty soon, pretty early in the book.

No, it’s great. It actually sounds like Queens of Geek.

Listen, let me quick shout out to Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. Let me shout out Geekerella by Ashley Poston. Let me also shout out Death Prefers Blondes, which is a great heist book. Immoral Code is another great heist book and I drew from those books on kind of how to combine the elements of the geeky comic book kind of stuff and also the “let’s break into something we’re not supposed to be at” kind of thing.

I wholeheartedly love that.

Ad-lib

Which means that I can mess it up. (Laughs)

So ad-lib question number nine, since the premier of Love, Simon, there’s been more of a push for LGBT movies, especially towards teen-oriented movies, so which books, which YA books, would you love to see adapted into their own movie?

Oh, you would hit me with this one. Let’s see. Listen, to be honest with you and I know Becky has talked about it in a sense that it’s not in her control and she doesn’t necessarily know if she wants to have it, but I would love for Leah on the Offbeat to get made into a movie, because I love Leah and relate so deeply to Leah. I think it’s happening, but I don’t know if it’s got confirmation, but Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Obviously I want that to become a movie. I think that would be such great representation. I think the story’s important. I think it would do such great things for teens. I would also love to see Darius the Great Is Not Okay get made into a movie because I love that book. There’s two others. One is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. We need to see a teen superhero movie with queer characters. And that book is so diverse in sexuality and gender, in identity. It’s perfect. And I’d also love to see a book called Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green. I just need a rom-com where the main character is a compete klutz, gets it all wrong, misinterprets everything, and we can just laugh out loud because there’s so many great teen movies where you just laugh out loud, but none from a queer perspective.

Yes, I totally agree.

So I would kill for that to happen.

Ok great.

Geeks Out Q&A with Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg of The PLAIN Janes

With a new edition of The PLAIN Janes available now, Geeks OUT’s Michele Kirichanskaya had the opportunity to interview the creative team of Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg about the original release, what makes this new expanded hardcover edition so special, and more!

It’s been over two decades since the original PLAIN Janes graphic novel debuted. What was the impetus for bringing it back in a new hardcover edition, along with the triquel, Janes Attack Back?

Rugg: The original PLAIN Janes books were planned as a larger story. The PLAIN Janes was published by DC Comics as part of their young adult imprint, Minx. But Minx was cancelled after two years, before Cecil and I had a chance to tell the whole PLAIN Janes story. Eventually, the rights to The PLAIN Janes reverted to us. When this happened, we realized we had a chance to finally finish the story that we started with The PLAIN Janes! Little, Brown liked The PLAIN Janes and our idea to finish the story so we all decided to do it in one epic hardcover!  

Cecil Castellucci

Castellucci: Echoing exactly what Jim says. Also, it felt like when The PLAIN Janes came out, the infrastructure for kids comics wasn’t really there. We were really eager to have it come out when it could actually be supported by bookstores and libraries who now have such great curated sections. It was hard to be a little bit ahead of the curve with the book. 

Throughout the books, art fulfills a number of roles in the stories of the Janes, acting as a source of healing recreation for the Janes and as rebellious protest against homogenization and terror, carried itself through the vehicle of comics. What is the importance of art to you? 

Rugg: Art has always been a source of escape, joy, expression, and hope for me. It’s a way to connect with others–something I really enjoyed bonding over with Cecil. Cecil exposed me to a lot of public art, concept art, and other art that informed The PLAIN Janes

For me, art is a way to see and better understand the world through other people’s experience and expression. It was my dream for a better life when I was growing up in a small town and felt alone, like I didn’t belong. And it’s become my livelihood as an adult. Art has given me so much and I hope my art pays that forward with others. And by art, I do mean comics!    

Castellucci: To me art saves, as I write in the book. I think it is what helps us to make sense of our world and what it means to be human. It can soothe, it can inspire, it can incite, it can heal, it can connect. For me, art is everything. And I mean all types of art. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to tell stories and make art as a profession. 

I think it would be safe to say that the original books touched upon very hard truths, drawing parallels between the attacks on Metro City and events following 9/11. Nearly two decades later, our generation is still navigating a terror-world, touched by gun violence and attacks on human rights around the world. In what ways has the audience changed since the original debut versus today? How do you feel you yourselves have personally changed?

Jim Rugg

Rugg: The relevance of The PLAIN Janes is good and bad. Obviously, you want to tell stories that feel relevant. But in this case, it’s sad because of the parallels that you mention. One of my favorite parts of the Janes is how Cecil was able to show the Janes’ art in so many ways–first as underground fun (almost like punk rock), then community-based and public, and finally as activism. I think that reflects how the audience has changed. People are so active and engaged today. Personally, I think I’m more aware of the challenges that we face today and the role that art and stories can play in this ongoing conversation.  

Castellucci: I agree with Jim. I wanted to tell a story about how art saves us in times of trauma.  How it can make sense of a world gone mad. I strongly believe that it does that. It actually pains me that the book is still relevant, if not more so. But I also hope that it helps people of all ages to remember that even when it feels like nothing can be done, something can be made. And that art helps us to navigate big complex feelings and helps us to have a common language with which to be able to affect change for good. 

Which of the Janes is most modeled after yourself? If you could create a fifth Jane what would she/he/they be like?

Rugg: Probably Jane Beckles since she’s into art. If I could create a fifth Jane, she would be a skateboarder!  

Castellucci: I think they are all different facets of me! But I think probably Main Jane as well because she’s the instigator, and as a writer I instigate. A fifth Jane, huh, I actually think of Payne who arrives in book three to be that fifth Jane!  But a sixth Jane would be Jane that had wanderlust. A world traveler Jane. 

Where do you see the Janes in the future? What would they be doing?

Rugg: Main Jane is an international artist, documentary filmmaker, and works with people to make art (young and old). Brain Jane is a physicist and robotics engineer. Theater Jane is a writer and director (stage and video). Polly Jane is a coach, teacher, and ultra-runner. 

Castellucci: Ha ha. I think Main Jane is a fabulous contemporary artist. Brain Jane works for NASA and builds rovers that explore other worlds. Theater Jane is a director. Polly Jane is a dancer!  

If the characters of your books could interact with other characters from any fictional universe, which one and who would they be?

Rugg: They would interact with Jason from Friday the 13th and they would figure out a way to defeat him and save Camp Crystal Lake.

Castellucci: They would be in the Magicians and be the magicians who have art magic.   

 The discussion of mental health plays a major part in the book, from Jane’s and Jane’s mother’s experiences with PTSD and anxiety. In what ways do you think art can help with mental health, or just coping as Theater Jane would say the “crudeness of reality”? (Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”)

Rugg: Art can help mental health in a lot of ways, and art therapy has been used with people suffering from PTSD. Some art making is very meditative which can be a good thing for anxiety and the “crudeness of reality.” Art is a way to connect with others which can be a very healthy thing–interacting, connecting, sharing.  

Castellucci: I think it goes back to being able to express things when you lose the ability to articulate that fear or dread or anxiety. Sometimes making art leads you to the next step of being able to cope. 

Who are some of your personal artistic and literary influences? Did any directly inspire or influence The PLAIN Janes?

Rugg: A lot of my influences come from comics. Dan Clowes’ Ghost World is a big influence and it featured two high school girls as protagonists. Love and Rockets, specifically Jaime Hernandez’s Hoppers’ characters from the early days, when they were young punks.  

Castellucci: Yeah, for the Janes, I’d say exactly the same as Jim. Ghost World and Love and Rockets.  

Any future plans for The PLAIN Janes or other independent projects?

Castellucci: Well I always hope that someone will make The PLAIN Janes into a tv show or a film.  Right now I’m working on Batgirl over at DC. 

Finally, since this is an LGBTQ+ website, are there any LGBTQ+ authors and/or books that have inspired you and your own work? Can you recommend any titles or authors for other readers?

Castellucci: Sure! Tons! I’m a big fan of David Levithan’s books; Two Boys Kissing was a favorite. I loved Malinda Lo’s Cinderella retelling Ash. Mariko Tamaki is always great; I love This One Summer


Bios:

Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Plain Janes, Soupy Leaves Home, The Year of the Beasts, Tin Star, Don’t Cosplay With My Heart, and the Eisner nominated Odd Duck. In 2015 she co-authored Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure.  She is currently writing Shade, The Changing Girl, an ongoing comic on Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC Comics. Her short stories and short comics have been published in Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Womanthology, Star Trek: Waypoint and Vertigo SFX: Slam! She is the Children’s Correspondence Coordinator for The Rumpus, a two-time Macdowell Fellow, and the founding YA Editor at the LA Review of Books. She lives in Los Angeles.

Jim Rugg is a comic book artist, bookmaker, illustrator, and designer. His books include Street Angel, The Plain Janes, Afrodisiac, Notebook Drawings, Rambo 3.5, and Supermag. He is a recipient of both the Eisner and Ignatz Awards and he teaches visual storytelling at the School of Visual Arts and the Animation Workshop in Denmark. He lives and draws in Pittsburgh.

Interview with author L.C. Rosen

A writer for all ages, L.C. Rosen (otherwise known as Lev Rosen) is the author of Young-Adult books Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) as well as the upcoming novel Camp coming out on May 26th that you can pre-order here. Known for their sex positively and deconstruction of toxic masculinity, Rosen’s books are unapologetically queer, as quoted to give “queer kids own voices queer writing. So they can see THEMSELVES, and not their reflection in straight culture’s eyes. Let queer kids see themselves as messy, and making mistakes and HUMAN.” L.C. Rosen lives in New York with his husband and cat.

Geeks OUT’s own Michele Kirichanskaya had the privilege to ask Rosen some questions about their previous and upcoming work.

When and how did you first realize you wanted to become an author?

I’ve been writing my entire life.  At my 8th grade “graduation” the teachers gave me a little wizard figure and told me I was a “wizard with words” and was sure to be a writer.  I still have it!  I’ve just always loved stories and making up stories.  I honestly feel like I never had a choice in the matter.  Oh, except lawyer.  Dad really wanted me to be a lawyer (like him).  I think I made the right decision.  

What was the inspiration for Camp?

The real starting inspiration was this desire to do a contemporary queer YA version of a 1960s Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedy.  I have no idea where that desire came from (probably watching Down With Love over and over), but once it was in my brain, I fussed around with it until I realized that instead of a battle of the sexes, it could be a battle of the masc/femme.  And these movies always have a playboy pretending to be a romantic to woo a romantic woman, but then they actually become a romantic!  But that alone felt like an unpleasant motivation.  So I mixed up the elements a bit – a romantic pretending to be a butch to win the supposed love of his life felt like a modern queer interpretation of those elements.  But once I started writing it, I realized I needed to sort of get to the heart of Hudson’s masc4masc mentality and if Randy really feels like it’s love if he’s pretending to be different, and it opened itself up to more complexity.  

In 2019, the Met held an exhibition called Camp: Notes on Fashion, inviting a variety of artists and performers to provide their own interpretation on the word. In your book we see multiple meanings of the word. What’s your take on Camp?

Oh man, how much time you got?  First, I think telling people to dress camp is an act of pure sadism.  Being told to do camp means you can’t really do camp, because camp is about expectations and playing with them, so it’s defined by context.  Doing drag on a camp runway isn’t camp.  Doing drag at your grandmother’s funeral is.  So because of the expectations of camp, these poor guests were being told to do a camp version of camp, which involves playing with the idea of camp itself.  I thought Lady Gaga did an ok job of it, but she did that by making it about her performance: the changing of outfits, the parading in front of the cameras.  Celine Dion did it by becoming a camp version of Celine Dion.  She was making fun of her own image, toying with it.  But for the most part, I thought the outfits didn’t suit the nearly-impossible challenge. 

As for the exhibit itself, I wished they’d provided more context.  It felt like they were saying “look, this outfit has a big collar – that’s camp, right?”  But again, it’s about context – show us what this outfit was playing with in the context of when it was created.  As for why it’s the title of my book – it wasn’t originally.  This was a title by committee situation, as often happens with books.  But I like it because it has a lot of meaning – not just the summer camp location – but the idea of the performance of gender.  That butching it up is just as camp as a drag look.  At one point in the book, Randy even puts on a “masc fashion show” for his bunkmates, mixing up his outfits to look butcher as they shout stuff like “she almost passes” and “Ooooh, honey, butch!” – it’s masculinity as a drag show.  That’s why the title works for me.  Everyone is camping up their identity – even if it’s a false one.  

If the characters of your books could interact with any other fictional universe, which universe would it be? Which characters from that universe would you be most interested in seeing your characters interact with?

I’m going back to my inspiration here, and saying Down With Love.  Randy, George and maybe Ashleigh would worship the way Barbara and Vikki dress, enter a room, walk, talk.  It would be hilarious.  I’d love to see that crossover.  

In a previous interview with i-D, you talked a little about the disparity between Own Voices m/m fiction and that which is written by female (often cis-het) authors? Can you expand on this?

I think that own voices m/m work in YA is something that often gets overlooked and is actually really important and vital.  The way I look at it, an author’s first audience is almost always themselves.  When you write about someone who isn’t like you (as a main character), you have to ask yourself why you want to write about them.  And I think when people who aren’t queer write queer men, the answer is often fetishizing or exploitative.  Plenty of m/m writers who aren’t queer men talk openly about how m/m makes more money, so they focus their attention there.  Or how they think m/m romance is hot (the same way straight men would say lesbian porn is hot).  When you’re writing for adults, that doesn’t matter much, because adults usually have a sense of their own sexuality in relation to the outside world, have a sense of their own identity.  But when you’re talking about teenagers, who are still figuring out how the world sees them, if they look for that in a book that was written by someone who wrote about people like the teenager just because it turns them on, or because it makes them money, then that view is going to be in the writing, and it’s how the teenager is going to end up seeing themself.  They’re going to fetishize themselves, or see themselves as an object for straight people to tell stories about, as opposed to someone with their own stories to tell.  Authenticity is important because it tells queer teens about what being queer is really like.  And that’s not to say non-gay men shouldn’t write stories about gay men, but I think it requires a real examination of their motives and a willingness to make someone else the first audience and put their own viewpoints as secondary, which is difficult.  It means doing the work, and talking to queer men about their experiences, and how they see themselves and how the world sees them.  And it means not just writing about gay men because you think it’s fun or hot or whatever.  If you want to do that and keep it in a journal, fine, I won’t kink shame.  But if you’re doing it to be published and read by queer teens, then you’re essentially telling queer teens that they exist for your pleasure or to make money off of.  That’s not cool.  

In both your books, Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) and Camp, you talk about the prominence of femme shaming of queer men, even within the queer community itself. How is this topic relevant for you as well as relevant for the YA audience?

I think a lot of gay men grew up thinking that being gay meant behaving in a specific way, and if they were like me, they resented that, and so tried to prove we were more than just the vapid stereotypes we saw on TV, and which our peers expected of us.  But the truth is, that’s just straight people telling gay people what being gay is: either you’re a stereotype, or you’re a “real person” – which means you act the way straight people do, defined by the patriarchy and obsolete gender roles.  

In Jack of Hearts, I wanted to show the way straight culture punishes gay men for having the nerve to be both a stereotype and full-fledged human, and I wanted readers to see someone who acted like a “bad gay” but was a complicated and good person.  But with Camp I want to play with the way gay people can internalize that and then become enforcers of the patriarchy ourselves.  I thought a lot about the idea of the “Special Gay.”  That is, gay men who come out, and whose homophobic parents or friends tell them “I don’t like gay people aside from you – you’re special, you don’t act like the rest of them.”  When you’re a teenager and your parents or friends tell you that, you start clinging to that identity because you know the moment you wander from it, you’ll be rejected by the people you depend on.  You internalize it – it becomes the most important thing about you: “I’m gay, but I’m not like those other gays.  I’m special.”  And when you start looking for romance, you know that you need to find someone else who fits those standards too, otherwise this potential partner will be rejected by your loved ones, or worse, they’ll see your choice in partner as a reflection of you and reject you.  So I wanted to play with that idea – that behaving a certain way, for queer teens, is needed to survive.  And in both Camp and Jack, what I’m really talking about is how coming out isn’t the end of a story.  It’s not a happy resolved thing like a lot of books and movies want us to believe.  One you’re out, you still experience homophobia – often even from people who love you, and that shapes the way you see your queerness.  Coming out is just a first step.  Not a happy ending.  

What do you wish to see for the future of YA?

More diversity, of course, especially in terms of authors.  More diversity in terms of where YA takes place.  More queer communities in YA, instead of just one or two queer kids with mostly straight friends.  More sex-positive YA.  More YA that says “there’s no wrong way to be queer.”  

Finally, are there any LGBTQ+ authors and/or books that have inspired you and your own work? Can you recommend any titles or authors for other readers?

Oh man, I have so many recommendations!  I’m going to limit myself to three.  Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, which is coming out soon and I had the pleasure of reading early, is this amazing queer adventure novel – essentially imagine queer kids shipped to a conversion camp on the island from Lost fighting to escape.  Julian Winters most recent book, How to Be Remy Cameron, is all about shedding labels, which is a topic dear to my heart.  And I am CRAZY excited for The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig, which I haven’t read yet, but is gay vampires and Roehrig does suspense so well I’m sure it’s going to be a bloodsucking delight.