Interview with Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSlateMcSweeney’sMother Jones, the Boston ReviewTor.comTin HouseConjunctionsWired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

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

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

Sure! I’m a trans woman in San Francisco who writes science fiction and fantasy. I also organize local events, including a ton of spoken word events, but also the monthly Trans Nerd Meet Up here in SF. I love karaoke and queer performance art, and I have been known to do some pretty outrageous performances myself. I won a Lambda Literary Award for transgender/genderqueer writing, and helped to organize a national tour of trans authors called the Cross Gender Caravan. Lately, I’ve helped to create a trans superhero for Marvel Comics named Escapade, who’s appearing in a miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion that I’m writing — it debuted in March 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest books, the Unstoppable series?

The Unstoppable trilogy is an epic story about figuring out who you are and how far you’re willing to go to save the people you love. Tina Mains looks like a normal human girl, but she’s secretly a clone of an alien hero who died — they hid the clone on Earth, disguised as a human baby. And now it’s time to return to the stars and reclaim her heroic legacy. Tina is expecting to leave home and step back into her former self’s life, but it turns out things aren’t that simple, and being a hero is kind of a messy business. Luckily, Tina’s not figuring it out alone: a group of other Earth kids join her in space, and they help her realize that instead of trying to be the second coming of the heroic Captain Argentian, she should try being herself. And then in the sequel, things get a lot messier, and there’s a fascist takeover and we learn the truth about an ancient threat to all life in the galaxy, and Tina pays a heavy price to save her friends.

What was the inspiration for this series?

When I was a kid, all I wanted was for aliens to drop out of the sky and tell me that I didn’t belong here on Earth — that I was secretly an alien, and I belonged with them. As a visibly queer kid with a really severe learning disability, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere here, and I just wanted someone to take me away from this honestly disappointing planet. So when I started thinking about writing a young adult novel, I wanted to write a book for my younger self — about what would happen if aliens showed up and took you away on a huge, awesome adventure in space.

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

I’ve always loved making up weird stories, and that was a huge part of how I dealt with the aforementioned learning disability. I’ve written fiction in lots of different genres, but I keep coming back to speculative fiction because it’s the best way to deal with how strange and confusing the real world is. People are constantly pretending that stuff makes sense, when it really doesn’t. At all. Especially nowadays, the world is changing too fast to keep up with, and tons of people loudly pretend that their imaginary rules are super important and real. And I’ve found that goes double for young adult fiction: when you’re a teenager, you’re surrounded by adults who are pretending that nonsense makes sense, and sometimes it seems like everyone else is playing along. I love stories that gently (or not-so-gently) point out how fake and bizarre all the stuff we pretend to believe in is.

How would you describe your writing process?

It really varies, but I try to do some writing every day, when I can. I know some writers who only write on weekends, or on some other schedule, but I find that if I can keep the story fresh in my head, it flows easier every time. I like to try and get some writing done in the mornings with my coffee, and then take a super long walk to the ocean or to Chinatown, to clear my head and just kind of work things out in my head. Long walks are a big part of my writing process, and so is hanging out with my cat.

As a writer who has written on the importance of fiction as a form of healing and accessing agency, particularly your book, Never Say You Can’t Survive, I’m wondering if there’s anything you could say now on what creative expression and art means to you personally?

Making up stories helped me survive some rough times in my childhood, and it’s still doing that now. Writing stories helped me figure out my gender when I was transitioning. I love getting lost in my own imaginary world, where I can identify with my characters as they struggle to survive and do the right thing, and I especially enjoy when my characters are having a deep emotional conversation that speaks to something in my own life. Writing is my happy place.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

As a kid, I loved big escapist stories with larger than life adventures, and I definitely wanted to be Wonder Woman when I grew up — I also loved Doctor Who for the way that the Doctor used creativity and silliness and kindness to solve problems instead of just shooting everything in sight. I also loved Monty Python and Victor/Victoria, which fed my love of anarchy and seemed to hint that gender was something you could reshape to tell your own story. The books that spoke to me were weird, surreal things like Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time and the works of Daniel Pinkwater. In my early teens I discovered Prince, and his music and his image changed my life.

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

Oh, so many. There are so many incredible authors writing right now — N.K. Jemisin’s work has changed the way I think about stories, over and over again. A whole bunch of amazing trans/non-binary authors have come along recently in speculative fiction, and their giving me life and encouraging me to take bigger swings creatively. Among others, Isaac Fellman, Ryka Aoki, Naseem Jamnia, Nino Cipri, R.B. Lemberg, Elly Bangs, April Daniels, H.E. Edgmon, Aiden Thomas and Rivers Solomon… I’m just scratching the surface. It’s a wonderful time to be a trans SFF fan.

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

Man, I have good days and bad days, like most people. I love it when the characters are speaking through me and doing stuff that surprise me — that’s the best thing ever. And then there are the times when I know I need a scene where something happens, but I can’t come  up with it to save my life. Revision is also often a nightmare, because you have to make the best of all the choices that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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

I used to belong to a skipping team. My cat’s name is Marcus Aurelius Sassafras Vespasian IV, but sometimes he goes by Dr. Sassafras or just Dr. Sassy. I used to have a giant collection of Doctor Who memorabilia, but I sold it all and gave the money to charity.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You have to be simultaneously humble and arrogant — you have to believe that your work is amazing and important and will change people’s lives, so you’ll keep going and doing the boldest and most audacious work you possibly can. But you also have to remember that there are a million other writers out there who are also doing awesome work, and that you’re part of a whole community of creative people who need to support each other. You have to be okay with tons of rejection — I racked up hundreds and hundreds of rejections when I was starting out! — and not take it personally. Also, you should totally make writing a communal activity as much as you can: join a writing group, organize writing dates with friends, share your work online, take part in open mics and other readings. Just find ways to make it a social thing.

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

I already mentioned this at the start, but I’m writing a miniseries for Marvel called New Mutants: Lethal Legion. It includes Escapade, the trans mutant superhero I created with artists Ted Brandt and Ro Stein, who has the power to trade places with anyone. The plot has to do with Escapade organizing a heist with some of her mutant friends, which (not surprisingly) goes pear-shaped. And the New Mutants are forced to face off with some of the worst villains in the Marvel Universe. It’s a super silly, heartfelt, goofy comedy miniseries about trauma and what we do to take care of the people we love.

Charlie Jane Anders is a guest this year at Flame Con on August 12th and 13th at the Times Square Sheraton.

Interview with Victoria Ying

Victoria Ying is a critically acclaimed author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese Curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again and hanging out with her husband and cat, Bandito. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She is the author and illustrator of her own series “City of Secrets and City of Illusion” through Penguin/Viking and the illustrator of the DC series “Diana Princess of the Amazons.” Her upcoming graphic novel projects her YA debut, “Hungry Ghost” and the Marvel/Scholastic “Shang-Chi and the Secret of Immortality.”

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

CW: Discussion of eating disorders

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

Hey there! I’m an author and illustrator of the new graphic novel, Hungry Ghost! I started my career in animation working at Disney on films such as Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero Six and Moana. I wanted to tell my own stories so I left to pursue my dream of writing. Hungry Ghost is my YA debut based on my own experiences but fictionalized.

What can you tell us about your upcoming graphic novel, Hungry Ghost? What inspired you to write this story?

I struggled with an eating disorder for nearly a decade and the thing that surprised me about media surrounding ED was just how much of it didn’t reflect my experience. As a child of immigrants surrounded by western culture, I saw the stories of worried families and emaciated young white girls and didn’t see myself in those stories. I wanted to share what the experience is like beyond the gory details of protruding bones and write a story about what it FEELS like to actually live with an ED.

Doing some research, I noticed that the term “hungry ghost is a common concept in Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion. Was that intentionally chosen in mind when choosing the title and/or developing the story itself?

It is definitely a concept in folklore, but in my family, it was used with derision if you ever ate quickly. “You’re like a hungry ghost!”

I wanted to use the phrase because it felt appropriate for Val’s struggles. She’s hungry, not just for food, but for love as well.

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

I had always loved comics. Comics drew me to an artistic career in the first place when I was in middle school, but once I got to college, someone told me about the tough working conditions in comics and I pivoted. I came back to the medium after working for a few years and was able to advocate for myself in the labor market. I got to work with amazing editors at First Second for this project and I couldn’t be happier with my comics experience.

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

As a second generation child of immigrants, It’s difficult to see yourself in any media. As a kid, I saw token representation for Asians sometimes and when I would express my alienation, people would tell me to watch Chinese media. But I wasn’t Chinese either. I couldn’t speak fluently and it just made me feel even more alien. I’m glad that we live in a media environment where we’re talking about immigrants and kids of immigrants. We’re in the golden age of diaspora stories! Films such as the Oscar winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once” prove that our stories can be relatable and unique.

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

My inspirations are changing all the time, but I love people who follow their creative spirit. I love watching directors like Taika Waititi tell wildly different stories and yet still hold onto their special voice. Whenever I can tell that an artist is being true to their creative vision, I am most drawn to them.

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

It’s like the process for making a drawing, but expanded out into a longer process. You start out with the script, get that working, and then move onto thumbnail drawings, where you draw the whole book in tiny scribbly little doodles. Once that’s working, you take those scribbles and tighten them up to something that people can actually look at. Once it’s presentable, you can add color. I worked with a fantastic colorist Lynette Wang for this book and others. Last but not least, you add in the final text.

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

I love the first draft of something and the inking phase. I love telling myself a story and seeing the whole thing come together. It’s fun and feels organic and natural. I also really enjoy the inking phase because I can actually let go of my storytelling brain and just get lost in making the artwork look the way I want it to. I find artistic flow most easily here.

Spoiler, regarding the main character’s mother, I really appreciated how you depicted a familial relationship that was filled with both love, but also misunderstanding and some toxicity. Would you mind speaking about that here?

I felt like a lot of parental relationships in media never rang true for me. Our parents are human. They have their own flaws, their own traumas, and to treat them as cardboard cutouts of “good parents” never really works. I was really inspired by “The OC” in high school because the parents were complicated, they had their own lives and that effected how they related to their kids. I wanted to write a mother like that. I wanted to show how ED is often passed down and how sometimes, we don’t get a fairy tale ending with the mythical apology, but we still have to move on and build a life for ourselves.

What are some things you would want readers to take away from Hungry Ghost?

It’s okay if the people you hoped to rely on can’t be there for you. You can be there for yourself and even though that’s not ideal, you can build your own support system and heal yourself.

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

Write short stories and write a lot of them. I had to learn how to tell stories with structure and catharsis and if I had only done full length stories, it would have taken me a long time to fix the mistakes. If you write short you can see the whole thing laid out in front of you and learn to be a better storyteller faster.

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

I’m an elder millennial and it took me this long to have something worth saying. My path to publishing is long and winding, but I don’t regret a single moment of it because it all led me to the place that I am now.

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

“How do you manage your time to avoid burnout?”

One of my biggest things I advocate for with young comics artists is never to schedule yourself to the max. Yes, you CAN work 7 days a week, but that can’t last and you’ll be an absolute husk of a person in a matter of months. Whenever you are figuring out how long a project will take, protect your weekends and evenings. 8 hours a day MAXIMUM. Also, remember to build in two weeks of sick time! You’re your own HR department, so be that for yourself!

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

I have a book coming out with Scholastic for Marvel’s Shang-Chi on October the 6th! I was allowed to write a fun, twisty little story for this character and I can’t wait to share it.

I’m also working on a second YA contemporary about growing up on the internet and navigating inappropriate relationships.

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

Ooh! I just finished Ryan LaSala’s “The Honeys!” It was a fun, queer, horror romp that I can’t stop thinking about!

Interview with Terry J. Benton-Walker

TERRY J. BENTON-WALKER grew up in rural GA and now lives in Atlanta with his husband and son, where he writes fiction for adults, young adults, and children. He has an Industrial Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State. When he’s not writing, he can be found gaming, eating ice cream, or both. Blood Debts is his first novel.

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

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

Thank you so much! As a geek myself, I’m honored for the opportunity. I’m Terry J. Benton-Walker (it’s also okay if you call me TJ), the author of Blood Debts, my young adult contemporary fantasy debut coming from Tor Teen on April 4th in the US and from Hodder & Stoughton on April 6th in the UK. I’m also the author of Alex Wise vs the End of the World, my middle-grade contemporary fantasy publishing with Labyrinth Road and Random House Children’s on September 26th. I am a toddler daddy, which means I’ve been fighting on the front lines of the Preschool Plague Wars™ for my second year now and am battle-weary but love being a parent to my son, who’s actually a really cool little guy. I’m also a video game geek, who is presently struggling as I’ve banned myself from gaming until I meet my current deadlines.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Blood Debts? What was the inspiration for this story?

Here’s a short synopsis of Blood Debts:

Terry J. Benton-Walker’s contemporary fantasy debut, Blood Debts, is “a conjuring of magnificence” (Nic Stone) with powerful magical families, intergenerational curses, and deadly drama in New Orleans.

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen. Now, Clement and Cristina Trudeau—the sixteen-year-old twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family—discover their mother has been cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

Clement and Cristina’s only hope of discovering who is coming after their family, is to trust each other, to trust their magic, and solve the decades-old murder. If they don’t succeed, New Orleans may see another massacre. Or worse.

The inspiration for Blood Debts was three-fold. First, I was inspired by my personal experience with Game of Thrones and wanted to create a world where Black and Black Queer people could be centered and represented authentically in an epic fantasy story.

Then, while drafting the manuscript, I went through a rough time where I struggled with injustice both in the world at large and my personal life. Writing Blood Debts (in addition to therapy) became catharsis for me, as I got to process my complex and nuanced feelings about justice while exploring concepts of intergenerational trauma and the cycle of violence.

Lastly, anyone who follows me on social media most likely knows that I adore the video game, The Last of Us Part II, in which the story developers crafted an exceptional tale about the danger of perpetuating the cycle of violence through a unique dual perspective that was pitch-perfect and incredibly effective (albeit highly divisive among hardcore fans). The story of Blood Debts is also told through multiple perspectives of characters who are all seeking the justice they believe they’ve been wrongfully denied, whether right or wrong in their pursuits. This experience is meant to probe the layers of morality and justice through a story crafted with a 360-degree view of the central issues between these deeply complicated and compassionate characters.

As a story rooted in New Orleans, much of the story seems to rely on its historical significance, as well as its connection to Black magic/belief systems. Could you expand on your choice to center your story there?

I created Blood Debts for Black and Black Queer teens (and adults, y’all can enjoy it too), which means for them to have a truly immersive and heartfelt experience, the foundation of this story had to be authentic and Black. A major part of Black culture is our connection to our history, the good and the bad and the veiled, and our family, those who are still with us and those who are not. I wove those elements into the foundation of this series, because I want readers to feel at home from the first page, and on the last, I want them to close the book and hug it to their chests with pride in knowing that that is their story and Clem and Cris and Valentina belong to them.

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

I’ve been a fan of stories from as young as I can remember. My mom always fed my curiosity as a kid, and when it came to stories in any form, I was ravenous. Life wasn’t always great for me growing up for several reasons, so I often escaped into the speculative worlds of books, video games, and movies. And I still have the same habits as an adult.

I enjoy writing both young adult and middle grade fiction, because I adore kids and have so much respect for the innocence and honesty with which they view the world and the people in it. As a parent, I’m very careful to respect and nurture that in my son, though I also worry about the day he goes out into the world and external influences start chipping away at that innocence and honesty to replace it with respectability politics and other nonsense. The stories I write are entertainment first and foremost, but they also represent the lessons I’ve learned through tough experiences in my life that I hope, in sharing with kids, helps them hold onto their authentic selves and not make the same (or as many) mistakes as I have.

How would you describe your writing process?

My writing process is incredibly organized, because otherwise my high-functioning anxiety would not allow me to be great. I’m a heavy planner/ plotter, so before I draft a single word, I need to know everything about the world, the characters, and the plot. I front-load the majority of the heavy lifting at the beginning of my writing process, which means drafting takes me a bit longer, but revisions tend to go super fast for me.

I also created a Novel Planning Kit that I use for plotting and writing stories, which is available for download on my website as a free resource to help authors with their own projects. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Growing up, I had no stories at all that made me feel truly seen. If I wanted to escape, I had to learn how to connect with stories and characters who were nothing like me. The media landscape has significantly improved since then, despite still having a long way to go. There are so many stories featuring Black and Queer characters in so many genres that at times I’m jealous of the treasure trove of content available for today’s kids to escape into. However, it’s my hope that publishing and other media industries continue to champion intersectional stories in speculative fiction, particularly ones centering authentic Black gay characters like Blood Debts and Alex Wise and Jamar Perry’s Cameron Battle series.

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

I’m endlessly inspired by Black creatives who are never complacent but continue to push their talent and skill with each new project. Whenever they level-up, they also motivate me to keep pushing the limits of my creativity and developing my own craft. Some of my recent favorites and inspirations: Beyoncé. Issa Rae. Jordan Peele. Quinta Brunson. Regina Hall. SZA. Kalynn Bayron. Jordan Ifueko. Alexis Henderson.  

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

My favorite element of writing is how extraordinary it is that we start with a literal blank page—nothing—and create entire worlds with rich characters and intricate stories that ripple through the very real lives in our world. Art in every form is the closest form of magic that’s accessible to almost anyone, and we artists are all magicians in that way.

The most frustrating element about writing is how slow it can be sometimes. My creative brain is very temperamental and doesn’t always want to clock-in when I want or need it to, but I’ve found that if I allow myself and my brain the time I need and take breaks to recharge, we always find our way through eventually.

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

Since this is Geeks OUT, I’ll share a geeky not-so-secret secret with you. I was a total band geek in high school. I played the Alto Saxophone and was pretty good at it (second chair in symphonic and first chair in concert band). I have not played in years, though I miss it dearly. My horror short story in Karen Strong’s Cool. Awkward. Black. anthology (which is out now, by the way) was inspired by my love for playing music. It’s titled “Requiem of Souls” and is about a Black gay band geek who finds supernatural sheet music that summons the dead—and something else far more dangerous than ghosts.

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)?

I love talking about craft, so I’m always game to discuss some of the cool craft tricks I did with Blood Debts. Everything I write is curated to be enjoyed more than once. I try to be extremely deliberate with every sentence so that on multiple reads, readers should find new and intriguing pieces of information they hadn’t picked up on during prior reads.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

It’s hard, especially now, but you owe it to yourself not to give up. Blood Debts recently got a starred review from Kirkus, and on the day it was announced, I received a status memory on Facebook of a post from exactly ten years ago where I’d sent out over a hundred queries for a fantasy series I was hopeful would interest an agent. Spoiler Alert: It did not. But I didn’t quit. And ten years later, I have a starred review on my debut young adult contemporary fantasy story. I hope it doesn’t take you as long, but the only way it won’t happen for you is if you quit.

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

Yes! Later this year, September 26th to be exact, my debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, Alex Wise vs the End of the World is publishing from Labyrinth Road / Random House Children’s. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy whose summer vacation takes a dramatic turn when Death, one of the spirits of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, possesses his ten-year-old sister and threatens the end of the world.

I’m also working on a YA horror anthology, The White Guy Dies First, which is coming from Tor Teen, Summer 2024. It features 13 scary stories from 13 BIPOC authors that subvert classic horror sub-genres and, most importantly, where the cishet white guy always dies first. The lineup is epic. In addition to a story from me, readers can expect frights from bestselling and award-winning authors: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Kalynn Bayron, Kendare Blake, H.E. Edgmon, Lamar Giles, Chloe Gong, Alexis Henderson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Adiba Jaigirdar, Naseem Jamnia, Mark Oshiro, and Karen Strong.

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

There are soo many LGBTQ+ books coming out this year that I’m super geeked about—and I’m also super jealous of Queer kids who’re getting all these amazing stories because I had to live vicariously through Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony haha.  

The first LGBTQ+ book I’m hyped about is The Black Queen by Jumata Emil, which is a YA thriller coming from Delacorte on January 31st. It’s sapphic, utterly addictive, and thought-provoking—easily one of my most anticipated thrillers of the year!

The second is Your Lonely Nights Are Over by Adam Sass, coming from Viking / Penguin Teen on September 12th. It’s a witty, fun Slasher that’s a Queer Scream meets Clueless, and I cannot wait for more people to read it this fall.

Last, but certainly not least, is Godly Heathens by H.E. Edgmon, which is coming in November from Wednesday Books. H.E. is also one of the contributors in The White Guy Dies First, so I know first-hand how adept they are at crafting gripping, visceral experiences that still hold tight to you long after you finished the last word. Can you tell I’m excited?

Header Photo Credit Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT

Interview with Jen St. Jude

​Lambda Literary Fellow Jen St. Jude grew up in New Hampshire apple orchards and now lives in Chicago with her wife, daughter, and dog.  Their debut YA novel, IF TOMORROW DOESN’T COME, will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s (US) and Penguin Random House (UK) in 2023. 

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

CW: Discussion about mental illness and death.

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

Thank you so much! I’m a big fan of your organization, so this is fun for me. I’m a queer YA writer who truly loves to geek out about anything I love. That includes books, of course, but also women’s sports, pop music, and queer-coded action films.

What can you tell us about your debut book, If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come? What was the inspiration for this story?

I’ve been working on this novel for over a decade now, and for so many years it was just a constellation of thoughts. Hard to say which one was the true start of it all, but I wrote my way into this story because I had so many questions. If we’re all going to die, why don’t we live that way? Why don’t we treat each other better, chase the things we want, experience every big and beautiful thing that we can? I also live with depression and when I started this book I was in some of my worst stretches. For many moments and years it was too debilitating to write. But when I could, I put these scenes and characters on the page in an attempt to ask why Avery felt the way she did, and could she ever feel better? Could people in the very worst circumstances still find some light?

Mental health is a big part of the conversation within and around this book. If you feel comfortable, could you talk a little about what writing about that means to you?

To this day, I feel shame around my mental illness, even though I know I shouldn’t. Even though I have been working on it so hard and for so long. Sometimes it’s romanticized in media and I was very aware of that in my writing; I didn’t want to do that. But in real life, it often looks like self-destruction, and worse, it impacts other people in a negative, devastating way if left unchecked. There is absolutely no shame in struggling, and if more people talked about this, more people would get help. Maybe everyone would hurt just a little less. This novel is my way of talking about it.

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

When I was a little kid I would play with dolls for hours, or with my brother and the other neighborhood kids, imagine we were the characters from Power Rangers or Captain Planet and run around the yard making up stories about ourselves. I really think that was the beginning of it; writing fiction is play (even when it’s not feeling very fun). Speculative fiction in particular feels very liberating to me because we can explore our reality through a lens that makes us question our day-to-day, just a little. It also lets us feel ever so distant from the events happening in the story. It gives us perspective.

On our website, we’ve featured a few other writers who have Lambda Literary Fellow, such as Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson. Could you maybe touch upon your experiences within the program?

Oh! The best question. I attended the Lambda Literary retreat for emerging writers during the summer of 2018 and was in the YA cohort. Like any writing workshop, it takes quite a bit of luck for it to work. It’s always about the chemistry and personalities of the group. But it was also the first time I was in an all-queer space for writers (actually maybe the only time I’ve been in that space), so it was transformative for my work. I used to be adamant that Avery wasn’t depressed because of her queerness, because I knew people were looking for queer joy and I didn’t want to imply being queer makes you mentally ill. In that workshop it became clear we all shared similar experiences and it shaped my perspective on the novel. No, Avery isn’t depressed because she’s a lesbian, but it’s also true that living in a family and culture that tells her she’s wrong, that she may go to hell, that she might lose everything she holds dear if she comes out…yeah, that’s not going to help.

The people in my cohort were the real magic of Lambda, though. emily danforth was our workshop leader, which was an entire dream come true. She was generous with her time and advice, and offered to read every single one of our novels if we completed them that year. The other writers in my cohort included Sacha Lamb and Lin Thompson, as well as Jas Hammonds (We Deserve Monuments), J.D. Scott (Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day), Avery Mead, Tia Clark, Amos Mac, Amal Haddad, Kirt Ethridge, and Caitlin Hernandez. I’m still in touch with everyone, but a group of us still talk every day (pretty much all day). It’s become one of my most treasured families.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll admit I’m still figuring it out. I’m working on a new project for the first time in a long time, and just trying to let myself have some fun and lean into the character dynamics and play around with setting and voice. Jas has said If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come is my winter book, and this next one is summer.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

 I actually pursued my master’s almost completely because I just needed structure and help finishing a draft. I was having such a hard time on my own. Tip one: Did you know if you work at Harvard you can take classes at the Extension School for $40?! But tip two: You don’t need a master’s to finish your novel, but you may need some structure. You could create that through taking classes, joining a writing group, or finding a friend to hold you accountable. You’re not lazy and you’re probably not even uninspired, you might just need something to keep you on track. I’d also say that sometimes novels *should* sit dormant for a while. You collect live experiences and change as a person, and so your writing changes too.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

You know, not really? The first time I really saw myself on the page was when I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post as an adult. This is so completely embarrassing but I cried while telling emily that Cameron was the very first character I felt truly represented by. I could relate so much to the voice, so much to Cam’s desire, gender expression, and sense of humor. It took me a long time to realize I’m not alone in the way I thought I was.

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

I really love sharing my work with my trusted peer readers. It’s such a joy to read their raw drafts and see how their brains work, and what their first instincts are. I also really appreciate their feedback on my work. I never know if scenes or lines or even specific words aren’t working until I get to see them through the eyes of someone else. I’m always deeply grateful for the time people spend in my messy drafts. I think one thing that’s really frustrating is how patient you have to be. I’m sort of a fixer by nature, so I want to just sit down and bang out a draft and know every answer. I’m always so embarrassed to not have the answer! But the truth is, it may not exist yet. I might need to go for a walk, read a beautiful book, or talk to a friend. Not everything I need to write exists in my head, and I always feel so frustrated until I remember I have to go out and find the tools and words I need.

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

 Forgive yourself. For taking too long, for not writing, for not being perfectly polished. Forgive yourself if you don’t have time to read or write during a season in your life. Forgive yourself for your typos and your weaknesses. And find strength in that forgiveness. It all means you’re trying. It all means you’re wanting. I’m saying this because I need to hear it too.

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

 I’m currently working on a second novel that is tentatively coming out from Bloomsbury in 2025. It may change completely, we’ll see. But right now it’s about a high school soccer team, climate change, and the way we keep people in our life when things are destroyed and shifted. And, yes, everyone’s gay.

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

Oh, I could be here all day! I read all genres and all age levels. Jas Hammonds, Lin Thompson, and Sacha Lamb are must-reads. But just a few more: In the adult romance space, my editor Camille Kellogg’s book Just as You Are. It’s a hilarious and deeply queer Pride and Prejudice retelling. I found it incredibly healing. I’m currently reading Alex Crespo’s San Juniper’s Folly and loving every minute of it—I keep pitching it as Practical Magic meets Cemetery Boys. Adrienne Tooley’s The Third Daughter is out this summer and it completely blew me away. Jenna Miller’s Out of Character is out now and it’s the role-playing romance you absolutely need.I so love Justine Pucella Winan’s Bianca Torre is Afraid of Everything, and they have a middle grade book out this fall too with Bloomsbury called The Otherwoods. Each book is so different but so playful and wonderful. Other MG favorites include Ellie Engle Saves Herself by Leah Johnson, Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon, Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley, and The Song of Us by Kate Fussner. And I am DYING to read Vicki Johnson’s picture book, Molly’s Tuxedo. A few more adult recs: Marissa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, Ruth Madiesky’s All Night Pharmacy, Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly. I’m incredible excited for The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson. And finally (I am forcing myself to stop) I am writing this from Des Moines, Iowa where I met an author named Anya Anya Johanna DeNiro whose novel, OKPsyche is forthcoming from Small Beer Press. Their pitch: An unnamed trans woman is looking for a sense of belonging, a better relationship with her son, and friends that aren’t imaginary in this playful and aching short novel. I mean, yes! Sign me up. I cannot wait to read it.

Interview with Author Mark Oshiro

MARK OSHIRO is the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning Latinx queer author of Anger Is a Gift, Each of Us a Desert, and Into the Lightas well as their middle-grade books The InsidersYou Only Live Once, David Bravo, and Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena. They are the co-author (with Rick Riordan) of The Sun and the Star: A Nico Di Angelo Adventure. When not writing, they are trying to pet every dog in the world.

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

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

Hello, Geeks OUT! I’m Mark Oshiro. I’m a middle grade and young adult author based in Atlanta. And I really love dogs. And vinyl records!

What can you tell us about one of your upcoming books, Into the Light? What was the inspiration for this series?

Well, so far, this is still intended to be a standalone book! Some day, I’ll get an idea that will become a series. Into the Light is my foray into writing a thriller. It’s a very personal story because it is both inspired by and based on a lot of my experiences as a teenager, particularly my upbringing as an adoptee in a religious family. I wanted to write something that was frightening, emotional, and would also challenge me as a writer.

In addition to your own original stories, you’ve also been working on another, The Sun and The Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure? What was it been like focusing on a character with such as strong queer fandom and history? How would you describe your connection to the Rick Riordan fandom before signing on to this project, and what was your reaction afterward?

I’m a latecomer to the Percy Jackson series. I read the books when I was on tour for Anger is a Gift back in 2018 and immediately fell hard for them. To the surprise of NO ONE, once I met Nico in the third book, I instantly connected with him. So to get the opportunity to write from his point of view? It’s surreal. I create stories that often about kids dealing with trauma or difficult childhoods, and I know that’s why I was drawn to Nico. In many ways, I do feel uniquely qualified to contribute to bringing The Sun and The Star to life. Suffice to say, this journey the past couple of years has been one of the most rewarding and thrilling things I’ve ever done.

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

Well, I was drawn to storytelling mostly because it was the only thing I was both good at AND interested in when I was a kid. I’ve been creating stories since I was in the first grade. But it didn’t feel like a real possibility to me until I was a freshman in high school. My English teacher that year (shout out to Ms. Alford!) assigned us The House on Mango Street to read. It changed my life. It was my first real sense that Latinx folks could be authors and that we could write about our lives.

I’ve generally always loved the weird and the strange! It’s very natural for me to write in that space. The same goes for writing stories for a younger audience. I’m genuinely trying to capture the excitement and wonder I felt as a teenager who was a giant bookworm. So I’m absolutely writing the kind of stories I wanted back then.

As an author whose switched between young adult and middle grade, what is the appeal of writing between different age groups?

Right now, I tend towards wackier and funnier plots in my middle grade books, while my young adult work is far more intense, introspective, and complicated. From a creative standpoint, it helps me feel more free to write whatever kind of story I want. I also love how vastly different the two audiences are to interact with as well. You can ask any author writing for multiple age categories about this, but middle school and elementary visits/events are VERY different from young adult ones. Though don’t be fooled: kids will still shade you or rip your soul out of your body, no matter your age.

How would you describe your writing process?

Much better than it used to be, ha! These days, I’ve figured out what works best for me, so I do feel like it’s been streamlined in a sense. I take an idea and do freewriting until I feel like it’s fleshed out enough that I have a vague beginning, middle, and end. Then I write a detailed outline for all the scenes, and once that’s done, I start drafting! I am a fast drafter in general, but require a lot of time for re-writes and edits.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I mentioned The House On Mango Street earlier. I was a huge fan of Poe, Stephen King, Jane Austen… I devoured all the Goosebumps books in elementary school. That’s where my love of story, structure, and horror came from. It was a TV show, though, that actually made me see myself in the story: My So-Called Life. Wilson Cruz’s portrayal of Ricky Vasquez changed my whole life. He was the first queer Latinx person I had seen in any fictional medium ever.

That’s another purpose I imbue in my writing: I want to be someone else’s Ricky Vasquez. I am thankful that there’s a lot more of us—those of us excluded from so much of publishing or film or the TV industry—telling the stories that we want to tell.

I will say that the story that most resonated with me in the last few years? Probably Midnight Mass. And I have a bunch of recommendations for y’all at the end of this!

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

Every day life. My childhood. Really, really good works of art. Extremely cursed jokes in the group chat. 1am meals in diners.

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

I love a good framing device and a very voice-y first-person narrator. I’m also a sucker for a mind-trip of a structure. Unfortunately, those are all really challenging to pull off and I constantly keep using them. One day, I will write something that’s a lot easier to execute.

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

I’m a big lover of music; if I could be doing anything else, it would be writing and playing music. I can talk anyone’s ear off about music in a heartbeat. Into the Light is also based heavily on my experience as a transracial adoptee. I’m Latinx (as is my identical twin brother, who thankfully never got separated from me), but my adoptive parents are white and Japanese/Hawaiian. Hence the last name that often confuses people! Also, I love long distance running.

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)?

Oooh! The question would be: What are the three albums you’ve listened to the most while writing your books? And the answer would be: Sing the Sorrow by AFI; The Other Shore by Murder by Death; Gone Forever by God Forbid.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t throw away any old drafts. I’ve turned old drafts into novels. Twice! And if you struggle with perfectionism, the best thing I ever did for my process was to write what’s called a zero draft: a draft that I show to literally no one. Not friends, not my agent, not an editor. No one sees it. So I just write my trash draft that’s littered with errors and might not make any sense, but the story is on the page. I can do something with it. Give it a try!

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

I’m currently in the development stage of what will hopefully be my eighth book and third original middle grade novel. It’s a spooky and funny and will absolutely also punch you in the heart because it’s a Mark Oshiro book. I’m also thinking of branching out into adult horror, but that’s all I can say at the moment.

Also, I’m pretty sure I know what my next YA novel is going to be, and unfortunately for me, it is yet another speculative novel with a bizarre narrative structure. I’ll see myself out now.

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

Any and everything by Leah Johnson.

Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Any and everything by Sarah Gailey

Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Interview with Author Ivelisse Housman

Ivelisse Housman is the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press. Her work is inspired by her intersecting identities as a biracial autistic woman. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.

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

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

Thank you! My name is Ivelisse Housman, and I’m the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press.

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

I was first inspired to write this story by the theory that changeling mythology was an early description of autistic children. As the story evolved, more elements from fiction and real life got pulled into the book—like my relationship with my own sister, my love of certain fantasy tropes, and the journey of self-acceptance I experienced after my autism diagnosis as a teenager.

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

I was always a precocious reader, and I probably started reading YA books a little too young, so it’s an age category I’ve loved for over half my life now. I was always drawn to the magical escape of second-world fantasies, so it was only natural that when I started writing, I’d create a little escape of my own. Aside from that, YA as a category is so diverse and interesting, and teen readers are so smart and fun to write for.

The protagonist of Unseelie, Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove, is a neurodivergent (autistic) changeling. While other disability scholars, such as Amanda Leduc have studied the connection between changeling stories and autism, I was wondering how you discovered the link and what made you decide to turn this into a story?

It’s something I randomly stumbled onto online and immediately connected with. I started writing it just for myself, and only did more research into the links between changeling mythology and autism/other disabilities when I realized it could be a whole book. I think a lot of autistic people grow up feeling like we’re from another world, and the idea of putting a positive spin on that feeling within a magical world like the ones I grew up reading was irresistible.

How would you describe your writing process?

It’s different every time! I’m currently trying to find my rhythm writing a book on contract for the sequel to UNSEELIE, which is totally different from how I drafted the first book just for fun. No matter the project, though, I have two rules for myself when writing. First, “You don’t have to write every day!” Especially as a disabled writer, it’s just not reasonable to expect constant output! My second rule is “done is better than perfect.” It’s so hard to ignore the fear of writing something that sucks, but you can fix something that sucks. You can’t fix a blank page!

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I have yet to read a book (besides my own) that represents the intersections of my identity, but I’ve always latched onto any story where I could find part of my experience. I was obsessed with Ella Enchanted (and truly, all of Gail Carson Levine’s books) as a kid. Looking back on it now, I feel like Ella’s internal struggle to best her curse reflected my difficulties to seem “normal,” to be good, not to let my sensory distress or social difficulties show, even when they caused physical pain. More recently, I sobbed reading Amaro Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games because it was so meaningful to see a biracial, diasporic Puerto Rican character fully claim her identity and be accepted by others.

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

I have to say Gail Carson Levine again, because her work taught me how to write with a distinctive, conversational voice. Margaret Rogerson’s books are so inspirational as super atmospheric fantasy featuring offbeat main characters. I’m constantly inspired by whatever my favorite book, movie, TV show, or game is at the moment—too many to count! When something is fun and exciting to me, I always want to find a way to incorporate it into my writing.

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

My favorite part of writing is when I forget I’m writing. I love the daydreaming stage, the moodboard stage, the drafting-so-smoothly-it’s-like-watching-a-movie-in-my-head stage. The most difficult (besides writer’s block, obviously) is when I’m trying to revise, and I know I have a problem, but I don’t have solutions for it yet.

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

I have a degree in graphic design, and I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for a stationery company for several years and loved it! I’m half Puerto Rican and half Virginian, and I think the two cultures have more similarities than people would expect.

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)?

I’m not sure how it would be worded as a question, but I’ll jump at any reason to talk more about the sisterhood, friendship, and found family aspects of UNSEELIE! It was so important to me that Seelie was accepted for who she is within this little group. She has to learn not only how to let other people in, which is difficult after a lifetime of rejection, but also how to balance advocating for her own needs with making sure she’s considerate of others. It’s difficult for her, but I hope every autistic reader gets the takeaway that they will find the people who love them unconditionally someday. It can be messy and awkward, especially when you’re seventeen, but acceptance is not impossible.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

I want to emphasize again the need for rest, partly because that’s a message I always need to hear. Work hard, but don’t be so hard on yourself you make yourself miserable. Find what is fun and interesting for you, and write it in the way only you can. Readers will be able to tell the difference.

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

Currently, I’m up to my ears in the sequel to UNSEELIE! I’m so excited to share what it’s called, what it’s about, and of course another stunningly gorgeous cover illustration by the talented Mona Finden. For now, I’ll say that I think readers will be surprised by the turn Seelie’s story takes, but I hope they hang on for the ride!

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

If you enjoy UNSEELIE, you’ll enjoy FLOWERHEART by Catherine Bakewell for its lovely prose and relatable main character! I’d also recommend THIS VICIOUS GRACE and its upcoming sequel by Emily Thiede. In terms of upcoming books, I can’t wait for Jackie Khalilieh’s autistic YA contemporary SOMETHING MORE and Rebecca Mix’s middle grade debut MOSSHEART.

Header Photo Credit Sam Housman Creative

Interview with Claire Winn

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through video games, books, conventions, and her own stories. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with LARP swords. Her next book is City of Vicious Night (sequel to City of Shattered Light), a queer YA sci-fi adventure coming May 2023.

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

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

Hey, thanks for inviting me on! I’m an author of YA sci-fi, and I’m working on fantasy and adult-category manuscripts as my next projects. My first published duology is the Requiem Dark series, which began with City of Shattered Light and finishes with the upcoming City of Vicious Night (May 2023). I’ve told stories through tabletop role-playing, LARP storylines, and now books!

I love writing large casts of characters with lots of queer rep—this reflects my experiences and the friend groups I’ve made in nerd circles. Storytelling has always been a safe avenue for me to explore my thoughts and interests, and it helped me to understand and recognize my own bisexuality.

What can you tell us about the series, City of Shattered Light and its upcoming sequel City of Vicious Night? What was the inspiration for this project?

City of Shattered Light is a neon-drenched YA sci-fi adventure that’s often compared to Six of Crows and Netflix’s Arcane. It’s led by two fierce girls—a runaway heiress, Asa, who’s fled home to save her test-subject sister, and Riven, a gunslinging smuggler who needs a heck of a bounty to secure her place in one of the city’s matriarchal crime syndicates. The girls clash when one kidnaps the other, but they end up with bigger problems when a brilliant, tech-corrupting A.I. monster locks down the city and begins pursuing them. It has two bisexual leads and major themes of found family, body autonomy, and questions of technological dependencies.

My initial vision for the story was a girl on a rickety transit ship, hiding her identity and concealing a strange alien heart in her backpack. I worked backwards to determine who Asa was and what had happened to her. I determined that her backpack contained a piece she needed to save her sister, but what piece of her sister was missing? Who’d done this to her? All sorts of awful answers came to mind, and eventually I wrote the lead-up to that scene.

Aside from this, a few other pieces came together for the initial concept. Riven was a space gunslinger with a strange neuro-spore illness; because she felt she was running out of time, she was desperate to make her mark on the world. I also wanted to explore the damage a superhacker could wreak as more devices go online, so I imagined a nasty, sentient A.I. that had taken over a high-tech city and could hack anything as it pursued the main characters.

The setting and aesthetics were inspired by lots of video games and anime, but the emotional basis for the character arcs was a bit personal. Asa’s arc is about fiercely resisting what the world expects of you and finding happiness on your own terms, while Riven’s is about finding something to fight for despite an uncertain future.

The sequel City of Vicious Night was so much fun to write. I had years’ worth of ideas simmering after writing the first book, and I knew the characters and world so well before I even started it. It almost felt like writing fanfiction of my own work. Having the world and characters already established in readers’ minds meant I could deepen everything in unexpected ways.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction and speculative fiction?

I’ve always loved the exploration and escapism of other worlds—video games, in particular, are a storytelling medium I can’t get enough of. Sci-fi and fantasy are exciting because they allow me to build new worlds, play with exciting scenarios, and challenge characters in ways that aren’t possible in our current reality.

The manuscripts I’ve finished have been YA because I was a teen when I started writing, and I love the fast pacing and character-driven stories YA allows. I’ve also found that I have an easier time writing character perspectives and experiences that are firmly in the rearview mirror; I feel I finally have enough perspective on being a young adult to write convincing characters and meaningful arcs! I do have several adult projects in progress, but I really enjoy being part of the YA community as an author, since YA fans are unapologetically enthusiastic about books they love.

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? 

I grew up in a small conservative town, and this meant queer media was either discouraged or inaccessible. It took me a while to discover my own identity, which I did through nerd spaces and the safety of creating my own stories.

I love the found-family trope (especially featuring queer characters!) because it reflects much of my experience in nerd culture. These communities celebrate individualism and acceptance, so they tend to have a higher concentration of LGBTQ+ people.

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

Gaming has been a big one for me, since I love the immersive, player-driven exploration of RPG video games and the collaborative storytelling of tabletop and LARP. You learn a lot about yourself and your friends while gaming—you’re creating characters that aren’t quite you, and reacting under pressure to a variety of fictional scenarios. While these scenarios haven’t directly influenced my stories, they’ve provided a great perspective on developing characters and their interactions.

When it comes to writing style and storytelling, I adore the work of Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab, Tracy Deonn, Brandon Sanderson, and N.K. Jemisin.

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

I love writing big action, fight scenes, and snappy dialogue! It’s also fun to explore nooks and crannies of worlds I’ve built, and to set scenes through vivid descriptions.

The hardest part for me is pacing it all out. I tend to write plot-heavy stories with lots of content, so I often slam into YA word count limits. It requires a careful strategy to engineer the best possible scenes to make the plot, character development, and world-building unfold at exactly the right times. Weaving together all these plot threads is a challenge, and it’s one of the reasons I’m a bit of a slow drafter.

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

I’ve had a lot of miscellaneous hobbies outside of writing, and I think these experiences have been important to keep my creativity fresh (and to take the pressure off writing). I used to do hip-hop dance. I sometimes create cosplay of characters I love. I have a B.A. in history and political science. I lift weights. Most days, I explore running trails at a nearby park. I do much of my brainstorming while out in the woods alone, and it’s been great for my writing process.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Start writing for yourself. Writing a book is a long, uncertain, and lonely path, and the only guaranteed fan you’ll ever have—the one spending the most time with the story—is you. There’s so much work involved that it’s only worth going the distance for a story that resonates with you. Plus, writing something you love also means there’s a greater chance it’ll find readers who love it. So start with an idea you’re passionate about and pour your heart into it, even if it feels daunting.

Also, don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your art when you need it. Unless publishing is already paying you a living wage, or you’re under contract, you don’t owe this industry anything. It’s not worth sacrificing your mental or physical health to push creative work that doesn’t have your full heart.

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

There’s a small but exciting thing for the Requiem Dark series that I hope to announce soon! I also have a dark fantasy and a science-fantasy project in the works, both with queer lead characters. I hope to share those with readers someday.

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

A few recent faves are Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake.

Interview with Alex Crespo

Born and raised by the Great Lakes, Alex Crespo writes about queer love, magic, and all the ways they intersect. When not writing, you can find him making art or daydreaming about Mothman. He currently lives in Chicago with an endless anime watchlist and his black cat Hex. You can find him on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram as @byalexcrespo.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a trans Mexican-American author based in Chicago. I love writing coming of age stories centered around queer love, friends who are really like family, and small towns that are more than what they seem.

What can you tell us one of your debut novel, Saint Juniper’s Folly? What was the inspiration for this project?

Saint Juniper’s Folly is described as Cemetery Boys meets The Haunting of Bly Manor, a queer haunted house mystery that’s perfect for found family fans, romance lovers, and anyone who likes a spooky thrill. It follows Jaime, a Mexican-American teen who returns to his hometown only to get trapped in a haunted mansion in the woods. He begrudgingly accepts the help of Theo, the local type-A golden boy, and Taylor, a Puerto Rican girl attempting to unravel the mystery of her mom’s sudden death, to learn the truth about the estate and set him free.

The book alternates POVs between the three main characters, and they all have drastically different backgrounds and perspectives on this stressful, bizarre situation. On top of the supernatural dangers in the book, they’re each grappling with their own personal struggles. They feel suffocated by grief, other people’s expectations, and anxiety about their futures. I wrote the bulk of this book during the first covid lockdown in 2020, and I really wanted to play with this idea of how different teens might react to feeling trapped—physically and emotionally.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction and speculative fiction?

I grew up an avid reader and continued to love young adult fiction well past my teens, so when I thought about writing my own books, YA felt like a really natural choice. I was drawn to speculative fiction in particular because it allows you to explore conflict through a larger-than-life lens. For a lot of teens, the struggles in their lives feel monumental—they’re experiencing so many big changes and interpersonal issues for the first time, and that’s terrifying. Amplifying those everyday emotions through magic and metaphor is a great way to honor and validate those big feelings, and I love that specfic allows me to do that.

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?

Honestly, I don’t remember reading many books with queer or latino representation when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw more titles with characters who shared my identity popping up, and that was a game changer for me both as a reader and aspiring author. Now I’m really excited to carry that torch and bring more diverse representation to readers through my own writing.

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

The biggest influence on my writing right now comes from TV. A lot of times I’ll start watching a show to unwind but end up taking notes on characterization and pacing instead. K-dramas in particular have taught me so much about concise storytelling and the elements of swoon-worthy romance. I’ve also watched a lot of seinen anime recently. I love how the genre unpacks moral dilemmas and philosophical themes with a lot of nuance.

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

I have the most fun writing dialogue and intimate, emotionally-charged moments between characters. I try to write chronologically, but sometimes I jump ahead to write banter and tension because it feels like such a treat. On the flip side, sometimes choreographing movement during scenes feels like a drag. Hats off to authors who love writing action sequences, please teach me your ways.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m making art. It’s one of the only things that fully quiets my brain and lets me relax. That, and reading copious amounts of fanfiction.

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)?

Oh, that’s so fun. I wish someone asked what song I’d choose as the theme for Saint Juniper’s Folly. It would definitely be “Frozen Pines” by Lord Huron. I listened to Strange Trails nonstop while writing the book, so that album will always have a special place in my heart.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Make time for daydreaming in your day to day life. It’s really hard to fill your creative well if you don’t give your brain time to breathe and wander. Also, never be ashamed of having lofty goals when it comes to your art. Own it and don’t be afraid to be seen trying.

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

Yes, I have another queer paranormal mystery coming in spring 2025! Four teens track down a local cryptid that’s feeding off secrets before their own hidden truths are exposed to their coastal Oregon town. It’s got a full cast of messy, lovable lgbt+ characters that I can’t wait to introduce to readers.

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

I just read A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, a historical romance featuring a trans heroine, and it blew me away. Every facet of the story is handled with so much care and tenderness, I’m already itching to reread it. Racquel Marie and Jonny Garza Villa both have YA romances coming out soon that look incredible, so those are next on my list.

Interview with Author Kika Hatzopoulou

Kika Hatzopoulou writes stories for all ages, filled with lore and whimsy. She holds an MFA for writing for children from the New School and works in foreign publishing. She currently splits her time between London and her native Greece, where she enjoys urban quests and gastronomical adventures while narrating entire book and movie plots with her partner. Find Kika on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok @kikahatzopoulou.

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

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

I’m so excited to be here! I’m Kika, a native Greek who’s been writing in English since childhood. I completed my MFA in Writing for Children at the New School in New York and have held teaching and publishing positions in the past. I love all things fantastical, both as a writer and as a reader!

What can you tell us about your debut book, Threads That Bind? What was the inspiration for this story?

Threads That Bind is my debut YA fantasy noir, the first in a duology that comes out from Razorbill in May 2023. It’s a twisty story about a detective with the powers of the Greek Fates that is charged with solving a series of otherworldly murders while navigating a soulmate romance and her complicated family dynamics. The story came together by combining a lot of the things I love: Greek myth, especially side characters such as the Fates, the Furies, and the Muses, noir settings, murder mysteries, post-(climate)-apocalyptic scenarios!

With many novels inspired by Greek mythology, there’s often a sense of these stories lacking original cultural context, i.e. relating back to real-life Greece or Greek culture.  As an author of Greek descent, what does it mean to you writing a novel like this?

It truly means a lot. Back when I was first querying this story to agents in 2019-2020, I often got the feedback that Greek-inspired fantasy is oversaturated or that my particular mix of Greek myth and noir would be a hard sell. The feedback discouraged me at the time, particularly as a Greek writing about their own culture, and because so many of the books referenced in the rejections were retellings written by non-Greeks and set in antiquity – which is vastly different to the Greece of today. Modern Greece is an amalgamation of cultures with a rich recent history of wars, immigration, and political upheavals. In Threads That Bind, I attempted to pull this modernity into the story and form a world that reflects our own. I feared such a weird combination of Greek myth, noir plot, and contemporary setting wouldn’t resonate with readers, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by early reactions that praise these very same elements!

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

I love creating and exploring new worlds – it’s one of my favorite parts of writing and one of the foundations of speculative fiction. When I first started writing as a teen, I was mostly imitating the stories I was reading at the time: Meg Cabot’s works and modern YA classics such as Eragon, Graceling, and The Hunger Games. But as my writing matured, I became more interested in reinventing the tropes I loved and exploring new ways to tell a story, which has led to manuscripts that range widely in age group and genre. Fun fact: when I signed with my agent, I was pitching Threads That Bind as adult, but after discussing it with my agent, we chose to send it to young adult publishers – both because Io’s character arc is one of coming-of-age and because YA fantasy is my first (true) love. I’d love to continue writing widely in middle grade, young adult, and adult in the future, but I doubt I’ll ever tell a story where there isn’t at least some small magical element. The act of reading is its own kind of magic; and for me, it’s all the better if there’s actual spells and powers in it!

How would you describe your writing process?

I think the best way to describe it is explorative. Strictly speaking, I’m a planner, but I like to pants the first chapters, take my time with the first act of each new story, and try different things before settling on the voice, world, and themes. And beyond that, I’m the sort of book nerd that enjoys every part of publishing. I love the first light bulb moment, I love brainstorming and outlining, I love the messy first draft and revising with my editor, I love nitpicky copyedits and pass pages (all of which shows you what a wonderful team I’m surrounded by!).

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

Oh, yes, finishing a book is definitely one of the hardest parts! Every writer is different, but what personally helps me is dividing the story in smaller chunks. I love a 3 or 5 act structure, depending on the needs of the story, and I like to pause between acts and reorganize my plans for both the plot and the character’s journey. In the duology of Threads That Bind, I structured each act to end on a twist or revelation, which created some momentum as I wrote – I really wanted to get to that twist and put my vision into words! In more practical terms, I’d suggest using placeholders: for names, descriptions, worldbuilding elements, nitpicky things you need to research further. Keeping up momentum is crucial in finishing a first draft!

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I love this question! The first one that comes to mind is The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. My jaw was on the floor the entire time I was reading it when I was 18. I remember I kept thinking, “I didn’t know we could write that!” For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s a character-driven zombie story that centers on religion and faith in a way I had never seen before. It really resonated with my experience growing up as an inquisitive kid in a religiously conservative community. More recently, I had the same experience with Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance trilogy, which are my absolute favorite books in the world. I guess something about teens picking apart the system they’ve been raised with really resonates with me!

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

Definitely myth and history, but also other media! I love that moment where you’re reading a book or watching a movie and a completely random small element of the story makes you go, “Oooh! This could be interesting to explore!” In terms of prose, and especially as someone writing in their non-native language, I have found that reading a text closely greatly helps in learning new words, new turns of phrases, new ways to structure a sentence or paragraph. And personally, because I love setting so much, I’ve lately been enjoying researching natural phenomena, scientific discoveries, and different types of governing systems. 

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

As I mentioned above, I have enjoyed all parts of writing so far, because I’ve been blessed with a really great publishing team! I particularly love the exploration of the brainstorming stage, but I think my absolute favorite part of writing is those internal monologue moments towards the end of the book when the character comes to terms with their own self-sabotage and chooses a new way to live their life. (If you enjoy character journey arcs, do check out Michael Hauge’s Six Stages!) What I usually have trouble with is trying to narrow the world I’ve created into a cohesive elevator pitch to send to my agent or editor! 

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

KH: I’d second the advice often given by other authors that you need to read a lot, read outside your genre and read critically. But I’d also suggest to seek the joy; do you love voice and character, romance, twisty plots? Hold on to that joy as you write, seek new ways to embrace that feeling, make writing time into a little ritual. Writing can be lonely and publishing is a hard business, so the joy that you find in your own creative process is vital to sustain you during the hard times!

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

I’m putting finishing touches on the sequel to Threads That Bind as I’m writing this. I’m so excited for readers to experience the conclusion of Io’s story and find out how the Muses’ prophecy comes to pass. I’ve also seen the sequel’s cover and I’m in awe – Corey Brickley have really outdone themself with this one!

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

I love this question! Some of my recent favorites are: Bitterthorn by Kat Dunn, which is a dark gothic fairytale with a swoony f/f romance; Bonesmith by Nicki Pau Preto which is a sprawling fantasy world with a kick-ass necromancer at its center; and Seven Faceless Saints by M.K. Lobb, a murder mystery in a fantasy world with one of the most well-drawn angry girls I’ve ever read!

Header Photo Credit Kostas Amiridis

Interview with Author Zachary Sergi

Zachary Sergi is a queer author of Interactive Fiction, including the print Choices novels, Major Detours and So You Wanna Be A Pop Star?, and the digital Heroes Rise, Versus, and Fortune The Fated series. Zachary was raised in Manhattan, studied Creative Writing at Regis High School and the University of Pennsylvania, and now lives in Los Angeles with his husband, where he also writes for television. Learn more by following Zachary on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

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

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

This is where I get to write a whole novel, right? Okay, I’ll keep it relatively brief. I’m a queer author of (mostly) interactive fiction. Nine digital novels for Choice of Games (I’m exhausted just saying that) across the Heroes Rise, The Hero Project, Versus, and Fortune the Fated interconnected books (which readers—not me, I swear!—dubbed the Sergiverse). I also write a whole bunch of episodic series for various apps that are in-universe. But in the past few years, I’ve gotten to translate my interactive style into two hardcover Choices novels, Major Detours and So You Wanna Be A Pop Star? I’m from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, have lived in LA since graduating college (an unspecified number of years ago), and am a massive geek at heart: I have the action figure and comic book collection to prove it.

What can you tell us about your latest book, So You Wanna Be A Pop Star?: A Choices Novel? What was the inspiration for this story?

The other things I am a geek for are pop music and reality television competitions (I won’t list them because I watch all of them). I’ve been an avid watcher of American Idol, X-Factor, and The Voice since the start, plus a fanatic for most pop girl groups. If you follow me on Instagram (which my editor does), you’d know this. So it was actually Britny (editor) who emailed me asking if I’d like to do another Choices novel about a pop group. I had mostly written science fiction stuff up until then, and our first novel together (Major Detours) was about a tarot card cult. But I actually had a long-running idea about going behind the scenes of a Fifth Harmony / One Direction type group who are thrown together against their will and become famous overnight, but to make them mostly queer and gender-diverse so they could be dating (and hating) each other. This became the basis for Pop Star, which is by far the juiciest and most dramatic novel I’ve ever written (he says with devious glee).

One of the things that stands out about this book is that it’s an interactive novel (which is pretty unusual for young adult fiction.) What made you decide to go with this type of format?

Unusual indeed—and in print, maybe one of a kind? The print CYOA novels are mostly middle-grade, right? Anyway, I had spent many years writing digital interactive novels (Heroes Rise, Versus) and honing in on my own unique style for the publisher Choice of Games. My interactive fiction is like layering an RPG on top of a novel. I’m not super interested in open-world plot control, but instead providing the basis for the reader to build a character and their relationships, then using a series of statistics to determine alternate scenes and endings. My goal when a reader gets to a big choice is to make them stop and think. There’s rarely any winning or losing, it’s about making tough calls for gaining and sacrificing and defining all at once. 

It’s a long story, but I was on sub for a different print novel (This Pact Is Not Ours, more on this later) and my now-editor couldn’t take on that book but had read my interactive work and asked if I was interested in adapting that for a print format. The answer was obviously yes, and that’s how Major Detours was born. Britny (editor) and I put our heads together to invent a new interactive format for young adult, based on my body of work. Every formatting choice was made by us and the team, from how often to use choices, how they look, how many options—the list goes on. But the two biggest defining factors are that you always move forward in the page count and that there’s a personality-quiz like matrix in the back of the novel where you can plug in your choices and get a kind of reader horoscope, based on the decisions you made.

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

My favorite titles tend to have something in common (Busiek’s Avengers run, Hickman’s X-Men run, the Crossgen universe, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Everything Everywhere All At Once)—they all cross genre boundaries in a tone that is young adult/new adult adjacent. So I often say I write what feels organic to my instincts and influences in a blender brew, and it comes out young adult more often than not. I’m definitely a product of the WB-era teen TV dramas, and I’m so thrilled that Y2K vibe seems to be cycling back in (which I think has more to do with the age of editors/development execs/artists now in their 30s/40s and calling the shots, but who knows). 

That said, I am so proud to be a queer author in this space now more than ever representing queer teens. Pop Star also has a drag queen PoV character—I was not intending this to be a bold statement back in early 2022, but alas here we are. But I also know so much of the young adult audience is actually made up of geeky adult readers (like me), drawn to the genre because there just feels like there is more freedom to tell really big, open-hearted, diverse, fun stories.

How would you describe your writing process?

Outlines so thick they accidentally turn into novels? The following is also blasphemous for a mostly-digital writer, but I draft everything by hand at first (even when writing in interactive formatting language/code). I can get into the flow if it’s just me and a pen and some paper, no computer or phone in reach. Whatever time I lose typing my drafts up, I gain back in focus-without-internet-procrastination and using the typing as an edit process. I’ll do it as long as my aging wrists allow. I am also very intense about curating specific playlists for projects (most of which can be found on my Spotify profile). Bouncing between so many mediums, genres, and titles, I find the mood of music really helpful in re-anchoring myself in a project (and the lyrics don’t interfere with my process, thankfully).

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this??

First, it helps to understand there’s a pretty standard cycle every creator goes through. It’s usually something like THIS IS THE BEST IDEA ANYONE HAS EVER HAD to THIS IS THE WORST IEA ANYONE HAS EVER HAD back to Hey This Is Okay to I Can’t Look At This One More Second. You bounce between those poles until a deadline arrives, basically. These downturns are inevitable, and I think that’s where many creators get stuck. Also, setting very small and realistic daily goals is everything, otherwise, the whole thing can feel daunting. Lastly, it’s essential to experiment and find a writing process that works for you—it usually involves lots of mental trickery, but the best guiding principle is that there is no such thing as a bad first draft.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I mentioned the big ones already (Buffy and EEAAO), but The Perks of Being a Wallflower always really hit home with me. It was books like The Magicians, The Hazel Wood, We Were Liars, and Surrender Your Sons that made me want to return to YA publishing after my digital run.

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

It used to be a much more unique answer when I discovered it in college long before the TV show, but The Handmaid’s Tale remains my favorite novel of all time. It does everything I ever want to as a writer in terms of character, prose, and societal allegory. I’m also constantly blown away by the work of Kristin Cashore. If you haven’t read Jane, Unlimited—run don’t walk. That book blew my plotting mind, and I write complicated interactive fiction for a living.

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

I love outlining and editing. First-drafting is maybe my least favorite part of the process—but there’s also nothing like the feeling of being in flow on a project and feeling things click. Outside of process, I find being a writer in the social media age—where we are basically expected to be full-time PR/Marketing people and author personalities who are also subject to the full whim of every criticism ever uttered about us—really exhausting. But on the flip side, we can reach and connect to readers in a truly unprecedented way, which is always what makes every ounce of perspiration worth it.

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

I am a rabid Bravo / Real Housewives fan. If anyone is looking for someone to write The Real Housewives of Earth 616, I’m your writer. But we said no work…Kelly Clarkson is my diva avatar of choice. Symone is my favorite drag queen. I have always hated and will always hate melted cheese. And I was outed in high school by someone who eventually became a very famous pop star, a story I wrote into Pop Star.

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)?

Will you accept our invitation to be on the next season of The Traitors? (The answer is yes).

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

The only thing that makes you a writer is actually writing, the rest is a matter of scale. If you can find a day job you love (or feel fulfilled by at least), take that day job and write on the side. If you absolutely have to write full-time, be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices, because most working writers live paycheck to paycheck. We hear a lot about the big success stories, but they’re the 1% of the 1% who ever get published. Finding an agent and an editor is largely not about your talent level or the quality of your writing, it is more like dating—it’s about finding your writing love match who gets you. Never spend more time absorbing a review than it took a person to write it.

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

Yes! So remember that novel I mentioned? This Pact Is Not Ours is a non-interactive (gasp) queer horror novel and it is being published this October by a killer new indie queer press (they have 5 books out right now, each one of them stellar): Tiny Ghost Press. The novel is another genre layer for me, my homage to early Kevin Williamson, I Know What You Did Last Summer set on Dawson’s Creek, with a dash of Stranger Things and We Were Liars. Here’s the premise: four college-bound best friends return to the idyllic campsite their families have visited every summer, only to discover they are cursed by an ancestral pact that threatens to tear their friendships–and the world—apart. It’s maybe the most personal and horrifying work I’ve ever written, and arriving just in time for spooky season (10.3.23). Preorders should be up next month!

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

In no particular order, these fellow young adult authors all have A+ queer books, and all happen to be absolutely lovely people too: Robbie Couch, Emery Lee, Adam Sass, Erik J. Brown, Aaron Aceves, Claire Winn, and Adib Khorram, to mention just a few. Their (multiple!) titles can be found wherever books are sold.

Header Photo Credit Chase Baxter