Interview with Cartoonist Melanie Gillman

Melanie Gillman is a cartoonist and illustrator who specializes in LGBTQ books for kids and teens. They are the creator of the Stonewall Honor Award–winning graphic novel As the Crow Flies and Stage Dreams. In addition to their graphic novel work, they teach in the comics MFA program at California College of the Arts.

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

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

I’m a cartoonist who specializes in queer spec fic and colored pencil art!

What can you tell us about your latest book, Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales? What inspired the collection?

A lot of the stories in Other Ever Afters originated as 24-hour comics! I’ve been participating in 24-hour comic day every year since 2016. I started drawing romantic queer fairy tale comics every year in part because I love the genre (and if you’re drawing comics for yourself, there’s no reason not to be as self-indulgent as possible about it), and in part, because fairy tales are short! It’s a good storytelling format for something you want to be able to get done in a weekend.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the comics medium? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, but I didn’t really fall in love with comics until college when I started stumbling across webcomics. In my early years, I was reading a lot of webcomics by people like Der-Shing Helmer, E.K. Weaver, Kate Beaton, and Lucy Knisley (who are all still active today and doing great work) – as well as any graphic novels I could scrounge up at my local library, which at the time was not a lot!

How would you describe your creative process?

It’s an everyday process for me!  I have set hours every day where I’m writing and drawing.  It might not sound very romantic, but I’m a strong believer in schedules and habit-building – it’s the best way to make steady progress on your creative work.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing? What are some of the most challenging?

I love the colored pencil process! (And you really have to love colored pencils to work with them at all, they’re slow and labor-intensive as hell.) Coloring is the stage where I can turn on audiobooks and really get into the zone for hours – it’s hard work, but it’s also meditative and relaxing in a way.

Scripting is often the most challenging part of the process for me – but only because I have a serious perfectionist streak as a storyteller, so it’s easy to get worked up second-guessing even really tiny decisions along the way. When you know you’ve gotten something right though, it’s a high like nothing else.

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

Outside of comics, I tend to read a lot of history and biology nonfiction, and that definitely worms its way into my comics in a lot of ways, even if most of it stays below the surface. I also will never ever pass up opportunities to visit weird niche local museums and historical sites and have gained a lot of valuable insight from that over the years, too. I think it’s a good thing for storytellers to be curious about the world around them, and to be lifelong students in whatever fields naturally appeal to them. Learning is the compost that good stories grow from – it’s never a wasted effort.

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

I rarely get asked about acting in comics, but it’s one of my favorite aspects of the medium!  Comics have a lot of overlap with theater – you can think of every graphic novel as being a one-man show in a way, with the cartoonist performing every role. If you want to get better at this part of the craft, besides the obvious stuff (practice!), as silly as it sounds, I genuinely think it helps to listen to a lot of musicals and sing along. It’s a way to train your brain to mimic professional actors’ expressions and body language in a ton of wildly different roles, and to feel those movements in your own body. Also, as a bonus, this is something you can do while drawing your comics, so you’re sort of doubling up on your practice there.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I’ve gotten majorly into foraging as a pandemic hobby – if you ever want someone who can talk your ear off about eating acorns or wild mushrooms or the various tasty weeds that grow in people’s yards, I’m your guy. On any given day, if I’m not drawing comics, I’m probably neck-deep in a bramble somewhere, filling up a container with blackberries.

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

Most of my forthcoming books haven’t been announced yet, sadly! But I can say I’m working on a lot of horror lately, which has been a ton of fun.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring graphic novelists, whether illustrators and/or writers?

For writers: practice drawing your scripts. Comics is a visual medium, and there are very important lessons about comics storytelling you won’t learn without drawing.  Even if all you can draw is stick figures, do that! You’ll become a much better comics storyteller and a much better collaborator the more you do this.

For artists: you already know a lot about writing, even if you don’t think you do. There are a lot of people out there who seem to have this funny idea that comic artists are not also writers, but those people are wrong. I don’t think you can teach yourself how to draw comics without also learning a whole lot about how to write them. Approach this industry with the confidence that you are a visual storyteller with a full grasp of the medium, not a partial grasp.

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

We’re incredibly lucky to be living in a time where we’ve got a wealth of queer comics out in the world to read, with more being published every year! If you enjoyed Other Ever Afters and want to read more fairy tale comics with a queer perspective, two books I would strongly recommend are The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Interview with Artist Deb JJ Lee

Deb JJ Lee is a Korean American artist currently living in Brooklyn, NY. They have appeared in the New Yorker, Washington Post, NPR, Google, Radiolab, PBS, and more. Books they have illustrated include The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth (Roaring Brook Press, 2020) and The Other Side of Tomorrow by Tina Cho (HarperCollins, 2024). They enjoy reality tv, sparkling water, and pretending to be an extrovert.

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

What can you tell us about your upcoming graphic novel, graphic novel memoir, In Limbo? What inspired you to write this story?

On the surface, IN LIMBO is about the intersection of Korean-American diaspora and mental illness, and difficult maternal relationships. But deeper down, it’s about the trials of asking for and granting forgiveness to and from those you have hurt, including yourself. 

The roots of IN LIMBO started in 2018 in the form of a weekend project—a four-page comic about trans-generational language barriers that made its way around Twitter when Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast retweeted it! My agent Ed and I were working on a picture book pitch at the time when he suggested the idea of a graphic novel, which I never thought I’d be capable of doing. That four-page comic was my longest sequential work, so a 350-page graphic novel was unheard of.

But I knew I have always wanted to make a story like this, even back when I was in the 5th grade. I was so miserable even as a 10-year-old since so much has already happened in my life that I wanted to write something to let it all out, but I’m glad I waited. Then you had those draw-my-life videos on Youtube in 2012, 2013? I must have been around 16 or 17 around then. I didn’t partake even I wanted to so badly, but again, I’m glad I waited. But at the end of the day, I wanted to make this book for me—a letter, a therapy session for myself. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, specifically comics? What drew you to the medium?

Though I didn’t think I could make comics into a career until I literally started the pitch of IN LIMBO, I think there were instances throughout my life where I should have known it would happen. I remember making tiny little comics (early zines?) when I was very little, maybe around 7 or 8. I would fold a piece of computer paper into a book, write little fanfiction and draw fanart along with it and put them on display on my windowsill. I suppose that was my first solo tabling experience? But I think I stopped because my brother found them and told my friends, haha. But then afterwards I’d sneak into the comics section of Barnes and Noble when my parents weren’t looking and inhale as much material as I could. Though that, unfortunately, stopped at around 12 for a reason I cannot recall.

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt personally reflected in? Is there anything like that now?

Continuing on from the previous question, I wasn’t allowed to read manga or any comic medium as a kid, so I had to find loopholes (sitting in the comics section of Barnes and Noble, reading Death Note or Fruits Basket on my iPhone 3GS before bed). But in 2007 I did convince my parents to buy me a copy of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is half prose, half illustrations, probably one of the first mediums that made me want to be serious about drawing well. I remember doing little studies of certain pages because Selznick was *the* artist I wanted to be back then! And even though Hugo Cabret isn’t a comic, I think the medium comes close.

However, there were no books that I knew of that I felt personally related to in the 2000s, the early 2010s. Obviously there a good deal now—I know I would have loved Almost American Girl by Robin Ha. Though Robin’s takes a different tone, the parallels on paper are quite similar to my own life—Korean in Alabama, art as solace, difficult familial relationships. 

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

For IN LIMBO in particular, I had Inio Asano, Brian Selznick, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, and Shaun Tan’s work sitting on my desk. But for art in general, I’m lucky to be in a community full of artist friends who inspire me with literally every piece they make, and to even take the time to blurb the book(!) Other sources of inspiration include Art Deco, Japanese woodblock printmaking, Moebius, and everything maximalist.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process?

Making a graphic novel gets emotionally taxing, no matter the topic. If a book has, say, 350 pages, with each page having 3-6 panels, that would be up to 2100 drawings. I worked on this book almost every day for three years, pumping out one page a day, and it was exhausting. However, to have it printed and in your hands has to be one of the most rewarding experiences, and a unique one too, especially for us digital artists. And when it’s out, it’s out—the book has a life of its own.

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

The best parts of the creative process has got to be the beginning and the end—writing the story, thumbnailing it out. The freedom is yours, the book can be everything and anything you want it to be. The possibilities are endless! And the end of the creative process is, well, you’re done, you can pop a bottle of champagne with your friends, and then start the next project.

The most frustrating/difficult parts is everything in the middle. Cutting things out, learning that parts of your story doesn’t land or make any sense. Figuring out what it’s like to work under the timeline you’re given, realizing that it’s unrealistic in this economy, and having to ask your editor for a 2-year extension and holding your breath as you wait for their response.

I made a promise to myself that my future graphic novels will be worked under my own terms of being given as much time as possible—it will be done when it’s done. 

What are some things you would want readers to take away from In Limbo?

As hinted earlier, forgiveness is really hard to earn and grant. You may never accept or want to give it. And that is ok. Our problems will usually never disappear, but we can learn how to tame them as they fade in and out.

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

To find or build your community! To have friends who understand what it’s like to struggle with yourself and the industry despite the level you’re at, and to have people you feel comfortable giving and receiving help from is an unparalleled experience. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to recommend and share each other’s work, to bring each other up. Being a freelance illustrator and/or artist is a lonely practice, so to have people who you genuinely care about vastly improves the experience.

And on a similar note—kindness sometimes goes a longer way than being a good artist. There are plenty of people in the industry who are at the top of the game who have repeatedly been rude or mean to their peers, and word gets around. You don’t have to let your boundaries loose, just be kind!

In terms of skills, don’t be afraid to keep building your basic foundations. It’s always encouraged to break the rules, but you have to be very familiar with what those rules are. For instance, I think I have quite a ways to go in improving lighting and coloring—while I think I can tell what works and what doesn’t, there’s still a lot I am confused by. 

Also, avoid fixating on one artist to take inspiration from! Look back into history. Chances are if you have a visual problem you need solving, it’s been done 182379 times, multiple different ways. Looking into the past also helps you avoid emulating trends and saturated methods of drawing—it will make you stand out as an artist!

And when working on book projects, one of the most important things of the process is to have a good relationship with an editor, preferably one who understands the intense labor of drawing and can give you more time, which you should never feel shy asking more of. You only have one body!

Besides your work as an artist, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

Related to IN LIMBO, I do see myself exhibiting similar patterns of hopelessness but I definitely improved a long way! My problems have never really disappeared, but I like to say that I’ve gotten much better at coping with them. 

And even though I’m a she/her in the book, I’m very much a they/them. The nonbinary bit came in after the book was finished, but I decided to keep it she/her in the book still because that’s who I wanted to be at the time. But a lot of people don’t know the difference, so I’m still misgendered in a lot of notes, unfortunately 🙁

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

Question: How has writing a memoir make you look at your past differently?

Answer: Wow thanks for asking! Making IN LIMBO was therapy about a parallel universe. I’m much more comfortable talking about my past; writing about it for the public was the best way for me to process it all. The events that happened in the book vs in real life are as similar as I could make them, but the book version is much more palatable for readers. I wish I could have included every aspect (like how there were *three* orchestras I was part of instead of one, two different Korean schools, bullies in the New York art program, and how Quinn and I did meet up in Korea and were on good terms until 2018) in 350 pages, but that would make the story too complicated. The conclusions are the same, but the means to get there are slightly different. But I do worry that as time goes on I will start confusing one memory for one that I fabricated for the book. 

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

I’m working on THE OTHER SIDE OF TOMORROW with Tina Cho over at HarperAlley, which is about kids escaping from North Korea. I should be done coloring it by the end of this year so I think it’s publishing in Fall 2024!

We also just announced MONSTER SEEK, a picture book with Rainie Oet at Astra Books about gender identity.

As for projects that only exist in my head, I do one day want to work on a book that mixes PACHINKO and CLOUD ATLAS. I have no idea how I would be able to accomplish that but that’s part of the challenge, isn’t it?

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

The classics: SKIM by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY by Jillian Tamaki, DON’T GO WITHOUT ME by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, MAGIC FISH by Trung Le Nguyen, STRAY by Molly Mendoza, and SPINNING by Tillie Walden.

Interview with Author Sarah Lyu

Sarah Lyu grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She loves a good hike and can often be found with a paintbrush in one hand and a cup of milky tea in the other. Sarah is the author of The Best Lies and I Will Find You Again. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, and Facebook.

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

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

Hi there, I’m Sarah Lyu, YA author of The Best Lies and the upcoming I Will Find You Again. I write books about love and loss, trauma and hope. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, I Will Find You Again? What inspired the story?

I Will Find You Again is the story of two girls, Chase and Lia, childhood best friends who fall in love and fall apart before one of them disappears. It’s about how far we’re willing to go for love, what sacrifices we’re willing to make, and what happens when it’s just not enough. It’s also about the idea of choosing to be internally happy or to be externally successful in life, about suffering when you’re young for some undefined golden future. And it’s about sleepovers on a yacht, playing hooky in NYC, and the pure, unadulterated joy of being with someone who sees the real you and loves you, flaws and all. 

I was initially inspired by some of my high school experiences—all-nighters spent cramming for tests, intense pressure to be perfect all the time, the abstract fear of failing at life. This sense of never living in the moment and always chasing a future defined by achievements and outward successes when we think we can finally be happy. But that happiness never comes because all we know is the chase so if we ever catch the thing we thought we needed, we just move on to needing something else. (There’s a reason the main character’s name is Chase, ha.) I wanted to write about that feeling of never being enough but in a way that’s empathetic to anyone who’s ever struggled with it because I’m still struggling with it myself. 

What drew you to storytelling, particularly young adult fiction? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I love young adult fiction so much because the teen years are such a wonderful and terrible period of transformation and realization. So many firsts and so many intense emotions! It’s often the time when we start to see the complexity of the world and when we start to figure out how we fit in that world. My favorite author is E. Lockhart, and I read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks about once every year or two. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I usually start with a concept I’m intrigued by and it can take a while for the characters to speak to me. I do outline but only the major plot points to keep the writing fresh. I like the advice that the first draft is for telling myself the story first and subsequent drafts are for telling the story to readers. 

What inspires you as a writer?

I find human beings fascinating, particularly when we do things we know we shouldn’t do. When we self-destruct or hurt the people we love even though we never intended to. The ways we mess up and the ways we try to fix things. The ways we lie to hide how we really feel, even (or especially) to ourselves. I’ll spend my whole life trying to uncover why we do what we do and I’ll still never get to the end, but that’s part of the fun. 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

I love getting lost in a conversation between characters. Sometimes when I’m deep in a scene, it feels like there’s a movie playing in my brain and I’m just trying to keep up with what everyone’s saying. That’s how it often felt when writing I Will Find You Again—the love between these two girls was palpable and I was sometimes just a third wheel watching Chase and Lia argue and make up, fall in and out of love, find each other again and again. 

I find plot and structure to be a huge challenge. Both I Will Find You Again and The Best Lies are thrillers with complicated plots and I facepalmed a lot during the process because I had no one but me to blame for choosing to write such un-straightforward stories. 

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

If I’m completely honest, I managed to finish the first draft only because of a deadline. I think in theory I like the idea of touching the book every day and trying to write something in the story so that it stays fresh in my mind. In reality, I write in spurts and stops, and I’m trying to just embrace it because we can only be the person we are, right? 

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

How does love fit into your books? To me, love is the whole point of life. Not falling in love or romantic love necessarily, but the love that connects us to each other and more than that, to ourselves. These connections are what give us meaning in a world where nothing really lasts. They’re what reveal us and preserve us, what we crave in good times, and what sustains us in bad. And for Chase, someone who believes in the sandcastles she could one day build (money and power and possibly fame), love is something she takes for granted because what she has with Lia has been there since they were young and so she thinks true love is something that comes easy. It takes losing that love for her to not only appreciate it but to understand the honesty and attentiveness and vulnerability it takes to build a relationship that feels like home.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I have two dogs that I absolutely adore. I love going to new places and meeting new people and hearing their life stories—if you end up sitting next to me on a plane or train, there’s a good chance I’ll walk away knowing the names of your family and pets and all about what drives you and what you hope the next five years will bring. I also love painting and lug brushes, tubes of paint, and blank canvas panels with me wherever I go, much to the annoyance of my travel companions, ha. 

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?

This is advice for me too because I am constantly reminding myself: write for yourself first. What is something that’s troubling you? What are you struggling with? What do you love and why? What are your dreams and what gives you hope? What haunts you and what soothes your soul? Each of my books are stories I needed for myself, and often when I’m struggling with something (an old trauma, my perennial perfectionism), I’ll think, hey, I wrote a whole book about that. Fiction is how we learn through imagination—writing is self-exploration first to me and a way for me to work through the ghosts that I carry and understand the world in a different way.

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

I’m currently working on a story about clones but it’s in the very early stages—more soon, I hope.

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

Nina LaCour, David Leviathan, Victoria Lee—they’re all wonderful!

Header Photo Credit Anna Shih

Interview with Author Sacha Lamb

Sacha Lamb is a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow in young adult fiction and graduated in Library and Information Science and History from Simmons University. Sacha lives in New England with a miniature dachshund mix named Anzu Bean. When The Angels Left The Old Country is their debut novel.

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

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

In my day job I’m a librarian. I graduated with degrees in library science and history in 2020, and I work for a scientific organization. When I’m not working I take walks and practice tricks with my dachshund mix. 

I was a Lambda literary fellow in YA in 2018 and my first published pieces were short queer stories online—Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live from Book Smugglers (2017), “Epistolary” with Foreshadow YA in 2019. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, When the Angels Left the Old Country? What was the inspiration for this story?

When the Angels Left The Old Country is my debut novel, an Ellis Island era fairytale about an angel and demon who study Talmud in a little village in Poland, until a girl from the village goes missing on the way to America and they have to go after her to find out what happened. It turns out that America is a complicated place full of magic and murders, and the streets are not paved with gold. 

When I started writing Angels, I’d just finished a draft of a YA contemporary that was focused on grief and loneliness, so, not a very cheerful project. I wanted to do something fun to decompress, and my comfort zones are fairytales and the history of immigration (my master’s thesis in history focused on Jewish immigrants to the USA in the 1920s). I really pulled together a lot of inspirations, basically everything I enjoy the most: historical queerness, immigration, supernatural creatures, bickering. 

As a queer and Jewish person, what does it mean to you writing a book like this?

The best thing about having this book out in the world is seeing people respond like “this is me, this is my culture, my life.” Especially to have people from traditional Jewish contexts respond like that to a queer story is very powerful. I hope that the book can help broaden for people the idea of what’s possible with a very deeply Jewish context and Jewish life, and help people see that history is complicated and many-layered. 

Queer people may not be well-recorded in history, but we do have enough sources to know that we’ve always been around. I like to think of queer history as a sort of mycelial network, where you have the mushrooms popping up above ground and those are the stories that managed to get written down, that’s what we see, but there’s a whole vast underground network of stories we don’t see. You have to extrapolate from what you do see to the thriving ecosystem underneath. And I hope this book helps people imagine that ecosystem in our past. 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative and historical fiction?

It was really something I grew up with. My parents are big audiobook listeners and when my siblings and I were small we listened to a lot of books just around the house or on road trips, including Lord of the Rings and the Earthsea series. My siblings and I were also obsessed with Redwall and I was the fastest reader so I’d sometimes read them out loud and do voices. My sister and I would do a lot of collaborative roleplay storytelling. I just stuck with it. 

For me, speculative and historical are serving similar purposes—you’re exploring possibilities. Either “what would the world look like, if”, or “how might people have felt, when”. I read a ton of history for fun and I’m always fascinated by the things we just don’t know, and can’t know, about what people were thinking at any given time. How people whose thoughts weren’t written down experienced events. The historical and the fantastical are both full of mysteries. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I tend to gather a lot of inspirations from reading, and eventually, they come together to create a story. Often I’ll have a scene in mind, or a character dynamic, that becomes the seed of the plot. My stories are really focused on characters so it’s usually some idea of how two characters relate to each other that sparks inspiration. For instance, my first published story, “Avi Cantor”, began with the idea “psychic kid accidentally predicts a classmate’s death”, which is a situation that implies already some conflict and a certain relationship between two characters. For Angels, it was “angel and demon Talmud study partners.” How are two supernatural creatures with opposing roles in the cosmos, but an intimate personal relationship, going to handle cooperating together on a single quest? And that question powers most of the plot. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? 

My earliest exposures to queerness in fiction were through fanfic on Livejournal. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that there really started to be a push for diversity in traditionally published YA, and there was an explosion of queer YA just as I was getting back into fiction (my undergrad degree was pretty intense and I didn’t have time to read for fun). I think fanfiction can teach you a lot about open possibility, but it’s important to see fully-formed original stories that reflect yourself as well. I’m glad that I don’t feel like a total outlier on the shelves and I hope we can keep expanding the industry so that everyone has equitable access to stories that speak to them. 

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

I mentioned that I take a lot of inspiration from history. Obviously from folklore as well. My shelves are full of folktale collections (Jewish and otherwise) and academic history books. I’m also really fond of children’s book illustration and I’m a big fan of some of the classics—Ivan Bilibin’s Slavic fairytale art, Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake, Tove Jansson. A contemporary illustrator whose work I really like is Shaun Tan. 

I read pretty widely within YA, although I’m most drawn to fantasy and horror. Horror is fun because even if a horror story is bad, you can learn a lot from the failures. Maintaining suspense requires a really good grasp of structure and pacing and sometimes I just enjoy picking apart a story that doesn’t work and figuring out what I’d do differently. The most effectively suspenseful YA I’ve read recently was Ace of Spades, by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. Even if you guess what’s happening there’s nothing you can do to extract the characters from the narrative, so you’re just internally screaming the entire time. 

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

There’s a feeling when you really get a handle on your plot that’s like when you’re getting to the end of a jigsaw puzzle and each piece you fit makes the next one fit faster. I love that feeling. Rewriting to add foreshadowing and strengthen the themes, that’s really fun. The hardest thing is to write action scenes. And for this book, the most frustrating part was making sure the Hebrew and Yiddish were consistently transliterated! For that, I have to shout out the copy editor, Anamika, who had to flag all my inconsistencies. I’m sure I’m going to do it again but there was a moment where I briefly regretted using so many Yiddish words. 

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

I love sheep. If you meet some sheep you can send me photos of them, I will always want to see them! 

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

There are a couple of sneaky classic Yiddish literature jokes in the book that I hope someone notices. If someone were to ask “when you said they got a ride in a bookseller’s cart, was that Mendele Mokher Sforim?” The answer would be yes. 

There’s also a line near the end where I describe Little Ash and Uriel as “the good angel and the wicked angel” and to turn things around and ask my readers a question: which of them is which? 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Think about what elements of a story speak to you and play around with mixing and matching them. And don’t worry too much about what the meanest person on Twitter is going to think of your story. No one likes the meanest person on Twitter. 

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

I have another queer Jewish fantasy in progress, but no details on that yet because I don’t want to jinx anything! 

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

We’re in a great moment for Jewish fantasy right now. I’d recommend Rebecca Podos and Aden Polydoros for queer Jewish fantasies, and Gavriel Savit’s The Way Back for Jewish fantasy that’s not queer. A backlist title that I think not enough people read is Chris Moriarty’s Inquisitor’s Apprentice, which is a middle-grade Jewish fantasy. And I also want to shout out my Lambda cohort. Jd Scott has a short story collection, Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day, Lin Thompson has a middle-grade out called The Best Liars in Riverview and another book upcoming, Jas Hammonds has a YA contemporary We Deserve Monuments, and Jen St Jude’s apocalyptic love story If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come is out in May!

Interview with Actor and Writer Aislinn Brophy

Aislinn Brophy (they/she) is an actor, writer, and arts administrator based in the Atlanta area. She was born and raised in South Florida but made her way up to the frigid northeast for college. Their hobbies include pawning off their baking on anybody nearby, doing funny voices, and dismantling the patriarchy. Aislinn has a degree in Theater, Dance & Media, and her experiences as a performer consistently wiggle their way into her writing. In all aspects of her work as an artist, she is passionate about exploring identity and social justice issues. Their debut YA novel, How To Succeed in Witchcraft, is available now with a second untitled novel to follow.

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

Thanks for having me! My name is Aislinn Brophy, and I’m an author and an actor. I’m originally from South Florida, but now you can find me living in Atlanta with my lovely partner and our two cats. When I’m not working, I love dancing, making playlists for my friends, and playing D&D. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, How To Succeed in Witchcraft? What was the inspiration for this story? 

How to Succeed in Witchcraft is a YA contemporary fantasy that follows Shay, an overachieving witch at a prestigious magical magnet school in South Florida, who has to decide between getting the scholarship for magical university that she desperately needs or exposing the predatory drama teacher who controls the scholarship. It’s got potion brewing, a queer love story between two academic rivals, and magical musical theater!

I think my biggest inspiration for this book was the many years I spent at very intense schools. At this point in my life, I’ve thankfully fled academia for good, but I used to be a student who really bought into the idea that what I had to do to be successful was run myself into the ground. When I was writing How to Succeed in Witchcraft, creating Shay’s character was one of the easiest parts. Overachievers and their various hang-ups are very familiar to me. 

Your book is said to be based on a practical magic system, interrogating the power dynamics of a world based on witchcraft, particularly within a system of dark academics. Could you talk about how you approached the world-building within the book?

The world-building was the part of the book that took the longest to come together. I revised the details of the history and magic quite a lot between the first and final drafts! As far as the history went, I wanted to create a world that had similar systems of oppression to ours, because that would be most useful to me in addressing the themes I wanted to touch on. I thought the best way to do that was to have a specific point in history that was recent (but not too recent) where magic was discovered. Then I wrote an alternate timeline for how history progressed from that point onwards. I identified some key historical events—wars, political movements, etc.—and then figured out how the presence of magic would have changed them. I think the big idea I had behind crafting the history was “what if magic just made capitalism worse?”  

With the magic system, I started out with the idea that it was going to be very practical. It was going to be a system where skill with manipulating magic was quantifiable, and you could compare a witch to her peers and definitively say who was stronger. I also wanted magical skill to be practice-based rather than innate. You become more powerful in this world mostly by doing magic a ton. All of these elements were meant to play into the dark academia parts of the story. If you can quantify how strong witches and wizards are, and how good you are at magic is based on the sheer amount of hours you spend working at it, then all of that would make a cutthroat academic program even more toxic. 

On social media, you’ve discussed how much it means to you that the main character of How To Succeed in Witchcraft is biracial and queer like you. Could you talk about what that representation and what representation in general means to you?

Of course, it’s incredibly important to see people that share identities with you represented in media. At this point, I hope that’s not a ground-breaking thing to be saying. I want everyone to be able to read books that speak to their experiences, as well as books that reflect on lives they’ll never lead and things they’ll never face. Personally, I don’t remember reading stories with characters that shared many identities with me when I was younger, and that shaped who I thought could possibly be the main character in books. A lot of my early writing had straight white protagonists, because I had got it in my head that those were the people who got to be the heroes in fantasy. Now that I’m creating stories that are more authentic to who I am as a writer, I realize just how much that mindset was getting in my way. 

What I love most about the current moment in publishing is that going into the bookstore and looking at the shelves now feels very different to me than it did ten years ago. Obviously, there’s still a lot of racism, homophobia, and other oppressive forces at play in the industry. But now I can look at the shelves and see many more hugely successful books by marginalized authors. That’s no small thing. 

I’m really proud to be adding How to Succeed in Witchcraft to this current publishing landscape. My goal is to build a body of work that shows a lot of different facets of being a queer biracial person. This book is just the start. 

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

I’ve been completely and utterly obsessed with speculative fiction ever since I started reading it as a kid. The reason my vision is so terrible now is because I spent a lot of my time as a child reading fantasy books in near-darkness after my bedtime. So when I started writing novels as a teen, I knew I wanted to write something that would make other kids feel that totally earth-shattering excitement that I felt from reading a really good YA fantasy. 

I have to credit fanfiction for getting me seriously into writing though. Before I made the switch to creating original work, I learned a lot of practical craft skills by writing a massive amount of fanfiction. That was a very formative experience for me as a writer. Fanfiction let me be unapologetically enthusiastic about creating stories, and it gave me a non-judgmental space to be bad. And honestly, you have to be a bad writer for a while before you become a good one, so I’m glad I got to do that in a place where nobody was really evaluating the quality of my work. 

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

My process is probably best described as controlled chaos. I learned early on in my writing journey that I get lost during drafting without some kind of road map, so now I make an outline of what is going to happen in the book before I get started. Usually that outline starts out detailed and becomes more and more vague as it goes along. By the end, my notes on the plot end up being things like “Character A and B talk about something????” or “resolve subplot here maybe.” I do my best to draft a book based on that, it inevitably doesn’t go the way I’ve planned, and then I revise the resulting draft into something actually good.  

I struggle a lot with drafting, so that’s probably the most challenging part for me. I write slowly, and it’s hard for me to focus for long periods of time to get words on the page. On the other hand, I love editing. Thinking about the world I’m creating is tremendously fun for me, and I find that I get to do the majority of that once I have my bad draft on the page. 

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

The two authors that I would say are my greatest sources of inspiration are N. K. Jemisin and Tamora Pierce. I’m the biggest fan of N. K. Jemisin’s work. I just think everything she writes is brilliant. The nuance she brings to exploring power and oppression in her books is something I hope to achieve in my own work. And Tamora Pierce is a writer that really shaped how I viewed fantasy from an early age. I loved The Song of the Lioness series and the Beka Cooper books. All the female protagonists in her novels were powerful in a way that always stuck out to me. 

Aside from your work as a writer, what would you want readers to know about you?

I’m an actor! I mostly work in theater, which is why musical theater is such a big part of How to Succeed in Witchcraft. Most recently I had the pleasure of playing Rosalind in a show called Playing Mercury, which is a medieval-period comedy inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It

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

Here’s my question for myself: What’s your biggest dream as an author? 

I would like to write something one day that inspires people to write fanfiction about my characters. Honestly, I can’t imagine a bigger achievement for myself. If I created a story that people liked so much that they felt compelled to make their own art about my imaginary people, I could die happy.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Find what works for you, and do more of it. There’s no “one way” to be a writer. Actually, the only thing required to be a writer is to write sometimes. There’s a lot of advice floating around out there for writers. Read all the popular books in your genre. Write every day. Don’t write a prologue. Etcetera, etcetera. But if some of that common advice doesn’t seem like quite the right fit for you, that’s cool! Maybe it’s hard for you to read in your genre while you’re writing. Maybe you need to take lots of breaks to refill your creative well. Or maybe you want to write a novel that’s exclusively made up of prologues. These are all valid ways to write. What matters most is that you identify what you’re good at and what type of writing process works for you, and then do that stuff on purpose. 

Lean into your strengths! And if you write that prologue book, I want to read it.

What advice would you give for finishing a book?

Get something on the page. You can edit something, but you can’t edit nothing. This is advice I have to give myself regularly. 

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

I’m currently drafting my second book. I can’t say much about it at this point, since it’s still in early stages, but it’s set in a different world than How to Succeed in Witchcraft. The premise I’ve started with is that the book follows a witch and a non-magical girl who become trapped in a cycle of breaking up and getting back together after a memory spell goes wrong. We’ll see where it goes from there!

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

I’ll limit myself to the YA space since I always have way too many books that I want to recommend! Aiden Thomas’ The Sunbearer Trials, Jas Hammonds’ We Deserve Monuments, and Riss M. Neilson’s Deep in Providence are some of the newer/upcoming releases that I’ve been excited about. I also love Ashley Shuttleworth’s A Dark and Hollow Star and H. E. Edgmon’s The Witch King, which both kick off incredible, ambitious queer fantasy series. 

Header Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios

Interview with Authors Sofía Lapuente & Jarrod Shusterman

Sofía Lapuente (she/her) is an author, screenwriter, and avid world traveler who immigrated from Spain to the United States to realize her dream of storytelling. Since then, she has received a master’s degree in fine arts at UCLA, worked as a producer and casting director on an Emmy-nominated show, and received co-author credits in Gleanings, the New York Times bestselling fourth installment of the Arc of a Scythe series, with her partner, Jarrod Shusterman. Together, the couple writes and produces film and television under their production company Dos Lobos Entertainment.

Jarrod Shusterman (he/him) is the New York Times bestselling co-author of the novel Dry, which he is adapting for a major Hollywood film studio with Neal Shusterman. He is also the co-author of the accoladed novel Roxy. His books have all received critical acclaim and multiple-starred reviews. Sofí Lapuente and Jarrod are partners in every sense of the word, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos—living between Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. If they are not working, it means they’re eating. For behind-the-scenes author content and stupidly funny videos, follow them on Instagram and TikTok @SofiandJarrod.

I had the opportunity to interview Sofí and Jarrod, which you can read below.

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

Sofi: Hi there, Jarrod and I are partners! I’m from Madrid, Spain so English is a second language for me—and I immigrated here to make my dream real of writing stories. It’s important for me to represent strong female protagonists, my Hispanic culture, and to make sure everyone feels included in our books <3

What can you tell us about your latest book, Retro? What was the inspiration for this project?

Jarrod: It started with the thought, that considering all the apps and algorithms, do we really have control over our own thoughts, or does technology? We also heard this crazy concept, that ever since the advent of the smartphone humans have become cyborgs, with our computing systems in our pockets. We’re not the same. It’s like that moment we discovered tools and moved from monkey to man. It happened in our lifetime and it made us think, Why aren’t there more YA books that not just include technology, but talk about it.

Sofi: It got us thinking, can we really live without our smartphones? And in our book RETRO that’s exactly what the characters have to do. They take the Retro Challenge— and if they can make it the whole year without those smart devices they’ll win a full ride scholarship! And they’ll do it in style, dressing in vintage gear and living life like a fun retro movie. Only when contestants start going missing, it’s up to our protagonists Luna and her friends to figure out who is sabotaging the challenge, or maybe they’re next. RETRO is a fun guilty pleasure thriller where you go on this adventure with all these characters who end up being your new best friends! Get ready to laugh, cry, and devour the book like a serious Netflix binge!

How did the two of you come together to work on it?

Jarrod: Sofi and I met rather serendipitously in LA—and we were both working in the Film and Television business at the time, while I was also working on my first novel DRY. After a few months of being together we decided to merge our dreams together and start writing screenplays and novels, and here we are! It’s so amazing to work with your life partner, and you really learn interesting things about them, like: would you go in that burning building? Would you throw a milkshake in jerk person’s face? What would you do if you were kidnapped? Most couples don’t play those scenarios out over dinner, but we like it this way 🙂

Sofía Lapuente Photo Credit Diego Bravo

As writers, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?

Sofi: For me, as an adult, storytelling is the last true form of magic in the world. You can transport to any place, in any time, you can be anyone and live a thousand lives. And YA fiction is special because it’s about such an awesome formative time of your life. I was also drawn to the amazing industry of YA literature. We have found a world of librarians, teachers, and readers that are some of the coolest people we’ve ever met. And every time we meet a YA author we know that we have so many shared experiences, it’s like we’re the only people in the world who really understand each other. Signings and conferences can be stressful, but in the end, it’s a form of therapy. And the reason everyone is so cool is because we’re writing for young people, so there’s a responsibility, and it makes you a better writer and a better person.

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

Jarrod: I would have to say we are really influenced by ALL media. We’re incredibly influenced by music, and that’s why every chapter title in RETRO is a throwback song, making the index a playlist—that has a QR code so you can listen while you read! I picked up a lot from my father’s books, Neal Shusterman, because when your dad reads you bedtime stories of people getting ‘Unwound’ and ‘Gleaned’ it kind of makes an impression as a kid. And we take A TON from movies and television. Because series aren’t afraid to cross genres, and we think the literary world is moving in that direction too. RETRO is the kind of book that dabbles in many genres, from thriller to drama to comedy with the right amount of romance and chili-pepper spice! 

Sofi: I really appreciate activism. People who fight for the LGBTQIA+ community, feminism, and the immigrant community to name a few. That’s why our characters are so diverse. Because it represents my reality as a Hispanic immigrant and I’m a part of all the aforementioned worlds! 

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

Sofi: My favorite part about writing is definitely when we are shaping the premise and have stars in our eyes. Everything is flowing together, and we are just so excited about the potential of the project. We LOVE to develop fun and quirky characters. And there is no more satisfying feeling than to give voice to these interesting people we are creating—and definitely in an inclusive way that makes everyone feel a part of the story! The most frustrating part is when you’ve written your characters into a corner and you have to get them out, which we all know as ‘writers block’ but there is an easy way out, which is just do research, research, research. The more you learn or invent about your world or characters the more creative pathways you’ll be able to fluently come up with! One of the most difficult parts is definitely after the drafting phase. Rewriting. It’s the most important part of the writing process because it’s when everything comes together and finally takes form as a finished project, but taking notes and applying them and deleting things that you love is just so painful for writers. It’s like your little darling is undergoing surgery, and they are making you do it!

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

Sofi: I love to travel the world with Jarrod! My fist language is Spanish and I have an accent like Puss in Boots <3 I am really passionate in general and I love to laugh loud, dance and party. I’m obsessed with food and it is obsessed with me. I have a really high tolerance for spicy food and we have competitions all the time (and I always win) As a kid I wasn’t incredible bookish, so the passion for reading came from a passion for communicating and storytelling!

Jarrod: We want people to know that we’re really accessible people and we’re always making fun behind the scenes author content and videos on TikTok and IG: @sofiandjarrod You should definitely follow us because we are always doing these contests to see whose name gets to be in our book (there are five winners who are in RETRO) and we often do free giveaways of Advanced reader copies. We just have a ton of fun being ourselves online, and if you ever have a question or something we’ll usually always respond!

Jarrod Shusterman Photo Credit Diego Bravo

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

Sofi: This is a great question! We’ve always wanted to hear: “Can I get a ticket to the movie premier?” Because one of our big dreams is to have one of our books adapted, by us, into a movie or a television series. Having started our journey together in Lalaland, California, working in showbiz, there is a huge part of our hearts stuck in that golden age of Hollywood. There’s something so transportive and romantic about it, we simply can’t get enough. Oh, And of, course, the answer to that question is: YES! You are so 100% Invited!”

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Jarrod: I would tell any aspiring writer that although this is an art form, but more so it is a craft. You have to put in your ten thousand hours or more, and they need to be quality hours. Find a mentor, even if it’s just a book or a master class. Have the humility to accept notes/criticism, and recognize that you are not a reflection of your art, your art is a reflection of you. Don’t take things personally when you didn’t execute something masterfully or have to erase scenes. Because erasing should be easy for a writer, because they must trust in their craft, and in themselves that they can recreate any scene! The first fifty things I wrote totally sucked, so don’t be surprised if your first fifty short stories or scripts or outlines suck too : ) Hey, maybe they don’t suck as bad as mine and you already have a better starting point than I did. Basically, I would say just keep writing, and with the right guidance and effort, you will get it!

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

Sofi: We are currently finishing up our first Adult novel, which we’re about to begin showing publishers this year, so we’re quite excited about that. It’s a dramedy inspired by my crazy life, and my friends’ lives, as Immigrants in the States. Because there’s tough parts to life, but also there’s a lot of warm moments full of friends, love and laughter. Life has highs and the lows—and for us we want our books to always be entertaining—with just the right amount of romance. We’re even developing the second YA novel as well, which we are super excited to write. But it’s a secret project at this point! 

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

Sofi: As for YA we are fans of Kat Cho, Claribel A Ortega, and Adalyn Grace—who wrote BELLADONNA. Then there’s Gina Chen, Alex Aster, Stephanie Garber, Susan Lee, Kristin Dwyer, Margaret Stohl (and the list goes on)! LEGENDBORN by Tracey Deon is amazing, and Adam Silvera’s books like THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END are a must. There’s also our long-time favorite by Nancy Farmer called THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, which you have to check out! But we are biased because we’re all friends! <3

Interview with Author David Slayton

David R. Slayton (He/Him) grew up outside of Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. David’s debut, White Trash Warlock, was published in 2020 by Blackstone Publishing and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. The Adam Binder series continues with Trailer Park Trickster (October 2021), and Deadbeat Druid (October 2022).

In 2015, David founded Trick or Read, an annual initiative to give out books along with candy to children on Halloween as well as uplift lesser-known authors from marginalized backgrounds.

A lifelong Dungeon Master, video gaymer, and sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan, David has degrees in History and English from Metropolitan State University in Denver. He’ll happily talk your ear off about anything from Ancient Greece to Star Trek.

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

Sure! Like Adam, the main character in White Trash Warlock, I grew up in a trailer outside of Guthrie, Oklahoma. Like him I’m gay and a high school dropout. Now I’m fortunate enough to live in Denver, Colorado with my partner Brian and write the books I always wanted to read.

Congratulations on releasing the last book in your first series, Deadbeat Druid! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

It really springs from my rural background. I love urban fantasy but could never find myself represented on the page, not just as a gay man but as someone who comes from where I do. I wanted to tell a story about people like us and I can’t express how touched I am by some of the emails I’ve gotten from readers who connect with it. Deadbeat Druid is the third book in the series (I hope for more) and is my take on the Odyssey, only it’s a road trip through hell to get the two love interests back together. It’s spooky and weird and full of healing your trauma by facing what you don’t want to.

As a writer, what drew you to writing modern fantasy?

Urban fantasy as a genre has so much flexibility in it, so much variation. I always saw myself as a high fantasy or epic fantasy author, and there’s a lack of representation there too, but I wasn’t making headway publishing in that space so I tried something new and it paid off. I originally started writing White Trash Warlock to remember why I love writing. I was very tentative when I shared it with my agent, but she loved it and it ended up being my debut book. I’m very grateful that it’s been so well received.

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

Absolutely! I focus on gay main characters for all of my current books, as that’s my experience. The Adam Binder series also features a bi love interest and including that representation was very important to me. The elven characters we meet are pansexual. Argent is also aromantic and Vran is asexual.

I’m writing the spin off, Rogue Community College, now and I’m happy to get to work with a bigger cast and show more LGBTQ+ characters and relationships.

Your book(s) tend to center around gay and bisexual protagonist(s). Could you tell us about some elements of these character(s) you’re excited for others to see in stories?

I love getting to include the characters’ identity without it being the thing that drives the plot. I always say that I write books about LGBTQ+ characters that aren’t about being LGBTQ+. The Adam series is contemporary fantasy and Adam is from Oklahoma so homophobia and other issues exist, but they aren’t the focus of the story. I’m especially happy to be releasing Dark Moon Shallow Sea later this year as it’s high fantasy in an original world where I could leave homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc. behind. In that world, nobody cares about your identity or orientation but which god you worship? That can get you in trouble.

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up?

I especially loved Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin when I discovered her work. My mother went deeply into religion at one point and my reading was limited to Star Trek books (big shout out to David Mack here), which were fantastic, but as with fantasy, we just weren’t on the page or on the screen. It’s great to see Star Trek correcting this, but I’ll always be sad I didn’t have that representation when I needed it the most.

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

I use an Agile Project Management approach to my writing, which means I set weekly goals, track everything in spreadsheets, and try to maintain a consistent daily practice, though sometimes the day job means I just don’t get to write on a weekday and have to make up the time on the weekend. The best thing I can do is turn off the Internet, social media especially, and just lose myself in the work. It’s also been really important to me to not compare my career trajectory to others. That way lies madness. A lot of what happens in a writing career comes down to luck. The only think you can really control is your writing, so I focus on always learning and continually improving my craft.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

I’d love to be nominated for a Lambda or a Hugo. I’d especially love to see the Adam Binder novels made into a TV series, to see that representation on the screen. I’ll admit that I’m always fan-casting my books. I saw that Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things just came out and my first thought was that he’d be great for Adam.

Your first series has characters that come from the southern states in the United States, why did you pick this area that is usually unwelcoming to people like your protagonist?

We’re not often portrayed in urban fantasy. Books like this one are usually set in big cities like Chicago or New York. It was nice to be able to showcase small town Oklahoma and a smaller city like Denver (where I live now). I also think that so many LGBTQ+ people come from places like Guthrie or have experiences like mine. I wanted to tell our story and I wanted us to have the chance at being the hero. Someone recently asked me why there’s a car chase with a dragon in the book and my answer was how often do you see a gay action hero?

All three of your books mix the modern day world with high fantasy, can you explain how you developed the world you’ve placed your stories in?

I’m all about trying to undermine stereotypes and encourage readers to look beneath the surface. I like to take fantasy tropes and mess with them or flip them on their head. No one in my books is simple and the worlds they inhabit reflect that. For example, the elven realm is beautiful but there’s a shady side to their politics and some of their motivations are outright evil. My friend Shiri said that my elves would have Tolkien spinning in his grave and I take that as a high compliment.

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

I mentioned Dark Moon, Shallow Sea. It’s queer and dark and full of ghosts and dead gods. It’s everything I love in high fantasy and it’s out on Halloween 2023! It’s Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn meets Dark Souls. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a gay, geeky romance called To Catch a Geek coming out late 2023, maybe 2024. It’s nerdy and full of every nerdy reference I could work into it. It’s really fun. I have also have a spin off to the Adam Binder series, Rogue Community College, coming out in 2024. It picks up on developments in Deadbeat Druid and it’s Umbrella Academy meets Doctor Who with lots of great representation. It’s a bit more cozy which is funny since the main character Isaac is an assassin, but he’s quickly faced with his attraction to another student and the problem of trying to murder a living building.

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

I’m a huge gaymer. I’m really excited to see what Bethesda’s Starfield will look like later this year and for Baldur’s Gate III to leave early access. I’m also anxious to get my hands on Jedi: Survivor, the sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order. That quickly became my favorite Star Wars game. Let’s hope Cal gets a boyfriend this time around. I’m a big fan of TTRPGS, Dungeons and Dragons especially. I’m writing an adventure set in the world of Dark Moon, Shallow Sea that I’ll give away on my website as we get closer to the book’s release.

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

I was stumped so my partner Brian suggested this one: how do you write about your experience without opening yourself to hurt or pain when you put yourself on the page? My answer is that you don’t. You have to open yourself to the pain to write authentically. Obviously, my characters are fictional. They aren’t me, but I try to give them pieces of myself, enough to make them feel real to the reader. A lot of Adam’s experience around his family and upbringing in the White Trash Warlock series come from my experience. A lot of Raef’s hurt and anger in Dark Moon, Shallow Sea come from my hurt, anger, and my own experiences with faith and religion.

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

Some of my favorite authors working in the LGBTQ+ space are:
K.D. Edwards’s Tarot Sequence is great urban fantasy. It’s high action mixed with cool magic and witty banter.
Cale Dietrich: The Pledge, The Friend Scheme, etc. He just captures that sense of teen want like no one else. Reading Cale’s stuff takes me back to being an awkward gay teen.
Helen Corcoran: Queen of Coin and Whispers, Daughter of Winter and Twilight. This is low magic YA sapphic fantasy with deep political machinations.
Barbara Ann Wright: The Pyramid Waltz, Thrall, etc. Barbara is the queen of sapphic sci-fi/fantasy romance and has fourteen books ranging from fantasy to space opera.
I’m also really excited about Trip Galey’s A Market of Dreams and Destiny coming in September.

Fanart for David Slayton’s Adam Binder series, first three are from Jake Shandy (permission given to author for use); second three are from (permission given to author for use)

Interview with Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

Hope Larson is the author of All Summer Long, which was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2018 and an Eisner Award Nominee, as well as the recently published sequel, All Together Now. She also adapted and illustrated A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, which spent forty-four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and for which she won an Eisner Award. She is additionally the author and illustrator of Salamander Dream, Gray Horses, Chiggers, and Mercury, and the author of Compass South and Knife’s Edge, both illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Rebecca Mock is an illustrator and comics artist. They illustrated the graphic novels Compass South and Knife’s Edge, both written by Hope Larson. Their work has also appeared in various publications, including the New York Times and The New Yorker. They are the co-organizer of the Hana Doki Kira anthology.

I had the opportunity to interview Hope and Rebecca, which you can read below.

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

HL: I’ve been a cartoonist for nearly 20 years. I’ve lived in multiple cities and countries, but currently, I reside in my hometown of Asheville, NC, with my husband and our 3-year-old.

RM: I’m an illustrator & comic book artist living in NYC. I’ve made 3 graphic novels with Hope including Compass South & Knife’s Edge, and Salt Magic, all for which she wrote and I drew. Additionally, I’ve worked in games, TV, editorial, and branding.

How did you both get into comics, and what drew you to the medium specifically?

HL: I fell in love with comics when I was 8 and my family moved to France for a year. My dad is a professor and he was on sabbatical, translating a book. I didn’t know any French when we moved over, so my parents bought me French comics to read, to help my language skills. Reading classic series like Tintin and Asterix were how I got into adventure comics like Compass South and Knife’s Edge, too. After comic back to the US I didn’t read comics again for a while–superhero comics were all I could find, and they didn’t appeal–but when I was in high school, I discovered manga, and they completely blew my mind.

As for how I ended up making comics myself, I was always writing and drawing, so it felt like a natural extension of what I’d been doing all my life. Visual storytelling is my jam.

RM: For me it was a combination of Sunday comic strips and Archie comic digests–those books they sold in grocery stores? I read as many of those as I could. Comics were fun to read and re-read, unlike many of the books that I had access to and was required to read for school. From Archies, I migrated to manga, which hit its first US boom in the early aughts, when I was in middle school. It was an emotional time, and again comics filled a void where prose books didn’t–manga in particular was energetic, outlandish, dramatic, racy–and chiefly, very easy to consume. 

I was also always a good drawer, and part of the reason why I stayed so passionate about art throughout my childhood and teen years was a desire to reproduce the cartoons and comics I loved so much. Comics is a medium that invites conversation–it’s easy to pick up some basic tools and start making your own comics. From an early age, I wanted to create stories that would inspire others to make comics too.

As a writer-illustrator team, you’ve worked on a number of comics together, including Compass South and Salt Magic. How did the two of you meet and come to work together?

HL: We were connected by a friend of Rebecca’s on Twitter! And the rest is history.

RM: That’s right. I was a big fan of Hope’s work, so when I heard from my friend that she was looking for an artist for a new book I sent my little portfolio .PDF over. We got started on the pitch for Compass South quickly after that.

What can you tell us about one of your most recent Eisner-award-winning work, Salt Magic Where did the inspiration for this story come from? 

HL: For me, it was one of those stories that shows up like a gift from the muse. I wrote the original outline in one night, which isn’t the norm for me, and although it did change throughout the process of making the book, the core of the book was there from that first night. I was going through a rough time in my personal life, dealing with the aftermath of a divorce and a traumatic failed relationship, struggling with my career, and wondering if I would ever get to have a child or a family. Wondering what I really wanted out of life. I took all of that fear and anguish and reframed it as a fantasy middle-grade story. I have to stress, of course, that this is just the stuff that planted the seed for the story, and the book is its own weird, magical flower. Vonceil is her own person and has her own journey, and so much of that was built by Rebecca through their work.

RM: I think we’d just wrapped up Knife’s Edge when Hope sent me the first outline for Salt Magic, and it definitely had that feel of something magically sprung from a burst of inspiration. It captivated me right away, and I immediately had this clear vision for the artwork–lots of softness, beauty, ornamentation, with plenty of sinister shadows and exciting action. It had all these elements that matched with my own sensibilities–historical detail, unique environments and side characters, and a theme of feminine power. It was different from anything I’d read before, which was so enticing as an illustrator, giving me so much to start from scratch with.

Hope Larson Photo Credit: Lan Bui

Reading the book, I found myself wondering if the main character of Salt Magic was coded as being aspec (i.e. aromantic and/or asexual) due to her lack of interest in romance. Would you say there’s any weight behind this head cannon? 

HL: That’s a totally valid read. I didn’t sit down intending to write a story about an aromantic character, but there’s nothing in the book to suggest that Vonceil has any interest in romance. I’m trying to avoid spoiling the ending completely, but we see this character at the end of her life, and while we don’t learn anything about her experiences between age 12, when we met her, and old age, it’s plausible that she was never partnered with anyone. She cares very deeply about her family, and she longs for adventure, and those are the main things we know about her.

RM: I’m on the ace spectrum, so I likely imbued both Vonciel and her uncle Dell with a bit of that energy. It was part of why I connected strongly with the story–that feeling of observing romance happening for others, and feeling a confusing distance from it. I remember discussing with Hope early on that there’s big queer energy to Vonciel’s fascination with Greda too. The point of her character’s journey is that she wants her future to be her choice, not just following the patterns she sees others follow. We don’t see what she does once the story ends, but we know she led a full life and feels satisfied. So whatever you imagine for her, is as valid as anything else.

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in?

HL: Madeleine L’Engle’s books, Diana Wynne Jones’s books, Lloyd Alexander’s books. I was a big fantasy kid. For comics, Ranma ½, the adventure comics named about, Ghost World, Blankets. I think I’m flubbing this answer pretty badly, but I have Covid right now, so I’m going to blame it on brain fog.

RM: So much inspired me–I loved stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, for the heroines who were fiercely independent. I liked historical adventure for its distance from my own average life, and how that distance helped me connect with characters who felt out of place in their own time. I was obsessed with any comics that made me laugh–strips and Archie, as mentioned, and I loved Ranma ½ as well. So much manga–I would read everything in the store, then go online and find scanlations of manga that weren’t published in the US. Comics that had good slapstick or action stuck with me much more than comics that were more dialogue-focused. I watched a lot of cartoons and shows too–weird segway but I have been rewatching MASH, a show I was obsessed with as a teen. It may seem odd, but I guess I identified with those characters who were really goofy and strange, like me.

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

HL: For writing, I love outlining, and I love editing. The very beginning and the very end. I enjoy the rest, too, but I’m most delighted by the spark of inspiration, when I’m discovering what the story’s about, and the mechanical process of fixing the parts that are broken.  For drawing, I like inking the best.

The most frustrating part of writing is the first draft. Absolute hell! For drawing, it’s when I’m in the middle of the book and it feels like there’s no end in sight.

RM: I love research! There’s a lot about the beginning phase of building a story that I love, but I particularly relish gathering research materials and learning all about every aspect of whatever I’m writing or drawing. That’s probably something borne from drawing so many historical fiction books–there is so much to learn and draw inspiration from!

Every phase of the art is frustrating, with small rewards–thumbnailing each page takes full concentration, but goes fast and can be easily re-done. Sketch and inking and coloring are all endless, especially towards the end when your brain already feels done with the story, but you know there’s plenty of work ahead before you can celebrate.

Rebecca Mock Photo Credit: Kat Mukai

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers/illustrators? Any specific advice for those who only draw or only write comics?

HL: Writers, even non-drawing writers, should attempt some thumbnails or lettered stick-figure comics from their scripts. It really helps you get a sense for what will fit on the page in a way that’s hard to grasp if you don’t try it yourself. I still get this wrong all the time; it’s very hard stuff. Another suggestion is to read a bit about cinematography and try to think in shots, and in three dimensions. If the characters were in a room, how would they move around the space in a scene? I try to give an idea of this when I’m writing scripts, especially scripts for someone else to draw. If it isn’t working the artist can change it, but it’s much easier to go into drawing with even a rough stab at how the scene should play out. And yes, I know, comics and movies aren’t the same, but a lot of the concepts do cross over to an extent.

RM: If you feel more confident drawing than writing, I suggest trying your hand at writing some prose. It can be short scenes, or rambling epics, or fanfiction, or anything that holds your interest. Give yourself a break from thinking about the art, and let yourself have fun with a fresh challenge. If you have a story you want to turn into a comic, but aren’t sure how to start, I suggest choosing a short scene, something that might only take a paragraph to write, and turning that into a comic that’s a few pages long. This way you don’t feel overwhelmed, and you can start practicing the process–thumbnail the scene, sketch & ink & letter, add color, even try printing it as a small booklet and see how it feels to hold a comic you’ve made in your hands. 

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

HL: I’m working on the art for Be That Way, a YA hybrid book that should be out next year from Holiday House. It’s a diary-format book that tells the story of one complicated year in a teenage girl’s life, through prose, illustration, and comics. After that, I’ll be swinging back to self-illustrated comics, but nothing’s been announced yet.

RM: My newest comic, a slightly-adult adventure comedy called Die Horny, is up for preorder at Bulgilhan Press and will debut at Small Press Expo in September! It’s quite different from the books I’ve done with Hope. The title makes it sound more raunchy than it actually is–it’s about a couple of goofy lovebirds on their honeymoon in a humans-and-monsters post-apocalypse kind of world. Beyond that, I’m in the beginning stages of a new graphic novel for kids about a ballet summer camp–a story about being young and creative, and finding friendship in a competitive environment.

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

HL: For middle-grade comics, I really enjoyed Picture Day by Sarah Sax. Currently reading Conversations with Friends and enjoying that, too, although I’m very late to the party on that one. And I haven’t read Jose Pimienta’s Twin Cities yet, but Rebecca and I were on a panel with them at San Diego Comicon and the book looks wonderful.

RM: A recently released GN I loved was Slip by Marika McKoola and Aatmaja Pandya–teen drama and romance with some fantasy. A book that’s coming out soon from First Second that I’m excited about is In Limbo by Deborah Lee–I got a chance to read an advance copy and it blew me away. And I’m obsessed with the werewolf comics that Olivia Stephens is making–Artie and the Wolf Moon, a YA supernatural GN–and she’s self-publishing a series of short stories, also about werewolves–Darlin’ and Her Other Names is the most recent/upcoming one she’s announced.

Interview with Author Nina LaCour

NINA LACOUR is the Michael L. Printz award-winning and nationally bestselling author of Watch Over Me, We Are Okay, Hold Still, and Everything Leads to You. She hosts the podcast Keeping a Notebook and teaches for Hamline University’s MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults program. A former indie bookseller and high school English teacher, she lives with her family in San Francisco.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! I am a writer living in San Francisco with my wife and our daughter. I write for all ages. I got my start with YA literature, mostly writing about queer teens and grief and friendship and love. I also have a picture book called Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle about a little girl who misses her mommy for a week while she’s away on a work trip. Yerba Buena is my first novel for adults, and I’m so excited that it’s out in the world!

What can you tell us about your latest book, Yerba Buena? What was the inspiration for this book?

Yerba Buena is a love story nestled within two coming-into-adulthood stories. We follow Sara and Emilie, women from opposite ends of California, grappling with the wounds of their teen years as they decide what they want and need from their lives. The inspiration came from so many aspects of my life: California, where I’ve always lived; my relationship with my wife and how we’ve grown so much together over the years; experiences on the periphery of drug addiction, and how terrible it is to stand by, unable to do anything; complicated family dynamics; my grandparents’ journey to Los Angeles from New Orleans as part of the Great Migration…. It’s a book with so much of my life in it—but heavily fictionalized, of course!

As a writer, when and where did you find your love for storytelling? Were there any stories or authors that inspired you as a writer coming into your own creativity?

Absolutely! I read voraciously as a kid and college student and those books and authors shaped me. When I was in high school, my dad introduced me to the collected stories of Raymond Carver, and that book was so influential as I was figuring out what kind of stories I wanted to tell, and how to tell them. His stories are very much of their time and problematic in a myriad of ways now, but there’s a lot to admire. I was drawn to how much space left for the reader, his quiet moments, his understated emotion. And in college, I took a Virginia Woolf class that blew my mind. I love how actively Woolf explores consciousness—how her characters are working so hard to make sense of their thoughts and experiences.

As a prolific young adult writer, what drew you specifically to the realm of young adult fiction?

I started writing YA when I took an adolescent fiction class in grad school at Mills College. I had an assignment to write a YA chapter and it came pouring out of me in a new way. Writing is usually pretty arduous for me, and this felt so different. I was in my early twenties then and that proximity to my own teen years helped me a lot. I was close enough to remember in vivid detail and old enough to have the distance I needed to tell a good story. That first assignment ended up turning into my thesis and then my first novel, Hold Still. Our teen years are so formative, contain so many first experiences, and are endlessly fascinating to me from the standpoint of storytelling.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you do to help yourself as a writer? Any tips to spark or help creativity?

I consider myself to be a pretty slow writer. My strategy is to write some words on most days. That’s how I’m able to stay connected to my story even when I’m not inspired to write for long stretches of time. I’ve also grown a lot more forgiving of myself when I have writing days that don’t yield anything; I’ve learned that I need those days just as much as the more prolific ones. Those are the days when I’m working things out, even if I don’t feel it at the time. I have a lot of tips–in fact, I have an online class called The Slow Novel Lab full of exercises and mindset strategies and thoughts on crafting novels! I’ve been a teacher as well as a writer for almost twenty years, and I love examining how creativity works. One of my favorite tips is to always leave yourself something for the next writing session–maybe a paragraph to read over and improve, or a line of dialogue from a scene you plan to write, or some musings on a theme you’re exploring. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it acts as an invitation to get back into your story. 

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

I absolutely love atmosphere and mood and tension. These are all somewhat mysterious, difficult-to-pin-down elements, which might be why I’m so drawn to them. I love a mood piece. Often the first draft of one of my scenes will be all mood and atmosphere and tension, without much else going on. And then when I figure out the plot I have to work to make the scene do what it needs to in order to advance the story without losing the feeling of that early draft. I love that challenge, which often involves making better, deeper use of the images and lines of dialogue I already have. It’s such an intuitive, mysterious process.

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

Do you play the ukulele? Yes, I do! I play it very badly but I really love it. I only started playing a couple years ago and I’m not at all consistent. In most areas of my life, I care a lot about doing things well, doing them right, which is something I’m trying to let go of a little bit. Playing the ukulele gives me the opportunity to be a beginner, to do something purely for the challenge and the fun of it, to be bad at something and keep doing it anyway. It’s great for my creativity and my mood and I enjoy it very much.

Are there any other projects or ideas you’re sitting on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m working on several projects right now, for all different ages and in various stages of the writing and publication process. I’m currently really excited about a chapter book series that’s coming from Chronicle Books called The Apartment House on Poppy Hill. It’s about a nine-year-old girl named Ella who lives in a five-unit apartment building on a fictional San Francisco hill. She is the only kid in the building and it falls on her to keep all her quirky neighbors together. It’s fun and light and queer and has been a delight to work on. It’s being illustrated by Joana Avilez whose work I love. I’m also in the drafting stage of my next adult novel.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

To trust in your own way of experiencing the world, and to be true to that on the page. It’s how there can be so many stories about the same things and yet no two are the same. Often we worry that what we’re doing isn’t new or different enough, but really it’s the way we tell it–the details we focus on, the language we use, the characters we create–that set our stories apart.

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

My friend Eliot Schrefer has a wonderful new non-fiction book called Queer Ducks and Other Animals: The Natural World of Animal Sexuality. It’s fascinating, funny, and illuminating. As far as novels go, some recent favorites are Michelle Hart’s We Do What We Do in the Dark and Bryan Washington’s Memorial. Both are so gorgeous and moving.

Header Photo Credit Kristyn Stroble

Interview with Author Priyanka Taslim

Priyanka Taslim (she/her) is a Bangladeshi American writer, teacher, and lifelong New Jersey resident. Having grown up in a bustling Bangladeshi diaspora community, surrounded by her mother’s entire clan and many aunties of no relation, her writing often features families, communities, and all the drama therein. Currently, Priyanka teaches English by day and tells all kinds of stories about Bangladeshi characters by night. Her writing usually stars spunky Bangladeshi heroines finding their place in the world—and a little swoony romance, too. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @BhootBabe. The Love Match is her debut novel.

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

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

Hi, I’m so happy to be here among fellow geeks! My name is Priyanka and I’m a writer and educator from New Jersey, where I live with my family and my dashing tuxedo cat, Loki! I am a big fan of romance and fantasy novels by marginalized creators, Webtoons, Marvel movies, Final Fantasy games, Kdramas, and food!

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Love Match? What was the inspiration for this story?

The Love Match is a young adult romantic comedy about a Bangladeshi American teen named Zahra Khan who is struggling to help support her family and follow her dreams of college after her father’s death. When her meddling but well-meaning mother decides setting Zahra up with the son of a wealthy friend will be the end of all their financial woes, Zahra and Harun, her supposed “perfect match,” decide to fake date in an effort to please their families—while also slowly sabotaging their relationship and hiding Zahra’s growing feelings for her decidedly unsuitable coworker, Nayim, a young man from Bangladesh with big dreams.

It’s got all the cuteness and drama of a Jenny Han novel, but with the social politics of a modern Jane Austen, inspired by the vibrant Bangladeshi diaspora community of Paterson, New Jersey where I myself grew up.

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to young adult and romance specifically? 

As a kid, I was always seeking an escape. I grew up in the wake of 9/11 and frequently felt torn between two worlds. I faced the same Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism as the other Bangladeshi kids in my classes, but I was one of the few who were born and raised in the U.S., so I didn’t quite fit in with them either. I’d hide away in the school library as much as I possibly could to avoid my bullies, with my nose in a book, but also loved other storytelling mediums—shows, movies, video games, comics.

It wasn’t long before I started writing fanfiction and that cemented my love of telling stories, but the world of fandom still isn’t very inclusive and particularly wasn’t during my childhood, so I never saw characters like myself on page or on screen. It took me a long time to realize we belonged there just as much, so it became my dream to push toward the goal of publishing books that center Bengali characters. Moreover, I’ve always wanted to center them in stories about things other than simply facing bigotry, because that’s already reality for so many kids and they deserve escapism in stories as much as anyone else. Instead, I like to write escapist books that touch on very universal conflicts, like grief, but ultimately give readers a little light in a challenging world.

I was drawn to romance for that reason. I feel like it’s one of the most escapist genres. There’s a reason romances sell so well. They allow readers to believe in happy endings and that they are deserving of love, but while there have been authors fighting to diversify romance for a very long time who have been breaking more and more ground recently, it doesn’t feel like enough just yet. I don’t know if it will ever be enough. I can probably count diaspora Bangladeshi authors writing romances on one hand, perhaps without even needing every finger, and that’s across age categories. I also wasn’t seeing very many that centered Bangladeshi male characters as romantic heroes, particularly darker-skinned leads, so I set out to write not one, but TWO Bangladeshi love interests in The Love Match who are very different, to at least touch on the vast spectrum of what it means to be Bangladeshi, to be diaspora, to be Asian, and whatever other facet of identity. 

Zahra wonders often what it means to be a “Good Bangladeshi Kid” but I wanted to show there’s lots of different ways to inhabit a particular identity so you don’t have to conform to one ideal.

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

I’m very much a characters first author. While I might get a small nugget of the plot before anything else, it doesn’t start to feel real until I know the characters and what drives them.

I’m a massive plotter, and a relatively neat first drafter, but that doesn’t usually mean the book is good to go as is. Some of my earliest drafts are very indulgent with the characters and their relationships (as well as random food scenes, haha) and then I end up trimming down the filler to hone in on the plot that best shapes their arcs, fleshing things out as I go.

Rewrites can be difficult for me for that reason. I know they’re necessary and that they’ve always improved my work, but after indulging in everything fun for me in the first draft, it feels a lot like I’ve worked really hard to build a tall but very precarious jenga tower and am suddenly being asked to move pieces around without everything collapsing on top of me.

I’ve noticed my most favorite moments, where characters are deepening their relationships and coming to realizations about themselves, usually tend to stick around. In The Love Match, the date chapters are all among my favorites and have changed from iteration to iteration, but the details I love most about them have always stayed.

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

For The Love Match, my upbringing in Paterson was a great source of inspiration. It’s, I believe, the second largest Bangladeshi diaspora community in the United States, but there’s not a lot of media that explores the nuances of living in a place like Paterson, with its working class population, or focusing on the beauty of its diversity and history.

I also think it provides an interesting, untapped perspective because a lot of South Asian American authors tend to write about the experience of being surrounded by “Americanness,” especially white Americanness, and what it’s like for this character who is the only brown person in a room. There’s not as much exploring when you’re very much American, but a particular sort of American that is enmeshed in a microcosm of your family’s heritage even if you’re thousands of miles away from the motherland. I can speak Bengali, often eat the food, wear the clothes during every holiday, etc. So I see a lot of South Asian American authors move away from those things, and it’s great, but for me, while my Bangladeshiness and Americanness don’t always fit together perfectly, the puzzle pieces have always been in the same box. There would be an irreplaceable hole left behind if I only focused on being one thing.

I am, however, deeply inspired by the authors who have come before and chipped away at the glass ceiling so I could creep in too. If not for Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon and Beverly Jenkins, for scores and scores of authors of color who reinvented the idea of what romance is allowed to be and who is allowed to exist in it—as well as all the Bangladeshi authors who proved to me that I have a place in this industry, like Adiba Jaigirdar and Karuna Riazi—I know I wouldn’t be here.

Here at Geeks OUT we’ve interviewed quite a few diaspora writers who’ve talked about the ways they’ve explored the multiple cultures that exists in their lives in their work. If you wouldn’t mind, could you talk to us about what representation means to you?

I’ve talked a bit about it already, but to me, representation is so important! Even when I escaped into the pages of a romance or a fantasy novel as a teen, they were often authored by white writers who would sometimes use subtle microaggressions that would jar me out of the story and make me wonder if that was all that was possible for someone like me, even in a made up world—to only be present to be the villain, or for the sole purpose of uplifting the white protagonist, or to die for them, or to just fade into the background.

I grew up in Paterson, which is extremely diverse. I hope that Paterson comes alive in The Love Match and feels a little like a character in its own right, because I set off to bottle just a bit of that vibrancy. The entirety of the main cast is populated with people of color, the majority of them South Asian and Muslim (and while the book explores the characters’ Bangladeshiness more than their faith, different characters have different relationships to their faith). There are also intersectional identities represented on page, like my protagonist Zahra’s best friend Dani, who is a queer Pakistani Muslim girl.

So I hope readers pick up The Love Match and know, even if the characters’ experiences might not be exactly like their own, it’s a story about brown girls deserving to be at the center of epic love stories if they want to be, about “tall, dark, and handsome” belonging to an actually brown-skinned boy for once, about an ensemble cast not needing a white character to anchor readers because themes of experiencing grief and coming of age and embracing change are universal enough even when the characters aren’t white. I hope what readers take away from that is that they’re enough too. That they’re complicated and nuanced and so many wonderful things all at once. They are more than a side character or villain in anyone else’s narrative.

Aside from your work as a writer, what would you want readers to know about you?

Honestly, I’m pretty boring! Teaching high school full time while juggling writing doesn’t leave me much time or energy for anything aside from enjoying other media… (Case in point: Abbott Elementary is very realistic, in my opinion) But readers can find me on most social media accounts under the @bhootbabe and I will provide them with cute cat pics in return!

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

Hmmm…maybe what recurring themes, tropes, and motifs do you find in your work? I very frequently end up writing books that center complicated families. In fact, I am working on a book right now that I sort of hate myself for, because so many characters why do I do this to myself, but when it all finally comes together and these characters leap from the pages like real, fleshed out people, when readers tell me that they loved the whole cast and felt they were written with love and nuance, I feel such a deep pride!

But in the meantime, there are many tears involved, haha. I also tend to write a lot of Tired Oldest Daughter heroines, somehow always fall headfirst into love triangles, and tackle themes like grief or pursuing ambitions.

Oh, and cats. I want mine to feel represented, haha.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Find your community. It may take some time. Not everyone is a good fit for you and your work. But having trustworthy people you can run your questions by, get feedback from, and can vent your frustrations to will help this lonely industry feel a little less daunting.

Also: you’ve got this! Don’t give up! We need your words!

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

I’m going to shout out some recent books by authors of color that center QPOC, which I’ve either read or are on my radar!



SHE IS A HAUNTING by Trang Thanh Tran


THE IVORY KEY duology by Akshaya Raman


WHERE SLEEPING GIRLS LIE by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

SORRY, BRO by Taleen Voskuni




BLOOD DEBTS by Terry J. Benton-Walker


DAUNTLESS by Elisa A. Bonnin


Header Photo Credit Prithi Taslim