Interview with Author Adib Khorram

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, which earned the William C. Morris Debut Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor, as well as a multitude of other honors and accolades. His followup, DARIUS THE GREAT DESERVES BETTER, received three starred reviews, was an Indie Bestseller, and received a Stonewall Honor. His latest novel, KISS & TELL, received four starred reviews. His debut picture book, SEVEN SPECIAL SOMETHINGS: A NOWRUZ STORY was released in 2021. When he isn’t writing, you can find him learning to do a Lutz jump, practicing his handstands, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), or Instagram (@adibkhorram).

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

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

Sure! My oldest fandom is probably Star Trek, followed closely by The Transformers, both of which I was introduced to around second or third grade. As I got older I fell into Marvel (specifically the 90s cartoons) HARD but I fell right back out of Marvel when I realized how expensive collecting comics can get. Like many people, Yuri!!! On ICE was the only thing that got me through the darkest part of 2016, and during the pandemic, I plunged headlong into obsession with The Untamed. Also, I still think Chrono Trigger is the greatest game of all time.

How did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller and what do you think attracted you to young adult fiction?

I don’t think I ever had the conscious realization that I wanted to be one, so much as I accidentally fell into it. I had a dayjob with occasionally intense bursts of hurry-up-and-wait time, where I couldn’t leave but I couldn’t do anything else, I was stuck at my desk or at a computer, and I found myself writing. When I was younger I wrote some fanfiction with my friends, and as I got older I dabbled in playwriting and screenwriting, but novels really felt like the right fit. YA in particular is such a vibrant, exciting space. Adult life can often feel painfully pretentious; YA is visceral and honest.

How would you describe your writing process in general? What inspires you to write and finish writing?

Bold of you to assume I have a process! So far every book has been different. But for the most part, what I try to do is write from about 1:00 to 5:00 PM every weekday, because that’s when I feel most creative, and give myself the weekends off. I’m a pantser by nature but I sometimes try to plot things out if the story seems to require it. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. And my bills inspire me to hit my deadlines! I got laid off from my day job during the pandemic so I’m a full-time writer now.

What are some of your favorite parts of the writing process? What are some of the most difficult or frustrating?

I love, love, love the initial ideation process—when a story starts coalescing in my brain, in random notes scrawled in notebooks or my phone. And I really like revision (usually)—taking something that’s not working and making it better. First drafts, especially beginnings thereof, are always difficult for me. Of all the books I’ve written (both published and unpublished), I can only think of one that I got the right opening on the first try.

Something that many people admire about your work is your honest and touching portrayal of mental health, specifically depression in your first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay. When you first started writing the Darius books was that something you had always wanted to explore or did it just organically evolve that way?

I wouldn’t say I knew it right from the start, but very early on I realized I wanted to explore depression. I started drafting the book in 2015, right when a whole bunch of books involving suicide came out, in ways I felt both romanticized and stigmatized it. I wanted to push back against the narrative that depression (or mental illness) is or should be the defining characteristic of a person, a life, or a story.

When we think of Hollywood’s or any mainstream corporation’s idea of “relatability” their first go-to is the average relatable “Joe” who’s usually a cis white guy of no particular origin. Yet (and this is on a quick personal note) as a queer person coming from another diaspora background reading Darius the Great is Not Okay felt so familiar in the sense of being able to relate to Darius’s struggles to balance different cultures while never feeling quite “enough” in certain ways and always feeling out of place. What are your thoughts on cultural specificity reaching the universal?

This is such an interesting question. On the one hand—the US, where I live, is becoming less and less cisgender and heterosexual and white. And so what was once marginalized is now majoratized. (Spell check informs me that this is not a word, but it’s too late now.) But more to your point, I think there is something special that happens when you showcase a specific experience, even if it’s foreign to a large portion of your audience. For example, literally, no one is a half-Vulcan, and yet Spock continues to be one of the most beloved and related-to characters in modern geekdom. Because even if people can’t relate to his Vulcanness, people can relate to feeling like the other; or to being torn between two cultures; or to having a fraught relationship with one’s father; or to having best friendship laden with homoerotic tension. And so I think Darius draws on that—that through being hyper-specific, different readers can find different ways to relate.

A while back you wrote a children’s book called Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story about Persian/Iranian New Year. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and process behind the book if you wouldn’t mind sharing?

No thoughts, only vibes! To be honest, I owe a lot to my agent, Molly O’Neill, for inspiring this story. She mentioned to me one day that many readers seemed to love the celebration of Nowruz in Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and noted that there wer-en’t many picture books on the subject, and asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at one. What followed was a crash course in the subject (I read over a hundred picture books over the span of about two weeks!), and what I would consider a decent attempt at a first draft. Process-wise, it’s shorter: no matter how you size it up, no matter how much deep thinking goes into the best-crafted picture books, at the end of the day there are less words and that means less physical typing. But what surprised me most about picture book writing was how it related to my screenwriting days: leaving room for a collaborator to interact with the text, embolden it, elevate it.

And, aside from that: children are the toughest audience! I wanted to do right be them. And also make them laugh so they didn’t think I was boring.

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

In my thirties I’ve become a Vinyl Person™ in that I’ve started collecting vinyl records. Some of my favorites are video game soundtracks, Studio Ghibli soundtracks, and of course the discography of Pink Floyd, which for some reason I resonate with, even though it was recently described to me as “dad rock.”

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

I’m always wary of giving advice. Everyone is unique, as a person and as a writer. So instead I tell people: try taking a lot of advice, but on a limited timetable. Try lots of things: where to write, when to write, how to write, how often to write. See what feels good to you. See what sparks joy. And reevaluate often. Every book is different. Sometimes, within a book, every draft is different!

And the one universal piece of advice I give is: don’t let your sense of self come from your writing. You are a full, complete, fabulous human being, whether you never write another word or not. Whether you ever get published or not. 

Can you tell us about your latest book, Kiss & Tell?

Kiss & Tell has had a long journey. From when I first conceived of it in 2014 (when it was concerned with coming out, and murder!!) to 2020 (when it became concerned with the pressures of being out, the performance of queerness for the masses, and what it means to be an ally), my own life changed drastically, both personally and professionally.

As someone who both exists in fandom spaces, and is occasionally the object of those spaces, I’ve become increasingly aware of the way that identity, queer identity in particular, can be commodified and consumed. And I wanted to interrogate that.

And, also, I love boy bands, and music in general. I wrote the book in 2020 and revised it in 2020 and 2021, and writing about concerts and travel when I was cooped up at home was quite a balm.

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

I just announced my next picture book, Bijan Always Wins, about a boy who turns everything in life into a competition to be won—and the toll it takes on his friendships. It’s really cute and I’m so excited for it!

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

I will literally always recommend Julian Winters’ complete bibliography to anyone and everyone who asks. His latest, Right Where I Left You, was luminous: friendship and love and lots of fandom and super-geeky and happy, happy, happy in the way only Julian Winters books are.

Tessa Gratton’s Moon Dark Smile comes out later this year, sequel to Night Shine. I’ve said it before, but if you ever wondered what would happen if you put Spirited Away and a bunch of rainbows into a blender, Night Shine is it. And Moon Dark Smile expands upon that world, introducing even more queerness, and at the end, leaving this beautiful message about how love can transform us in ways we never anticipated.

And my latest bookish obsession is Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby, which is about music and anime and internet friends and toxic masculinity and the way that as we grapple with our queer selves, our anger can explode outward and hurt the people that we love (and that love us in turn) the most—and that there’s a way back, if we can be honest with each other, offer and accept grace, and always try to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.


Header Photo Credit Afsoneh Khorram

Interview with Author Saundra Mitchell

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer, and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes Edgar Award nominee SHADOWED SUMMER and Indiana Author Award Winner and Lambda Nominee ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK. She is the editor of four anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT, OUT NOW, and OUT THERE. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

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

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

Hi, thank you for inviting me! My name is Saundra Mitchell. I’m the author and editor of more than 20 books for tweens and teens. Three of my anthologies feature all LGBTQIA+ authors, telling stories about queer teens, from the past, present, and future. I’m non-binary; my pronouns are she/her or they/them—use them interchangeably. I’m also technically pan, but that’s a very new word and I’m a slightly older pony, so I mostly just use queer. What’s my gender? Queer. What’s my orientation? Queer.

How did you get into writing? What drew you into the art of storytelling, especially within the realm of Young Adult fiction?

I’ve always written. I still have little books I wrote in Kindergarten about Princess Rose and Princess Penelope. My fourth-grade class let me write the class play, I did creative writing in jr and senior high school. After school, I wrote D&D modules for various magazines, horror stories, paranormal fiction, and lots and lots of fan fiction. I lucked into a position as a screenwriter with Dreaming Tree Films, then wrote teen-oriented movies for them for fifteen years. So, it wasn’t a surprise when my first novel turned out to be YA—I had been practicing for it for a long time! 

What could you tell us about your upcoming anthology, Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder?

I am SO excited about OUT THERE! My agent, Jim McCarthy, and I had a little dream about six years ago: wouldn’t it be amazing to do an all-queer YA anthology? An anthology that was about queer teens, by queer authors, who got to go on adventures and change the world or just get that first kiss? 

I had already done one YA anthology (DEFY THE DARK), so Jim set me loose with the idea. The first anthology, ALL OUT exploded into the world; the reception was beautiful and shocking. 

Funnily enough… in the beginning, Jim and I said, wouldn’t it be fun if Inkyard would let us do three of these, featuring the past, present, AND future? It was crazy daydreaming talk—you don’t get anthology series in YA… except this time, we did! It’s literally a dream come true. 

For each volume, I’ve always had at least two previously unpublished authors—this time, it’s Emma K. Ohland (her first novel, FUNERAL GIRL, comes out in October of ’22!) and *drumroll* Jim McCarthy. Yep, my agent. The series was his idea, and he let me run with it. So, we’re closing it out with his voice on the page, as well.

I’m also excited that I was able to have open submissions for this anthology! That’s how we found the fantastic Ugochi Agoawike and the incomparable Mato S. Steger. Four authors coming into their first major publication with OUT THERE, and a lot more authors who mostly never wrote science fiction before. There are a lot of surprises waiting for readers in this antho!

For those who might be curious, what kind of work goes into an anthology? What advice might you have to give for someone who wants to start a new anthology?

A lot of anthology work is being comfortable with paperwork. You’re going to have a lot of it, because authors are contracted to you—the editor—not the publisher. You’re responsible for your providing their contract, their tax paperwork, and for setting and keeping deadlines, multiplied by the number of authors you have in your anthology. I like to bring myself the pain, so each of the OUTs has had seventeen. Don’t do that to yourself.

The other portion of anthology work is being a good editor. You have to give constructive notes to your authors, and also tailor your editing style to each of them. Every writer has a different process, and you have to honor that as an editor. That’s how you get their best work. So, it’s a lot of paperwork and personalities, but I love it. I love it. It’s (usually) controlled chaos, and I thrive on it!

How would you describe your general writing process?

(Usually) controlled chaos. Ha! Actually, I’m pretty linear and strict with myself. Getting the idea, well, that can come from anywhere. Weird stuff on the Internet, neat things I learn from books, songs I hear. And I usually get voices in my head before I get a story. The characters like to get comfortable and move around on their own before they let me write them. That’s the magical part of my process.

But, once I get started, I’m very strict with myself. I write a thousand words a day, every single day until the book is finished. And sometimes that does mean deleting an epic ton of words and finishing the day in the negative. I figure I throw away about 30k for every 60K book I write. 

Basically, when other people outline, they work out the bugs before they sit down. I work out the bugs as I encounter them. Both methods work. There’s really no wrong way to write a book as long as you get the work done!

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

I think when you read my books, you can definitely feel the foundation created by the books I loved most when I was younger: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson, IT by Stephen King, SONG OF THE LIONESS by Tamora Pierce, and STRANGER WITH MY FACE by Lois Duncan. 

Every book I write has a theme song, as well. I love music, and I love how it bleeds into me, and then bleeds back out onto the page. 

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

I love those days when I feel like I’ve gone to the place I’m writing when I feel like I’m coming back from the bottom of the ocean when I’m done for the day. I also enjoy picking out names, naming towns, streets, and fake stores (The Red Spot is the gas station/convenience store in all of my books—Mitchell Literary Universe!) 

However, I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the exposition. The first 20k of a book is a nightmare for me. I like to write from the beginning to the end, no matter what draft level I’m at. And my brain thinks the exposition has to be ABSOLUTELY PERFECT before I can go forward. It’s the foundation of the book! If it’s a bad exposition, the rest of the book will collapse! Anxiety brain! Panic!

Once I get past the first 20k, it’s smooth sailing. But ugh. Exposition. No thank you!

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

This is still about my work, in my opinion. But I want people to know, teens especially, to know that if they don’t have a queer Auntie, I’m their Auntie. Every single one of you are special to me. I’m always going to be on your side. I’m an advocate for LGBTQIA+, BIPoC, disabled, SA survivor, neurodivergent and mental illness causes. 

I have fought with major trade publications to change the way they review books about queer teens, tweens, and children. I fight with editors over racist and micro-aggressive editing suggestions. I fight unjust and unfair laws with my presence, my voice, and my money. Every year, I teach at educator and library conferences, how to integrate our work and to help understand our beautiful patchwork of identities. 

Mostly, I want all teens to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And if you feel alone, drop me a note. I’m your Auntie. 

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

Taylor Swift: Would you like to collaborate on an anthology based on my music, to raise funds for progressive candidates who will take protect and care for our kids not just in Pride month, but all year round?

Saundra Mitchell: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!

(Is this manifesting?)

As of now, are you currently working on any other ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I mayyyyy be working on a middle grade horror anthology, as well as a book about a house that invites people to itself. More than that, I cannot say! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Don’t quit. Seriously. That’s the hardest part of this career, remaining resilient when the losses outnumber the wins, even when you’re “successful”. 

And don’t feel like there’s an entrance fee. I’m a high school graduate, and that’s it. I don’t have a BA, I don’t have a Masters, I never attended workshops or conferences—I couldn’t afford them. But what I could afford is paper, pen, envelopes, and stamps. It’s even easier now, with Internet access. 

So, my advice is to KEEP GOING. Because we need all our voices… not just the voices of a select, lucky few.  

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

I am absolutely het over Emma K. Ohland’s FUNERAL GIRL—Georgia’s family owns a mortuary, and she recently found out she can talk to the dead. Another one that I can’t wait to see in hardback is Eric Smith’s novelization of the Broadway musical JAGGED LITTLE PILL. He took on the musical and the controversy around the musical in a really beautiful way. I can’t wait for people to read it. 

I also fell in love with Jake Arlow’s middle grade, ALMOST FLYING, and I am so looking forward to their first YA novel, HOW TO EXCAVATE A HEART this fall! General suggestions? Everything Kalynn Bayron blows my mind; I love her so much. Malinda Lo is absolute goals. And you know what? The dedication for OUT THERE names every single author who has written for the series. There are fifty fantastic LGBTQIA+ authors right there to get you started!

Interview with Author Jennifer Dugan

Jennifer Dugan is an avid YA and comic writer that strives to create the stories that she wishes she had growing up. Her debut novel Hot Dog Girl was released April 30, 2019 from Penguin/Putnam. She is also the author of Verona Comics and the forthcoming novel Some Girls Do. Her latest book, Coven, a queer, paranormal YA graphic novel was released this past September.

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

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

Thank you for having me!

I’m an author from Upstate New York and am about to release my fourth young adult novel, Melt With You. I’m also launching first graphic novel this year, Coven—although I have also written and kickstarted indie comics in the past. I share my house with two cats, a dog, and many, many tropical plants.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to create little stories and comics and hand them out for holiday and birthday presents—in hindsight, I should probably apologize to my brother for that. I’m sure he would have rather had a toy or money, even if he was a good sport about it.

I love young adult fiction. I think I’m drawn to it because there are so many big events, and big feelings, that surround that time of your life. It gives writers a lot of latitude to play. I also think that young adult fiction is really trying to open its doors to more diverse story telling. There is a long way to go, that is undeniable, but it wasn’t too far in the past that I was told by someone in the industry that “queer girls don’t sell,” and now my books are just two of many coming out this year.

What can you tell us about your upcoming books, Melt with You and Coven? Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?

Melt With You is a young adult novel coming out May 17. It is a contemporary rom com that follows two ex-best friends, who had a falling out after a one-night hook up. Now, they’re on a road trip in their parents’ romance themed ice cream truck.

It has all my favorite tropes, including second chance romance, forced proximity, not to mention so, so many ice cream puns. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came in my head, but I had been interested in setting a story in an ice cream truck ever since seeing the video for BLACKPINK & Selena Gomez’s song Ice Cream.

Coven is my young adult graphic novel debut coming out September 6. It is a supernatural, queer, coming of age story about witches, although it is very grounded in its contemporary setting. It tells the story of a teen witch named Emsy who has to leave her California surfer girl life behind when her family decides to return to safety of their coven in Upstate NY after the murder of a coven mate. Emsy has to learn to master and even appreciate her powers… and maybe solve the murder while she’s at it.

This one was actually inspired be a little frog I encountered in real life! It was sitting in a pond near my house that was overgrown with moss and dead branches—it was early fall, and it all felt so wonderfully creepy. I sat on the edge of the pond and watched him for a while, soaking up the spookiness, and as I did a whole scene spun out before me in my head. I quickly went home and plotted the rest of the book. That original scene, and little frog, actually made it to the final draft, so everyone will get to “meet” him when they read.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?

Generally, I wait for a scene to pop into my head—like it did when I was watching the frog that day. From there, I start thinking about the people involved in the scene—who are they, what do they like and dislike, which one is the main character (or two, if I’m writing dual POV.) Once I’ve established my main character, I need to find their favorite song, or a song that I think would really resonate with them. That’s one of the main ways I get to know them before drafting. From there, I build an entire playlist for them and start the work of outlining and drafting.

My favorite part is the very early daydreaming stage, when you’re first creating the characters and thinking about the story. It almost feels like dating. I have no clue at first if the idea will stick around to turn into something real… or if it’s just going to ghost me. Either way, it’s still fun. There’s no pressure or deadlines, it’s one of the few times that a story truly is just yours.

I also really love doing developmental edits. By then, I have a pretty firm grasp of my characters, the bones of the story are all there, and I’m just refining. It feels like I get to write fanfic of my own work, and I can’t get enough.

Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

In general, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Something as small as seeing a frog in a pond, if it hits at just the right moment, can lead to a new book sitting on in a bookstore someday. With that in mind, I try to approach the world in a very open way and soak up experiences to use as fuel for my work.

Music plays a huge role in my process, as I previously mentioned, but so do movies and other media. When I’m developing a character, I’m constantly thinking about how they would react to a movie or a song, or how they would be interpreting the world. I get to experience as myself, but also a little bonus bit through the character I’m crafting.

Books though, I read just for me. I’m really big on taking time to “refill the well” and for me that often means binge reading a variety of books and comics. I need books like I need air, and I don’t want to be deliberately and consciously thinking of my own craft as I do.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish your draft! I know it seems like common sense, but so many people get hung up on endlessly revising openings and early chapters—or are constantly chasing new ideas—that they don’t ever finish! You learn a lot from finishing a draft, even if you don’t ever decide to do anything with it.  

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

I’m an absolute dork, and not necessarily in a cool way. In more of a dress your cat in sweaters and daydream about a beautiful plant you absolutely don’t need because you already have over eighty in your home kind of way. (Yes, eighty!)

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

I like to do book giveaways on my Instagram (@JL_Dugan) and I always have people answer a question for their entry. I recently did a giveaway for advanced reader copies of both Melt With You and Coven. Wanting to combine the themes of each, I asked readers to tell me what type of ice cream their favorite supernatural creature would eat for a treat. The answers were super fun, and I was a little jealous that I’d never been asked that… so I’m delighted to use this space to answer now. My favorite supernatural creature is undoubtedly a werewolf (sorry, witches!) and I feel like they might eat vanilla ice cream with Lucky Charms on top. It’s unclear if werewolves are impacted by chocolate the way dogs and regular wolves are, so I’m thinking they would want to avoid it to be safe. And who wouldn’t love a sugary cereal on top of their ice cream after a long night of chasing bunnies and/or biting people?

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

I have a couple unannounced projects that I am very excited to share more about soon. One of them is a bit different from what people usually expect from me, and I cannot wait to get it out there!

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

I recommend people read all of them! They’re all so good and supporting titles that are out now means that publishers will keep buying them. Some of my favorite authors out now are Kalynn Bayron, Isabel Sterling, Julian Winters, Rory Power, and Dahlia Adler. I cannot recommend any and all of their books enough.


Header Photo Credit Amber Hooper

Interview with Author Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including Dry, Roxy, the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Neal has earned the respect and recognition of the library community; three of his books have been ALA Best Books for Young Adults and all of his books have been consistently well-reviewed. He’s a popular speaker on the IRA/NCTE circuit, and at schools all over the country. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at Facebook.com/NealShusterman.

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

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

I’m an author of thought-provoking stories that, while published as young-adult, are intended for adults readers as well. Stories for the teen that is still in all of us! I was born in New York, lived in Mexico City during High School, and spent most of my adult life in Southern California—but now live in Jacksonville, Florida.  But don’t call me “Florida Man”!

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

Gleanings is a collection of stories and novellas within the world of Scythe.  Fans have been clamoring for more, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. When I had written UnBound, which is a collection of stories from the world of Unwind, I found a series of side-tales to be a satisfying way to wrap up that world. I felt this would be a good way to complete the Scythe world, too.

Are there any queer elements in the book we can expect?

Yes – there’s a story about Citra’s younger brother, Ben, who after her (temporary) death, and before she’s found, is chosen to replace her by Scythe Constantine. Ben’s queer, and part of the tale is a love story between him, and another boy he falls in love with. Little does he know that the entire thing is being orchestrated by the sycthedom for a nefarious purpose … There’s also another story that is a bit subversively queer. The two main characters, Alex and Dayne are never identified by gender, and there are no identifying pronouns, so they are entirely gender-neutral. They can be whatever gender the reader wants them to be!

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

I’ve always found speculative fiction to be a powerful arena for telling stories of human truth in a larger-than-life setting. It challenges your imagination, your preconceived notions, and hopefully lingers long after you’ve read the last page. As for what got me into writing young adult, that happened when I was a teenager myself. I used to spend my summers working as a counselor at a summer camp and got to be known as the camp storyteller. Then, during the school year, while I was at college, I would write those stories into books. The first two didn’t sell, but the third, The Shadow Club, did, and that’s what got me started in YA.

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

My process is a series of fits and starts. Smooth sailing, punctuated by dry spells, and a lot of figurative head-banging to shake those thoughts loose! I write longhand because I love the connection between mind, hand, and page. Plus, it adds a critical extra step, allowing me to do a complete rewrite when I enter it into the computer. My favorite parts are the emotional moments and the twists that the characters and the readers (and sometimes even I) don’t see coming. The most challenging part is what I call the “connective tissue.” All those bits of the story between all the juicy parts. The sections where not much is happening, but are critical in terms of holding the story together.  

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

My greatest influences would be the authors I loved growing up, from Roald Dahl, to Tolkien, to Douglas Adams, to Kurt Vonnegut. My greatest inspiration comes from the world and the troubles that we all face. I tend to be drawn to hard questions about life and society that don’t have easy answers. I want to find new and interesting ways of posing those hard questions.

One of your books you are most known for, Challenger Deep, addresses the topic of mental health. In previous conversations, you’ve related the idea of a rearview mirror to address perspective, the idea of knowing “something [was] wrong,” when it comes to diagnosis. Would you mind elaborating on this?

Ah! That refers to a very specific real-life instance. Many times, when you’re trying to relate something that many people have never experienced, it’s helpful to find something more accessible. While I was working on Challenger Deep, something interesting happened. I was driving, and getting increasingly anxious. I felt I was losing my ability to drive, my ability to focus, and I had no idea what was wrong. I pulled over to the side of the road, trying to grapple with this sudden sense of anxiety, and noticed something on the floor on the passenger side of the car.  The rearview mirror. It had fallen off before I had gotten into the car, and I hadn’t noticed. All I knew was that something was very wrong, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I realized that was a good way to relate that terrifying sense of “wrongness” with one’s own mind that someone struggling with mental illness experiences.

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

That I love to swim. I try to swim about a mile three or four times a week. That I love to travel – and in fact, I’m sitting in a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland as I’m writing this, looking out on a rainy Monday afternoon. Being in new and interesting places sparks my creativity, and I get most of my writing done when traveling – which made writing very hard during lockdown when I couldn’t travel. I have four children – my youngest just graduated from college. All are consummate world travelers as well!

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

“Would you please write and direct the feature film of your book?  Because we, as a studio, can’t get our act together and haven’t been able to make it happen. Please, Neal. We trust your instincts. We wouldn’t dream of giving you endless sets of ridiculous notes.  So please, please, could you make the movie? Money is no object.” That’s the question I’d really like to be asked.  

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Write (as opposed to just talking about wanting to write). Rewrite (because nothing’s ever done the first time you write it, and you should never expect it to be). Read (and don’t just read a single genre – read outside of your comfort zone). And persevere (because you probably won’t get your first book, or even your second book published – and that’s not a bad thing. Developing your skill as a writer takes time, and those first projects are crucial stepping stones. Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is for your first book to be published, because it sets you up for thinking that you’ve arrived. You haven’t. You never arrive. You’re always growing, and that needs to be part of your ethos as a writer.)

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

I had the honor of being a judge for the 2020 National Book Awards in the Literature for Young People category. I’m really proud of the books we chose – particularly the long list – because every single book on that list deserved to be on the shortlist, but we had to narrow it down anyway!  Two of the books are by trans authors, and several of the other ones have queer elements as well.  Some of those books have done really well, but others have not gotten the attention they deserve from the marketplace, so I try to bring them attention whenever I can! Those books are:

Kacen Callender, King and the Dragonflies

Traci Chee, We Are Not Free

Evette Dionne, Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box

Eric Gansworth, Apple (Skin to the Core)

Candice Iloh, Every Body Looking

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered

Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road

John Rocco, How We Got to the Moon

Gavriel Savit, The Way Back

Aiden Thomas, Cemetery Boys

PS – the other judges and I loved talking books so much that we’ve been in a book club together ever since! 


Header Photo Credit Gabby Gerster

Interview with Author S. K. Ali

S. K. Ali (she/her) is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of several books, including Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the William C. Morris award, winner of the APALA Award and Middle East Book Award, and Love from A to Z, a Today Show‘s “Read with Jenna” Book Club selection. Both novels were critically acclaimed and named best YA books of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Her novel, Misfit in Love, was a People magazine best book of summer 2021. Her books for younger readers include the widely acclaimed middle-grade anthology Once Upon an Eid and the New York Times bestselling picture book, The Proudest Blue. She has a degree in Creative Writing and lives in Toronto with her family, a very vocal cat named Yeti, and a very quiet cat named Mochi.

I have the opportunity to interview S. K. which you can read below.

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

Hi everyone! Professionally, I’m the author of several books for young readers; personally, I’m that friend you may have had (or will have?) in your friends-group who became a mom while still in college and went on to finish her degree while taking that baby to class sometimes (and yes, that baby sometimes interrupted class by making cooing noises but it was all good due to cool 90’s professors!) I now have three children, two cats, and one husband. 

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Love From Mecca to Medina?

Love from Mecca to Medina is about taking a journey you didn’t know you needed – a journey that takes you back to yourself in a way that helps you connect better to the love of your life. But this is not metaphorically speaking; Adam and Zayneb, the two main characters in Love from Mecca to Medina, actually learn hard truths on their physical journey to the center of their faith.  It’s a sequel to Love from A to Z, the book that led to Adam and Zayneb falling in love. 

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

My writing process is staring at a mess of notes, drawings, storyboards, and the indecipherable scribbles I wrote in the middle of the night and then taking all of those pieces and making sense of them via a pretty tight story outlining grid. My most favorite part is when, like a jigsaw, one scribbly note/drawing connects with another scribbly note/drawing and it all makes perfect sense. The worst part is when I wrestle with characters to get them to do what they need to do to move the story along. This may seem unbelievable, but fellow authors will know the painful, sad truth I’m talking about. 

As a Muslim author, how does it feel for you to be writing this type of representation into your books?

It feels glorious – especially to find there’s a great big audience ready to read these stories centering Muslim characters. And that this audience is not only made up of Muslims but people of all diverse backgrounds. Every time I reflect on the fact that these stories I didn’t see growing up about girls like me are now available for all young readers, I tear up.

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

I love flowers and plants but I am the worst gardener ever but also, since I was a child, have never stopped trying to be the best gardener ever, like my mom. I’m constantly taking plants to my mom’s house for her to resuscitate and then, when they’re all strapping and blooming again, when I come to pick them up from Intensive Care, they don’t want to leave to come home with me. They prefer the hospital. So, a question: when do you give up on a dream? 

Where would you like to go on a writing retreat? 

I would like to go on a writing retreat at a cottage on a beach that is not deserted but has a few people nearby so I don’t get scared; the people nearby are kind and smiley but not the creepy kind of kind and smiley, just the caring kind.  The distantly caring kind. They will never barge in on me while I’m writing but will wave from far with smiles on their faces whenever they see me emerge from the cottage. Wait, that sounds creepy. But…also, it sounds like the perfect place to write that thriller I’ve always wanted to write. 

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

I’m working on a humorous historical novel with a friend that I absolutely love. We are having so much fun with it and I hope we get to share it with the world.  It makes us laugh out loud and long, and we want readers to do the same!


Header Photo Credit Andrea Stenson

Interview with Author Carlyn Greenwald

Carlyn Greenwald writes romantic and thrilling page-turners for teens and adults. A film school graduate and former Hollywood lackey, she now works in publishing. She resides in Los Angeles, mourning ArcLight Cinemas and soaking in the sun with her dogs. You can find her online at @CarlynGreenwald on Twitter and @carlyn_gee on Instagram.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m Carlyn Greenwald, and I’m the author of queer adult romcom, Sizzle Reel. Besides that, I also write Adult Thriller, YA Contemporary, and YA Thriller (which will hopefully all have published books to represent them someday) that all generally feature mentally ill, queer Jewish protagonists. I’m a film school graduate and former Hollywood assistant who broke off from that path to get an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School and I’m now the Content Development Coordinator at Cake Creative. There’s a fair amount of tv/film crossover within my new work, and I still write for screen and television on the side. Otherwise, I currently live in LA where I spend most of my time going to movies, doing pop culture and theme park deep dives on YouTube, and spending as much time with dogs as possible.

What can you tell us about your debut novel, Sizzle Reel? What inspired this story?

It was a combination of a creative interest and an emotional moment. I’d started reading more romcoms around 2018-2019, and my Hollywood work at the time led me into seeing the Crazy Rich Asians premiere. It was such a fantastic time that I think I caught a bug for romance and started thinking about what kind of love story I’d potentially want to tell. It was also within the next few weeks that I ended up quitting said Hollywood job and was generally dealing with existential questions surrounding career, sexuality, and general identity stuff. My therapist at the time suggested I channel those feelings into a story and the puzzle pieces just ended up coming together—my love for movies but disillusion with Hollywood, my interest in romcoms, and setting out to write something that unabashedly dealt with the messiness of coming out in one’s 20s but still providing a fun, joyful love story. Although funny enough, I wrote it first as a romcom script and a writing mentor convinced me to turn it into a book. I drafted said book in 10 days and after several rounds of edits and letting it sit, it became Sizzle Reel.

As a writer, what drew you to storytelling, specifically to young adult fiction?

I’ve always been a huge reader since I was a kid, and YA was really where my writing passion started. I was writing novels in middle school but reading up, so the genre always had this huge impact on me. In fact, up until a few years ago, I was focused on YA, but had always been fascinated by the “new adult”/younger adult space. It felt like it had the energy I loved in YA while exploring different themes and felt more relatable to what I was immediately going through. I actually did most of the rewrites for Sizzle Reel while in an MFA program for writing children and young adults, so I’m sure that some of the incredible teachings I found in YA—about the value of characters who make mistakes, pacing, the importance of voice—made its way into my adult work. And my hope is to be able to toggle between the age categories as well. I truly adore them both.

How would you describe your writing process? 

It really depends, and I’ve been adjusting it depending on what my day job looks like, my passion for the project, and what else I’m working on. (As in: when I drafted SR in 10 days, I wasn’t employed at the time and could write a ton every day.) But basically, if I’m really eager to work on a project, I’ll want to write every day and now I mostly work on managing my energy well. Usually, I’ll make reach goals and realistic goals. A realistic would be one chapter written every week, to be divided out among the hours after work and on the weekend. A reach would be to write, say, four or five chapters in a week. The result usually ends up being two to three written per week and I still have time for exercise, socializing, hobbies, and rest. And if I don’t even get one chapter done, then no sweat. So long as I’m making deadlines, it can be as slow or quick as it needs to be.

And then, on a more technical level, my film background has made me a huge fan of outlines. I’ll usually have a couple-paragraph long blurb of the concept, character profiles, and a chapter-by-chapter outline done before I get drafting (maybe I’ll let myself write a chapter for voice with a partial outline, but I need to know where I’m going to sink into a project). Then, I’ll write in two bursts—drafting without stopping until I reach the end of a scene, take a break, then draft the other scene. Sometimes that happens in the same day, sometimes over two days throughout the week. In my ideal world, I write in the morning, but I try to rely on whenever the creativity hits.

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

My absolute favorite part is the beginning. When I’m taking an idea to a blurb to an outline and get to start drafting those first few chapters. I adore the process of getting to know an MC and seeing what details will come to me before I go to bed or am milling about my daily life. I also think that my first few chapters end up being the most detailed in my mind so the writing tends to be better. It makes it easier for me to fall in love with a project. Plus, there’s nothing like showing a new idea to friends and having them get excited about it too.

As for frustration/challenge, I am not a good reviser. To me, it’s always going to feel like a chore and I always have to psyche myself out to work on them. But, reverse outlines and telling myself that the book will be so much better and I’ll probably get to rewrite something (which kind of feels like drafting) makes the process more palatable. I keep hoping I’ll find some joy in the process, but we’ll see.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? Any stories that feel relatable to you today?

I hate to admit it, but I definitely think my queer media came more in my young adulthood. But growing up, I loved action-adventure and thriller media. I have this distinct memory of loving like, what are now actually pretty radical animated movies, stuff like The Iron Giant and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Avatar: The Last Airbender remains my favorite story ever told and it was literally The Dark Knight that got me writing novels. YA wise, I was a voracious consumer of 2000s and 2010s YA, where my taste was all over the place—from horror, no one’s heard of to Libba Bray to Sarah Dessen, but my favorites were always these kinds of strange, high concept thrillers. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga-type stuff. I was also an unwavering emo for most of my adolescence, so take with that what you will.

Nowadays, I’m still a very eclectic media consumer. Queer wise, Legend of Korra, She-Ra, Killing Eve, Hannibal, Rocketman, Booksmart, Moonlight. Books-wise, I adore YA thrillers by Courtney Summers and Tess Sharpe and think about Courtney Kae, Allison Cochrun, and Jennifer Dugan romcoms in the YA and Adult space all the time. I think for me, within the context of every genre from darker to lighter, I’m always interested in characters feeling authentic and complex, showcasing different sides of themselves. I adore sweet and escapist romances, but I’m such a sucker for angst and moral ambiguity. (Whether that’s characters just being total messes or you know, murder getting involved.)

As a fellow student of the New School MFA Program, I’m curious about your experiences in the program. Could you describe it and some memorable parts of your experience? 

I am a huge fan of TNS and the program! So in short, you study across age categories within kidlit (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and we touched on “new adult”/crossover). I think the program really opened my mind to what I was capable of writing. I’d gone in exclusively wanting to write YA and Adult and came out with a whole manuscript written for middle grade and all this knowledge of how storytelling shifts and remains universal across stories for all aged readers. It was truly so freeing and fun to be in a space to explore.

And besides that, the people in the program were incredible. I made lifelong connections, ranging from how I got my job with Dhonielle Clayton, a fellow alum, and all my cohort friends who I still talk to every day and plan to support through every stage of their publishing journeys. Truly some of the warmest, funniest, most insightful and kind people I’ve ever met.

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

Will you ever write a protagonist who isn’t a total disaster—like in an actual irredeemably unlikeable way? No. In fact, if the books published go the exact way I want, the next 3 protagonists will be: vapid, pretentious, and emotionally immature to the point of screaming aren’t you like 30; the grodiest, unorganized, and self-destructive gremlin who is totally fine sleeping with a known asshole and criminal; and a teenage dirtbag who would rather get her entire friend group killed while insulting them the whole time than process an iota of negative emotion. They’re all weird and horny. I adore them all.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

If you want to do traditional publishing, just know that it’s not so black and white as “you have to sell your soul and write something you don’t like to get published” or “the book of your heart will be the one you’re published with.” I’ve had so many books not get agented or die on submission, books that I was really passionate about but may have been considered more niche. I did a lot of experimenting to get where I am now. I was open to projects that weren’t necessarily my IP but I could put my own stamp on them. I found new passions in new genres and age categories. Ultimately, any story you write has the capacity to be a book of your heart and have your stamp on it. So if you have a beloved manuscript you’ve been querying for years and not getting responses on, maybe take a break and try to write something new. Maybe try a genre that you’re curious about. See what tiny elements you need in books for them to feel like your work and to get yourself invested in them. 

For me, I’m truly open to any genre and age category, but I need there to be that emotional complexity (and dare I say, a drop of angst in every book lol), I love bouncy dialogue/banter, having characters think about/explore sexuality in whatever is appropriate for the age category, and then just…I don’t know, all my original work seems to incorporate chain restaurants into the plot for some reason.  All stuff that makes me happy and makes every book feel like mine as I navigate the waters of trying to write commercially enough to sell.

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

Book 2 with Vintage will definitely be a queer rom-com, but I can’t say more than that yet. I have some projects I’m working on, but I don’t think I can discuss them yet. But uncontracted stuff, I’m currently working on a YA Thriller set at a theme park, an Adult Thriller set on a plane, and am always opening my mind to new rom-com ideas. Plus, I have this historical horror feature script I’d love to dive into between deadlines.

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

IN THE EVENT OF LOVE and IN THE CASE OF HEARTBREAK by Courtney Kae

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT and MISTAKES WERE MADE by Meryl Wilsner

THE CHARM OFFENSIVE and KISS HER ONCE FOR ME by Alison Cochrun

THE LOCKED TOMB SERIES by Tamsyn Muir

SOME GIRLS DO (or really anything) by Jennifer Dugan

THE SISTER SPLIT and I THINK I LOVE YOU by Auriane Desombre

I’M THE GIRL (or anything) by Courtney Summers

HELL FOLLOWED WITH US by Andrew Joseph White

THE GIRLS I’VE BEEN by Tess Sharpe

THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS by Adam Sass

ALWAYS THE ALMOST by Edward Underwood

OUT OF CHARACTER by Jenna Miller

BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING by Justine Pucella Winans

DAMNED IF YOU DO by Alex Brown

Interview with Author Kylie Lee Baker

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

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

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

Thanks so much! I’m an author, archivist, and former librarian from Boston, so I deal with books in all the stages of their life cycles. I write dark, eerie fantasy, often inspired by my own heritage. I love watching horror movies, doing escape rooms, and baking more cookies than one human can possibly eat before they go stale. 

What can you tell us about your debut series, The Keeper of Night duology? What inspired it?

The Keeper of Night duology is about the journey of a half British Grim Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami girl who is kicked out of her home in Victorian England and flees to the Japanese underworld with her younger brother, where she makes a dangerous deal with the Japanese goddess of death in exchange for acceptance. 

It was inspired by a dark Victorian English shows like Penny Dreadful and Black Butler, as well as a desire to explore my own heritage through mythology after reading a Vietnamese mythology-inspired fantasy called Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang. 

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

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I filled notebooks with stories as a kid and was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who encouraged it. I always loved speculative fiction because I was captivated by the expansive magical worlds of anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and books like Artemis Fowl as a child and hoped to recreate that feeling of I need to keep reading! that they made me feel in my own work. I actually fell into young adult fiction by coincidence—I started writing my first novel when I was 18, so my characters were also 18. It wasn’t a conscious decision to put myself into a certain marketing category, but I developed an appreciation for it and a good knowledge of the genre after reading YA books my agent recommended. Authors like Melissa Albert, V.E. Schwab, and Neal Shusterman were formative for me when I first started seriously reading YA.

The Keeper of Night duology is said to feature a biracial protagonist, exploring themes of assumed monstrosity through marginalization. What does it mean to you as an writer writing this into your work, especially as a mixed-race author yourself?

It was important to me to offer a take on the “half-magical-creature/half-human” trope in fantasy that is grounded in reality—for people like me, being caught between two worlds isn’t just a fantasy trope. Readers are often willing to empathize with a character who’s white and half unicorn (for example) but not with one who’s half Asian. I wanted to bridge that gap by writing a character who’s two species and also two races in order to really dig into what life is like when you’re constantly told you don’t belong anywhere. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?

My writing process is constantly changing as the circumstances of my life change and as I grow more confident in my writing. These days, I like to write a chapter-by-chapter outline that I feel confident in, quickly write a zero draft where I’m allowed to write terribly, do several passes filling in the missing beats, and finally do a line edit once all the pieces are there. I find ideas everywhere I go—in the media I read and watch that makes me think “I love this but I would have done it slightly differently” or in the history I read about. Anything that moves me is inspiration. 

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

There’s a special moment when drafting every book when I think of the perfect way to resolve a thread, or a great plot twist that fits in perfectly with what I’ve already written, and think Yes, this is exactly what the story needs! That’s the best part of writing for me. The most challenging part of writing is probably when I know the story isn’t working but I can’t figure out why—it just feels wrong. Sometimes there’s truly something wrong with the story, and other times I’m just hungry. It’s hard to tell!

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

The willingness to write imperfectly as well as giving myself hard deadlines is helpful. I use a word count tracker so I can see a line on a graph going up as my word count increases, which is really motivating for me, personally. 

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

No one ever asks me to talk about the romance The Keeper of Night, and people tend to make a lot of (often incorrect) assumptions about my intentions in writing such a strange relationship. Without getting too spoiler-y, I’ll say that I love writing about how powerful yet destructive love can be. In this case, how you can think you love someone but really only love the idea of them, what they represent, what they can do for you, rather than respecting them as a complex person. 

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

This is just a different field of my work, but most people don’t know I work in archives and am incredibly nerdy about archival preservation. I love taking care of historical items and making them accessible to a broader audience than just academics. 

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?

Consume lots of the books and media you love and try to put a finger on what about them moves you, then figure out how you can recreate that feeling in your own work.

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

The first book of my next fantasy duology, THE SCARLET ALCHEMIST, is coming out in Fall 2023. It’s about an orphaned alchemist in an alternate Tang Dynasty China where alchemists have unlocked the secret to eternal life, but only the rich are allowed to buy it. A biracial self-taught alchemist girl has the power to raise the dead, which captures the attention of the royal family and forces her into their inner circle, which is a very dangerous place to be. 

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

There’s so many! Recently I absolutely loved reading Deep in Providence by Riss M. Neilson, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, and Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert. 


Header Photo Credit Greg Samborski

Interview with Author Kacen Callender

Kacen Callender is the bestselling and award-winning author of multiple novels for children, teens, and adults, including the Stonewall Honor Book Felix Ever After and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature King and the Dragonflies. Callender enjoys playing RPG video games, practicing their art, and focusing on healing and growth in their free time.

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

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

Thanks for having me—and yes! I’m a writer, and aspiring illustrator, and love to game in my free time. ☺

What can you tell us about your latest book, Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution? What inspired the story?

Lark & Kasim is about seventeen-year-old nonbinary Lark who is an aspiring author and thinks that the only way they can be published is to gain over 50K followers on Twitter. They’re well on their way, until their former best friend and now number one enemy, Kasim, accidentally posts on Lark’s Twitter page about Kas’s unrequited love. The post goes viral, and Lark is pulled into a spiral of lies where they need to learn authenticity and accountability, and self-love.

The story was originally inspired by response to another of my YA novels, Felix Ever After—though I was so happy to see the overwhelming amount of love that Felix received, I also saw a backlash to his mistakes as a learning, growing human, and realized that there is a double standard in both books and real life: that the more marginalized a person is, the less space we have to make mistakes and learn and grow before we’re deemed as unlikeable. This sparked Lark, a character who desperately wants to be liked so that they will feel safe in a world that so often does not accept them.

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly young adult and middle-grade fiction? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I loved fanfiction when I was young—my first fanfic was a Card Captor Sakura retelling of The King and I (I’m not sure how it makes sense, either). Storytelling was always an important form of escape, so I was lucky to have books like the Animorphs series.

How would you describe your writing process? 

The only constant in my writing process is that with every book I write, I have to sit down and figure out what the process is going to be. It changes from book to book, with some stories requiring a strict outline, and others needing more of a flow. My favorite process is when there’s a perfect balance of an outline that allows for flow and surprising new storylines in between every planned plot beat.

For Lark & Kasim, the process was very different because, originally, the story was meant to be set during the year 2020, following the timeline of the year. I realized as I wrote that the book was becoming much more about the year 2020 than it was about the characters, so I gave space to the setting and allowed it to be in a vaguer timeline that has been still affected by the pandemic. The original first draft became a very detailed outline where the characters were able to experience more conflict and scene together because they weren’t in quarantine.

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

My favorite element of writing is dialogue—getting so into character and scene as I’m writing that I catch myself saying the lines with my characters and acting out their gestures and facial expressions. That’s when I know a scene is particularly working.

The most challenging is making sure that readers are seeing the world and characters as fully as they are in my head. I feel the emotional attachment to my characters and story because they’re already inside of me, but sometimes language, scene, character development, etc. isn’t enough to transfer that same energy that’s inside of me into the reader, because we just haven’t had the same lived experiences and will always view the same story and sentence through a different lens.

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

I don’t think I’ve been asked “What was your favorite part about writing Lark & Kasim?” yet. My answer: I had a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall by playing with the parallels of Lark being a character who is at times aware that they’re a character in a book, and wonders what it means to be an unlikeable character, or an unlikeable person, as someone who will make mistakes. Breaking the fourth wall wasn’t planned, so those are the best moments when a spark of the unexpected makes its way past the outline and into the story.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

Lark & Kasim would be a great novel to check out for advice because I also enjoyed including a lot of thoughts on craft for young writers and teens or advice I wish I’d had when I first started out. But, it all mostly boils down to suggesting that writers follow their joy, instead of writing what it is they think others want to read.

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

I held out for a while, but I’ve finally started watching JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

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

There are projects that I’m excited about but unfortunately can’t speak on yet.

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

I recently started Mariama Lockington’s In the Key of Us—she’s a magician with language.


Header photo credit Bella Porter

Interview with Author and Literary Agent Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder of People of Color in Publishing—a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before becoming a literary agent. She’s been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” media list, a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree, and featured on Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world. Patrice is the editor of two anthologies published by Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope and Eternally Yours: Fifteen Stories of Paranormal Love. Her debut novel, Where Shadows Reign—the first in a YA fantasy duology—will be published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of Macmillan.

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

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

Hi y’all, thanks for having me! I’m Patrice, and I’m the editor of the YA paranormal romance anthology, Eternally Yours, which is out 9/20/22, as well as the YA Black Girl Magic anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn, (it was published last year, so it’s out now) and the forthcoming novel, Where Shadows Reign. I’m also a literary agent, and a former book editor, so as I often say, I really love books and I’ve seen the industry from many sides!

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I make books happen! I represent, as a literary agent, a list of bestselling and critically acclaimed and debut authors and illustrators. I love my clients, they’re so talented and dedicated and fun to work with. I was an editor before I was an agent, so as an editor I received books on submission from literary agents, but as a writer, I always really related to and wanted to champion writers even more, so in 2019 I became a literary agent and now I’m the one working with them to develop their work and I sell it to publishers and manage and strategize their careers. When I’m not doing that, I’m talking to myself while at the grocery store (with my headphones on so it seems like I’m on a call haha) to work out plot points, leaving myself voice memos and random notes day and night when inspiration strikes…basically, I’m dreaming of and creating my own stories. I love writing and working with writers, so honestly, I feel like I’m in my dream career every day getting to do both.

What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing and agenting specifically? 

My parents. They were really big about me reading and having books with characters who looked like me from a young age. I had a whole library full of Black characters, by Black authors and illustrators growing up. They’re also HUGE science fiction and fantasy fans, my dad also love theory, my mom loves horror…I grew up listening to him discuss and debate Fanon and Malcolm X and Jean-Paul Sartre with friends and my mom insisting I watch the original Freddy and Jason films (absolutely terrifying), back when Freddy vs. Jason came out. My dad also was a martial artist, and with him, I studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, and so much of that is a story. I was also a theater kid. My life was full of stories and storytelling growing up. It is no surprise that I ended up working in book publishing instead of as a lawyer like my mom hoped (it’s fine, now she brags to truly anyone that her daughter is an author). By the time I entered college, I knew I wanted to tell stories featuring characters who are more like me, and I wanted to help get more of those books by others into the world, too. I did internships with literary agencies, in marketing and publicity…anyplace that would have me, I wrote my first manuscripts, I networked so much, and then I didn’t get a job in publishing after I graduated. So, I worked in a different field for about a year, but I couldn’t get my love of books out of my head. Finally, I got an editorial assistant position and around the same time, I signed with my first literary agent who sold A Phoenix First Must Burn. Now, I’ve been working in this industry and writing under contract for the past few years.

How would you describe your upcoming anthology, Eternally Yours? What was the inspiration for this project?

I. LOVE. Paranormal Romance. HUGE fantasy and science fiction reader growing up, but especially gravitated to all things paranormal, urban fantasy, and gothic. Really anything with vampires, haha. My dad got me hooked on Blade, my mom on Underworld, and then I discovered Anne Rice (so happy we’re getting an Interview tv show soon! I am also a fan of the previous films in her universe, no matter how much Queen of the Damned deviates from the book) and Octavia Butler, got into Laurell K. Hamilton during Anita Blake’s best days (IYKYK), Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (I’m nervous-excited for the new tv series!) and from there, worlds opened up. 

I mention this in my introduction for Eternally Yours, but what I felt was missing, what I really didn’t develop the words to explain until I got older, was that I wanted more queer characters and more characters of color…in other words, more people like the Black queer woman I am in these worlds. My publisher was in support of that and that’s why Eternally Yours exists…you have an incredibly diverse list of fifteen of today’s bestselling and critically acclaimed authors…I would describe it as THE book I wanted to read growing up (since, at this point, we’ll probably never get a sequel to Sunshine by Robin McKinley). My teen self would be so proud, and I’m so proud of these contributors, they really put in the work to make this anthology amazing.

How would you describe the process of creating an anthology? What goes into picking the contributors?

If you want to really dig into the topic of creating anthologies, I recommend reading this piece by Dahlia Adler (also, buy her books, including her anthology, That Way Madness Lies, it’s all Shakespeare retellings, and I have a story there called “Elsinore” that reimagines Hamlet with a little help from Dracula)

For me, it’s all about working with authors whose work I love and who I know can deliver. Once I figured out the genre (paranormal romance) I got to thinking about authors I’m fans of who want to write paranormal, whose novels either are paranormal or have those elements, and authors who you would never think would write anything paranormal, but I had a feeling they could pull it off. I thank being a former editor for this instinct, I understand writers really well and I pick up on all the things when I read their work. I am so happy with the entire contributor list, but speaking of inspirations, Melissa de la Cruz saying yes meant a ton. I was a HUGE Blue Bloods fan growing up (think Gossip Girl but with angels AND vampires) and, for Eternally Yours, she wrote a short story in the Blue Bloods world. I may have wept tears of joy.

Once everyone was signed on, they sent me pitches of their stories, I—along with the help of the editor at Penguin who acquired this book, Dana Leydig—approved them, they got to drafting and then we gave them notes and they revised again and again and again (thank y’all for putting in the work!!) until we were like, it’s ready to go! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives/writers? 

Write your stories. As a writer starting out, I looked for others for approval and validation way too much. It led to quite a lot of cooks in the kitchen (my brain) and so my books were that disjointed, they were from me but not truly of me. I reached a point where I was like, okay it’s not working like this, with me listening to feedback from everyone, with me trying to be like all these other writers… what do I want to write, what stories do I need in the world… honestly that changed everything for me, it’s how I came up with the idea of all my published and under contract books. Fight for your stories. 

My dad once told me that I was very talented but had no discipline and he was right. I wasn’t making time for my art. I wasn’t making sacrifices for my art, and that’s not to say artists need to suffer, we don’t, it’s to say that I was doing so many other things, saying yes to so many other things, but I wasn’t saying yes to myself, to my writing, to the very thing that gives me life. I had to get real with myself and say, do you want this, okay focus on this. That sometimes means waking up at 6am and writing. It sometimes means writing before bed, or not going out with friends or hanging with family to get work done. It means setting boundaries and being clear with people about how important my work is to me. Like, I’m on deadline right now and, with few exceptions, I’m not going anywhere until it’s done. 

Try to find your balance, your flow, what works for YOU (not others). Take breaks when you need them. Don’t stress about writing every day, I don’t, and the work gets done—that’s what works for me.

Work on your craft instead of rushing to be published. When I became a better editor, a better reviser, my stories began to shine.

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

Yes! My next project is Where Shadows Reign. It’s the first in a YA fantasy duology. It was originally scheduled to come out this year, but my super supportive publisher moved it back because trying to revise a novel, edit an anthology, be a literary agent, and focus during the start of a pandemic turned out to be a lot to do at the same time (I know, no surprise). We’re setting the pub date, but it’ll likely be late 2023 or 2024, and the book is even stronger due to the extra time. You can add it on Goodreads and follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates!

The book takes place a year after an epic war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them both. It follows three characters: a vampire princess who undertakes a journey to bring her best friend back from the underworld; a young seer who only sees death and, for reasons, accompanies the princess; and a fallen angel who is hellbent on awakening her beloved, their world’s first vampire and the most bloodthirsty one who lived, who is entombed in this underworld. 

It’s very gothic and queer and inspired by my love for The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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

Okay, first, read Eternally Yours and A Phoenix First Must Burn as a large amount of the stories throughout both these anthologies are queer (Phoenix was actually called “delightfully queer” in a rave review), and then read their books!

Second, anything by Mark Oshiro, Sara Holland, Arvin Ahmadi, Dhonielle Clayton, and Adam Silvera. Love these people, couldn’t do what I do without them.

Third, my clients. Check out books by these authors: 

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (we may or may not call this book MILF book as its secret title…college senior has a hot hookup, oops it’s her friend’s mom, wait…now, they’re falling in now)

All Boys Aren’t Blue and We Are Not Broken by George M. Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown and Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

These Feathered Flames and This Cursed Crown by Alexandra Overy

And for a few publishing next year, but available for preorder now, check out: 

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (NOLA set, magical families, estranged siblings, intergenerational curses)

Ravensong by Cayla Fay (war god sisters, Buffy vibes, romance, northeastern gothic)

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela (first crush, a journey to a magical other world, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan)

Dear Medusa by Olivia A. Cole (if you loved Shout or The Poet X, you’ll love this!)

Finally, for a book I deeply love. I acquired this when I was an editor! 

Beyond the Ruby Veil and its sequel, Into the Midnight Void by Mara Fitzgerald. It’s a dark queer, hilarious, YA fantasy duology.

Interview with Cartoonist Balazs Lorinczi

Balazs Lorinczi is a comic book creator and illustrator born in Hungary, now living in wonderfully gloomy Scotland.

While he previously worked as an animator, illustrator and did smaller comic book projects, this is his first time creating a full-length graphic novel (but not the last).

When not cursed with a day job he spends all his free time drawing, watching cartoons, and trying to unsuccessfully restrain himself from buying more books.

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

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

Hi, Thanks for having me!

I’m Balazs. I’m mainly a comic book artist, but I love to draw a lot of different things. I’m originally from Hungary, but I’m living in Scotland now. I used to work in animation for a little bit. I still have a ton of love for the medium but comics is my passion when it comes to working on things.

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

When I was little, (late 80s, 90s) comics were the only truly limitless medium where I felt like anything could happen. Books are great, but comics have a visual element that wowed me! Unlike movies and tv, comics could be with you anywhere. Bored on a train ride? Read a comic! No good show on tv at the moment? Pull out one of your comics! (yes, you can tell I grew up before the internet and streaming services, haha)

It just felt natural to me to try creating my own as well. The beauty of it is that you only need a pencil and some paper to start.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly fantasy?

I guess I just have a tendency to try and do the things I admire. Since I love reading comics, I always wanted to make my own. Ever since I was little, when I got interested in a story, I tried to come up with my own take on it. For some reason, my brain just thinks it’s very important to have my own stories and characters created. It’s an unexplainable urge I’ve had ever since I can remember.

Fantasy just feels cozy to me and I think it has almost limitless potential for storytelling. You can mix it with any genre. You can world-build as much or as little as you like. Even the well-worn tropes still work today (just look at all the DnD-inspired stories out there today, thriving).

Urban fantasy is my personal favorite. It’s grounded and more instantly relatable but spices up the everyday mundanity with magic. 

How would you describe the newest book, Doughnuts and Doom? What inspired the story?

I usually describe it as a magical rom-com. It’s a fun and simple story about finding the strength and courage to achieve your goals, and learning to rely on someone.

I had the basic idea of a cursed doughnut as a funny, little, short comic for a while. Basically the opening confrontation between the two leads, but the characters looked nothing like them. I was struggling to create a full story and narrative out of it, until I decided to make it a rom-com.

The characters are loosely inspired by my everyday experiences: working in fast food, trying to do a band, and also just my love of witches.

Are you a fan of donuts yourself? What other yummy treats do you find yourself drawn towards?

Oh yes, very much so! I also love apple turnovers and cookies too. My sweet tooth will be the downfall of me one day, haha!

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

I have so many artists that inspire me! When I first decided to be serious about drawing, it used to be Mike Mignola, Francis Manapul (people who I still admire). In recent years I’m more drawn to styles like Fran Meneses, ND Stevenson, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Kat Leyh, and my absolute favorite, Max Sarin.

Also, I have to mention Stjepan Sejic’s creator-owned work. If you look at my stuff, we have nothing in common but it was a huge inspiration.

But other than specific artists, I’m constantly inspired by the endless slew of genre fiction I consume. Be it books, comics, movies, or cartoons (a LOT of cartoons in the last couple of years).

What are some of your favorite elements of the comic book/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

I like how it’s a medium usually both relying on text and visuals, but it can still be a very subjective experience in the way you absorb the story. It has the visual storytelling and spectacle of a movie but also allows you to meditate over it and use your imagination to a certain extent, like a book.

I really enjoy it when I get absorbed into a comic and just experience reading it like I’m watching a movie. All styles of comics are great and valid, but that’s just my favorite.

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

I only know the questions I’m afraid people will ask me, haha! 

I think the question nobody asked me yet but I wish they did is a surprise even to me. But when someone finally brings it up (whatever it may be) I will say, “You know, I never even thought about this before, but now that you mention it…”

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

I just finished another graphic novel! I’m putting on the final touches, but it’s basically ready to go! It’s a 180-page story and has girls in a band (recurring theme I guess). One is a werewolf and the other is a ghost. It’s a lot of fun and I hope someone decides to publish it!

I also just started working on my third book. It’s gonna be centered around vampires and skateboarding. I already have a new idea I’m trying to develop and it seems like I’m sticking to the urban fantasy, YA, rom-com genre for now. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those interested in writing their own graphic novel one day?

Don’t write it “one day”. Do it and do it now! Nothing is stopping you! It might take a long time and if that scares you, just start with a short story or start with chapter one and see if it makes you want to go further. You don’t even have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to, but you are more ready than you think you are! And even if you are not, you will be by the time you are on page thirty.

I wrote and drew Doughnuts and Doom while working full time and it was very exhausting. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to everyone, but I think pouring energy into something you love is ultimately a rewarding thing (just make sure to take care of yourself, stretch and hydrate).

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

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Anything from  Kath Leyh and Tillie Walden. Giant Days by John Allison and Max Sarin. Flung Out Of Space and Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer. Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. And for the more adult readers who want some NSFW but wholesome stories, Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic.

Pretty sure I missed something I will regret later, so just go to your local bookshop and pick up any LGBTQ+ books you find interesting! That’s what I usually do and nine out of ten times I don’t regret it.