Interview with Author Nina LaCour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

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

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

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

Header Photo Credit Kristyn Stroble

Interview with author Rachel Hartman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author H. E. Edgmon

H.E. Edgmon (he/they) is a high school and college dropout, a militant queer, and an author of books both irreverent and radicalizing. His stories will always center the perspective of Indigenous people, trans people, and survivors of trauma. At present, he’s probably biting off more than he can chew, emulating the aesthetic of Dwayne from The Lost Boys (1987), and living out the found family trope in Brooklyn. Online, he can most often be found on Twitter @heedgmon. His debut novel, The Witch King, is available now. I had the opportunity to interview him about his new novel, which you can read below.

First of all, at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an author? What drew you to this medium of Young Adult literature?

As soon as I realized it was possible to be an author, that’s what I wanted to be. I was always incredibly escapist as a child. I didn’t like my life—I felt like I’d been born into the wrong world, with the wrong people, or overall the wrong set of circumstances. So, I made up new versions of reality in my head. I lived almost entirely in my own imagination. And that’s probably what draws me to writing for teens, now. The YA age is when I needed these stories the most.

What were the first stories to draw you in and what kind of stories inspire you today?

There are some really beautifully done and important contemporary stories out there, but fantasy has my heart and always will. I grew up on things like the Dragonlance Chronicles. Sprawling new worlds filled with magic, found families going on epic adventures, and seemingly no limitations on what could happen. These are still the kind of stories I want more of, though now I want them gayer.

Which is to say, I guess, that I like reading books that feel like D&D campaigns.

Where did the inspiration for The Witch King come from? Was there any media (i.e. books, films, music, etc.) that influenced you while writing it?

You’ll actually find a lot of popular fanfic tropes in TWK. At the time I wrote it, I was reading way more fanfiction than traditionally published books, and I honestly really like the way that influences the writing. Also, Halsey’s entire discography is basically Wyatt’s inner monologue.

Your debut novel tackles a lot of serious issues related to mental health and trauma? What was it like writing that into fiction, and what advice might you have for writers who might want to tackle that in their own work from a safe distance?

I wrote this book while I was actively unpacking a lot of my own trauma in therapy, and that probably comes as no big surprise to anyone who’s read it. It offered a space for me to explore my feelings and come to realizations about experiences I wasn’t ready to consciously acknowledge as my own. Looking back, actually, I realize I wrote a lot of myself into Wyatt that I didn’t even recognize as me when I first wrote it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have advice about tackling these issues from a “safe distance.” Because it didn’t feel like a safe distance. Working through trauma on the page was uncomfortable and vulnerable, in the end, and it forced me to start working on myself in ways I’d been inadvertently putting off for years.

I absolutely encourage people not to hold back in their writing. But also be prepared. Once you open up that door, there’s probably no going back through it. Whether you’re ready or not.

As an ace reader, one of my favorite parts about the book was the strong relationship between Wyatt and his best friend, Briar? Was centering platonic relationships as important as romantic relationships always a goal of yours, and could you call their relationship a queerplatonic partnership?

Yes! As someone on the ace and aro spectrums, who has practiced non-monogamy for over a decade, it’s always been important to me that there is no relationship hierarchy in my work. (IE—romantic relationships are not inherently considered more important than friendships.) Wyatt and Briar are soulmates. She’s the most important person in his life, and probably always will be. Now, that doesn’t mean their relationship is perfect, or even always healthy. They’re both children with a lot of growing up to do, and Wyatt specifically has a lot of issues to work through, at the start and end of the book. But this is a queerplatonic relationship, absolutely.

As a trans author of indigenous (Seminole) descent, you had discussed a bit online about the need for more trans and indigenous/ Native American representation? Could you take about your personal connection to that and what you wish to see in the world of literature/media?

I wish our identities weren’t considered niche interests.

We’ve seen a rise in trans protagonists lately, but, the vast majority of the time, they’re written into stories where their transness is the driving force of the plot. Contemporary “issue” books, if you will. These stories are important, and necessary, and can be incredibly powerful and life changing for many people. But they’re not the kind of stories I was interested in reading as a teen, and they’re not what I want to write today.

Meanwhile, Native protagonists are rarely allowed to exist in fantasy unless their ancestry is plot-relevant—if the story draws on Indigenous mythologies or traditions, for example. And again, these stories are important and necessary and I don’t want to minimize them at all. But it does make me sad they’re (almost) the only Native rep we get in this space, because so much of the knowledge needed to accurately write those stories has been lost due to colonization.

With both trans and Native rep, I wish we saw more stories about characters who just were these things, whose choices and thoughts and feelings were informed by these things, but whose stories didn’t have to be all about them.

Within The Witch King, you discuss something that’s still rare to talk about, which is parenthood for trans people? What made you decide to talk about this, and has your own experiences as a parent affected your writing process?

The fact that I was pregnant when I wrote this probably had something to do with it. Oof. You know, everyone’s going to read this and realize how 75% of my writing process was just projecting. Ah well.

On the other hand, pregnant or not, it was always important for me to confront the idea of biological realities for trans people. Something that we hear a lot from transphobes is that we can’t change our biologies, no amount of surgery will make us another sex, etc. And I wanted to look directly at that line of thinking, make eye contact with it, and say, “Okay, and? He’s still a boy.” Wyatt could carry Emyr’s children, if he wanted to. That doesn’t change anything about who he is.

Besides the much anticipated sequel to The Witch King, do you have any more ideas in mind you feel free to talk about?

I would really love to write in both the middle grade and adult spaces, in addition to continuing my work in YA. And I definitely have plans to do all of that—just none I can talk about right now!

What advice would you have to give to authors, especially debut ones like yourself?

This sounds really counter-intuitive, because publishing is an industry that demands so much of us in so many ways, but I highly encourage authors to find something they love more than writing. Something they know will always be there. Because this business is full of highs and lows, dramatic ones, and when your entire life revolves around it, the lows can be soul-crushing. It has been invaluable for me to be able to walk away from my computer, set aside my work for a while, and go do something else that brings me joy.

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

There’s a book called Hell Followed With Us that’s coming out next summer, from debut author Andrew Joseph White. It’s a YA post-apocalyptic horror with a trans main character, and it’s as beautiful as it is horrifying. I cannot stress enough how badly you all need to add it to your TBRs and preorder as soon as it’s available.