Interview with Author Adib Khorram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Header Photo Credit Afsoneh Khorram

Interview with Author Saundra Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe your general writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saundra Mitchell: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!

(Is this manifesting?)

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

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

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author S. K. Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where would you like to go on a writing retreat? 

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

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

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


Header Photo Credit Andrea Stenson

Interview with Cartoonist Balazs Lorinczi

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

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

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

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

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

Hi, Thanks for having me!

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

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

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

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

What drew you to storytelling, particularly fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Author Kevin Christopher Snipes

Kevin Christopher Snipes is a New York-based writer who was born and raised in Florida. He spent his early career in the theater writing such plays as A Bitter Taste, The Chimes and Ashes, Ashes. Later, for Gimlet Media, he created the queer fantasy podcast The Two Princes. He can generally be found watching reruns of Doctor Who and The Golden Girls in his spare time. Milo and Marcos at the End of the World is his first novel.

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

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

Hello! I’m a New York-based playwright and novelist, though most people probably know me as the creator of the queer fantasy podcast The Two Princes, which ran for three seasons on Spotify. 

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

My mother told me recently that when I was a child, I used to walk around the house carrying a dictionary that I would study, so I guess I’ve always been curious about language and words. I certainly grew up in a storytelling household. My mother read to me before bed, and my father would make up fantastical stories during long car rides to keep me entertained. Eventually, as I got older, I just started telling my own stories.

For the first twenty years or so of my life, I was primarily focused on playwriting. Theater was my first love. Then one day, about ten years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Andrew Smith’s YA novel Grasshopper Jungle, and it blew my mind. If you don’t know the book, it’s a story about a bisexual teenager who’s having trouble deciding if he’s in love with his girlfriend and his male best friend. On top of that, the world gets invaded by giant killer praying mantises and then all hell breaks loose. I loved it. And it made me realize that I wanted to write stories like that—stories that blended romance, action, sci-fi, and a queer sensibility into one seamless adventure. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Milo & Marcos At The End Of The World? What inspired the story?

Milo and Marcos at the End of the World is about two boys who fall in love and who then have to keep that love a secret from their very religious parents and conservative community. Things get even more complicated when a series of unprecedented natural disasters strike their city whenever the boys touch. This leads the boys to consider the seemingly impossible possibility that maybe God is punishing them for being gay and that if they don’t stop seeing each other, their love might just bring about the end of the world.

The book is primarily inspired by my experiences as a closeted queer teenager growing up in a small town in Central Florida. High school (as I’m sure most people will agree) can be an incredibly fraught period in our lives. We’re still figuring out who we are and what we want, and we’re terrified of getting it wrong. It’s a time when every emotion is heightened. Every choice feels like it’s life or death. You think you’ll die if the person that you like doesn’t like you back. You think the world will end if anyone finds out about your secret. It’s a lot. So I wanted to write a book that captures how exciting/terrifying/earth-shattering that time of life can be for a young person—especially a young person in love who is coming to terms with his sexuality. 

How would you describe your creative process?

As a mild form of insanity. Basically, I hear voices. Most of the time I ignore these voices, but every once in a while, they’ll happen to say something interesting, and I’ll write it down. That’s how most of my plays were born. From conversations or questions that popped into my brain while I was walking down the street, minding my own business. Of course, after that initial gift of inspiration, it then becomes up to me to sit down and build a proper story around it. That’s when the real work begins. Even so, I’ve never written anything that didn’t start as a little voice in my head saying, “What if…?”

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

The first YA novels that I ever read were by Andrew Smith and Adam Silvera, who are both masters of queer speculative fiction, so I can only imagine how much my own writing has been shaped and influenced by their work. I’m also a huge fan of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who. I love his approach to writing science fiction, which is to use fantastical or futuristic stories as metaphors to comment on our world today and address issues of race, class, sexuality, and oppression. It’s science fiction that matters. Science fiction with a purpose. And that’s something I try to emulate in my own work. 

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

Perhaps it’s because of my background in playwriting, but I love writing dialogue. Especially quick, witty banter. For me there’s nothing more enjoyable to write or sexier to watch than two intelligent, charismatic characters engaged in a flirtatious war of words. It’s a great way to show attraction, chemistry, and desire without having to make anyone take their clothes off.

On the other hand, I find actual sex scenes incredibly awkward to write. I don’t think of myself as a prude, but my characters are my babies, so when they start to get amorous with each other, I want nothing more than to give them their privacy. Instead, I’m forced to become David Attenborough narrating some erotic nature documentary. It’s very embarrassing, but it’s part of the job.

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

It’s an irony not lost on me that despite being an atheist, I am obsessed with Christmas. If it were up to me, I’d keep a tree up in my apartment from November to March. I love the decorations, the lights, the music. I love the cheesy but oh-so-satisfying Hallmark movies. I love the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special, especially the character of Hermey the Elf, who’s an OG gay icon if ever there was one. I love it all.

What’s something you hope readers will take away from Milo & Marcos At The End Of The World?

I hope they’ll feel seen. When I was a teenager, there weren’t many books or films or TV shows with queer characters. I almost never saw people like me represented in pop culture (unless it was as the butt of a joke). So my hope is that young people who might be struggling with their identity or questioning their place in the world, will see themselves in my book and not feel quite so alone or out of place in their own skin.

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

Milo, the protagonist of my book, has an obsession with The Golden Girls that very much mirrors my own, though we disagree about who our favorite character is. If you asked Milo, he’d say Rose Nylund. But if you asked me, I’d say Blanche Devereaux. Obviously only one of us can be right. And since I’m real and Milo’s not, I think I win.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

I wouldn’t presume to give anyone advice. I barely know what I’m doing myself.

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

I’ve already mentioned Grasshopper Jungle, which is a great place to start if you’re looking to get into YA. You also can’t go wrong with Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, and Zack Smedley’s Deposing Nathan.


Header Photo Credit Maggie Marguerite Photography

Interview with Author Julian Winters

Julian Winters is a bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron, and The Summer of Everything (Duet, 2018, 2019, 2020, respectively) received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta, where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow–volleyball and soccer.

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

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been?

I’m great, thank you! Honestly, I’m geeking out at the opportunity to chat with you.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Right Where I Left You? What inspired you to write it?

Right Where I Left You is a geeky, sincere love letter to fandom, friendships, family, and queer teens deserving their happily ever afters. It follows nerdy Isaac, who’s out to spend every waking moment of summer with his gamer-best friend, Diego, before college starts. After an old crush reenters the picture, Isaac’s distracted chasing the love story he’s always wanted for himself, creating friction with Diego. Sometimes, the love we truly seek is right in front of our faces.

The inspiration came in 2018 after I’d seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I remember the overload of emotions (joy, triumph, love) I felt afterward as well as the awe in the younger viewers who’d just seen a hero that looked like them for the first time on the big screen. I wanted nothing more but for queer, geeky teens to experience that feeling in a book.

The cover is gorgeous by the way! What was your reaction to seeing two queer brown boys on the cover of a story you wrote?

Full disclosure: I cried. Happy tears, though! It wasn’t just that the cover had two queer Black/brown boys on the cover, it was that they’re smiling. Laughing. It’s the joy in their expressions. That means a lot to me—to show queer BIPOC readers they can have stories where their happiness is front and center. All the credit goes to the artist, Daniel Clarke, and the cover designers, Samira Iravani and Theresa Evangelista, for creating a cover bursting with love.

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

I was always a writer in some form. Short stories, song lyrics, really bad poetry. I hated reading the books assigned to me in high school. Every character that looked or identified like me had a storyline rooted in their pain, trauma, and eventual death. I needed a way to rewrite that narrative, so I turned to fanfiction. It allowed me to write the happy, impactful endings I craved for people like me.

I was drawn to young adult fiction (and romance) because I remember how difficult it was as a teen to repeatedly read those books. I want young readers, especially queer BIPOC readers, to know they’re more than their pain—they have power, deserve joy, and love shouldn’t be the thing that breaks them or ends tragically. They’re the hero of the story, not the lesson.

How would you describe your writing process? What do you find are some of your favorite or most challenging parts of writing?

I’m definitely a plotter—I need everything organized before I start. I’m also very big on playlists and Pinterest mood boards. My favorite part of writing is revising/editing. Once all the words are out of my head, it’s easier to piece together the puzzle and see the big picture. The most challenging part is drafting. It takes me so long because I tend to overthink or want things to be perfect instead of simply transferring all the ideas from my head onto the page, trusting I can fix it later.

Since Geeks OUT is basically a queer nerdy organization, how would you describe your own literary/geeky tastes and preferences?

If it’s queer, I’m there. I never had enough queer content growing up, so I instantly pick up anything I know centers queerness, especially if it focuses on queer people experiencing joy, empowerment, and all the other experiences I often saw for straight characters, but never anyone like me. Bonus points if it’s superhero-related or has a thoughtful romance element.

Who are your favorite superheroes?

Definitely Jackson Hyde/Kaldur’ahm. Seeing a queer, Black superhero is always exciting. I’m also a huge fan of Miles Morales, Jonathan Kent/Superman, Wiccan and Hulkling, Tim Drake, Shatterstar and Rictor, America Chavez, Northstar, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Panther, Dazzler.

And what are some of your current favorite fandoms?

Marvel Universe, Young Justice, My Hero Academia, the Untamed.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening to the right and left of you. Where you are versus someone else. But your journey as a writer is unique. It won’t ever look exactly like someone else’s, so take your time. Trust that there are readers who need the stories you want to tell. No one else will write them like you.

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

My next book comes out Spring 2023. It’s a fun tribute to the classic teen movies. Five teens all end up escaping to the same bedroom at a house party, trying to avoid issues from their past and present. There’s promposals-gone-wrong, dares, a lot of comedic moments along with explorations of toxic friendships, identity, queerness, and the weight of expectations.

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

I highly recommend anything by Adib Khorram, Leah Johnson, Kalynn Bayron, Kacen Callendar, Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Becky Albertalli, Alex London, Adam Silvera, Jonny Garza Villa, Jennifer Dugan.Some of my favorite must-read LGBTQIA+ books are: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, the Darius the Great series by Adib Khorram, and the forthcoming Kings of B’More by R. Eric Thomas.


Header Photo Credit Vanessa North

Interview with Author Dean Atta

Dean Atta is a British author from London. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and a patron of LGBT+ History Month. His young-adult novel in verse, THE BLACK FLAMINGO (Hachette Children’s Group / Balzer + Bray), won the 2020 Stonewall Book Award and was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, Jhalak Prize, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. 

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

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

My name’s Dean Atta, my pronouns are he/him, I’m an author from London, England, and I now live in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore album as I write my answers to these questions. 

How did you find yourself drawn to the art of poetry and storytelling? What drew you to write young adult content specifically?

I began writing poetry as a teenager as a way of expressing myself. I performed at open mic events and eventually published a book of poems. That led me to getting an agent who encouraged me to broaden my horizons regarding the types of books I could write. Young adult fiction appealed because I have a lot of experience working with young people leading poetry workshops in schools. In both my novels the main characters write poetry at some point. Michael in The Black Flamingo performs poems on stage, whereas Mack in Only on the Weekends only writes a poem because it’s set as homework. Mack’s main form of self expression is wearing makeup. When I was a teen I didn’t see stories about boys like me, i.e. Black queer boys into makeup and poetry. So I write these books now to make up for the representation I lacked when I was younger. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Only On The Weekends? What inspired this project?

Only on the Weekends was partly inspired by me and my boyfriend moving from London to Glasgow. He had lived in Scotland before and it was much harder for me because it’s the furthest I’d ever lived from my family. Luckily, I had the excitement of being with my boyfriend and making a home with him. But for the book I flipped it and wrote about a boy moving to a new city and having to leave his boyfriend behind. Mack really wants to make his long-distance relationship work with Karim but this becomes infinitely more difficult when local boy Finlay comes into the picture and finds every opportunity to hang out with Mack and introduces him to new and exciting experiences. 

Your first novel, The Black Flamingo, is such a beautiful piece of work in its lyricism and how it explores identity. Had you always intended to write it as a novel in verse? And were there any novels in verse or poets/authors in general who inspired you while writing it?

The Black Flamingo was just one poem at first. I wrote the moment when Michael is with his grandad and they see a black flamingo in a television news report. Michael sees himself in that image of a black flamingo in a group of pink flamingos. To write the novel I expanded the story backwards and forwards in time from that pivotal moment. The novel in verse that inspired me most when writing The Black Flamingo was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado. I was also looking at books by Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander and Sarah Crossan. 

How would you describe your writing process? Is there anything you do to help yourself in terms of motivation or creativity?

One of my favorite things is to attend workshops on topics I’m writing about. For example, yesterday I attended an online workshop by London Queer Writers facilitated by Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile. The workshop title was “Writing as Rioting” and I chose to write about the concept of a riot of empathy because I’m exploring this in my writing at the moment. This evening I’m attending an in-person workshop at Glasgow Zine Library facilitated by Sean Wai Keung. The workshop title is “Memory & Food” and I hope to write about my memories of food and the cultures of my mixed race family. I know Sean explores his own mixed race identity in his work, which is why I picked this workshop. When I can’t find a workshop on any given topic I want to write about, I’ll read books, watch films and listen to podcasts on the topic, which usually sparks new ideas and connections when I sit down to write. 

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

New experiences, new hobbies or activities or putting myself in new and unfamiliar situations is all really inspiring for me. During the first lockdown of 2020 I learned to ride a bike properly and so bike rides feature in Mack’s story in Only on the Weekends. Since moving to Scotland I’ve also done lots of hiking and this helped form a structural backbone to Only on the Weekends. Over the course of the book you see Mack attempting to summit three mountains, each time with different levels of enjoyment and success. Without having done these things myself, I don’t think I’d have written them. 

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

My favorite part of writing is when I feel I’m in the zone, when the story is flowing and I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the rush of words. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the least common experience. The main challenge is sitting to write when I don’t feel so inspired. This may be when I turn to doing more research, making playlists of songs my characters would listen to, thinking about outfits they’d wear. This stuff may not all make it into the book but it helps to keep me immersed in the world of the book until the words come again. 

In addition to the written form, you’ve also done some spoken-word poetry (including this gorgeous video). Do you find yourself tapping into different parts of yourself or your creative energy when you switch between mediums (whether on the page or stage, poetry or prose)? 

I definitely used my experience of spoken-word poetry and drag when writing The Black Flamingo. Michael performs his poetry at an open mic and goes on to perform in drag at the end of the book. The page/stage dynamic was ever-present throughout the book and there are many sections when I’m describing a performance, e.g. when Michael sings “Lady Marmalade” in the school playground, when he sings “Where is Love?” from the musical Oliver! for an audition, as well as the spoken-word and drag performances at university. Since I’ve had experience with all these types of performance they were easy for me to write. 

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

I love food! Yesterday I made really good egg fried rice and I’m still thinking about it today. I’m keen on meditation and yoga but I’m by no means an expert. I love going to see live music. My favorite gig recently was a Glaswegian singer called Joesef. He’s actually mentioned in Only on the Weekends and I definitely recommend you check him out. I’m going to see Harry Styles when he plays here in Glasgow in June and I’m very excited about that! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Don’t be shy to lean all the way into the topics you’re fascinated with, even if they seem too specific and niche. Write about things that excite you. Whether you’re an expert or an enthusiast, both are good starting points for exploring an idea in writing. I think the common advice we’re given is to ‘write what you know’ but I’d say ‘write what you love.’

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

I would recommend Gay Club! by Simon James Green. It’s about the election of a high school LGBTQ+ society president. It’s packed with drama, twists and turns. It depicts many of our real world struggles for LGBTQ+ rights and respect. It has a diverse set of characters that feel fully-formed and loveable but who are also absolutely infuriating at times. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a book!

Interview with Author Adiba Jaigirdar

Adiba Jaigirdar is the critically-acclaimed and bestselling author of The Henna Wars and Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. A Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher, she has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she is probably ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, or expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! I’m a Bangladeshi-Irish author and former ESL teacher. I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but have been living in Dublin, Ireland since the age of 10. I love reading and playing video games in my spare time. 

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

I’ve always loved storytelling since before I could even read. So once I learned how to read and write, writing stories seemed only a natural progression of my love of storytelling. Some of the most memorable books I read are from when I was a teenager, many of them being Young Adult books. I think of them as formative to me, both as a person and as a writer. I think this is the case for a lot of people. The stories that we grow the most attached to, the ones that we remember and often go back to, are the ones that we read when we were teenagers. And so, I wanted to write those stories that hopefully help teens see themselves, and that I hope stay with kids for a long time. 

How would you describe your writing process? 

Chaotic. I don’t really have a single writing process. I try a bunch of different things with each book that I write and see what works and doesn’t work. I like to go where the story and characters take me. 

As a queer Jewish person, can I say how cool it is that your books feature complex queer characters of faith. Would you mind speaking a bit about what that kind of representation, or what representation in general means to you?

Sadly, I think a lot of the world views faith and queerness as mutually exclusive. In my experience, when we have this quite narrow point of view, we drive people away from faith, and oftentimes we also make people feel uncomfortable with their own sexuality. I’ve always simply wanted to write stories that feel authentic to my experiences, or the experiences of people that I know, and that includes the representation of people from religious backgrounds who are also queer. And so that’s the representation I often end up writing, because it’s true to my experiences. 

Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing your debut novel, The Henna Wars, and your more recent novel, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

In general, I draw inspiration from anything and everything. For Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, specifically I was inspired by the TV show Faking It. I was a little annoyed at the sapphic representation and the bisexual representation in it, and so I just wanted to write my own version of a sapphic fake dating story, where the representation was more authentic to my experiences, and the sapphic characters got to have a happy ending. 

One of the notable things about your novels, is not only featuring Bangladeshi/Muslim characters but also queer characters from Ireland, something that is still rare (though getting less so) in YA. What do you think are some of the distinctions between US centric and Irish YA/cultures, in terms of queerness or in general?

This is a difficult question to answer because I’m not from the US, so I don’t actually know what US culture looks like in terms of queerness or really, in general. I know America is also hugely influenced by religion, but I do think a big part of queerness in Ireland comes with having to unlearn a lot of the harm that the Catholic church has perpetrated over the years. Most of our schools are single-sex and run by the church, and we often have nuns as teachers and principals, and if not that, then living on school campus. This is the kind of school I went to (and I graduated just a decade ago), and there were no out students during my school years. There was also quite a bit of homophobia which was probably both a result of the culture and the times. Ireland has come a long way in terms of this though, and we were the first country in the world to vote for marriage equality by way of popular vote. 

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

My favourite way to unwind is by playing video games. My favourite video game franchise is probably Uncharted, closely followed by Assassin’s Creed. But I love any good action/adventure game that has a compelling storyline and enjoyable gameplay. I also like to read a lot of adult thrillers in my downtime, and find them very comforting to read when I’m feeling down. 

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

What’s your favourite flavour of donut? I love coffee flavoured donuts. 

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

Later this year, my first YA historical will be released. It’s called A Million to One and it’s about four girls who board the Titanic in order to steal a rare jewel-encrusted book. Next year, I have another romcom coming out called Donut Fall In Love. It follows a Bangladeshi-Irish girl who joins a Great British Bake-Off style reality TV show, only to find that her ex is one of the competitors, along with another girl who she may be developing a crush on. 

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

There are so many I love. I would definitely recommend any book by Alechia Dow, who writes the most wonderful sci-fi books starring LGBTQ+ characters. I highly recommend Ace Of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, which is a brilliant thriller pitched as Get Out meets Gossip Girl. I am a huge Nina LaCour fan, so I would recommend absolutely anything she has ever written, because it’s all brilliant. In terms of romance, I love Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen, and Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa.

Interview with Graphic Novelist Jessi Zabarsky

Jessi Zabarsky lives in Chicago with her cat and forty three plants. She was raised in the woods and will one day return there. Her first graphic novel, Witchlight, was published by Random House Graphic in 2020. You can find her online at @jessizabarsky.

I had the opportunity to talk with Jessi, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your latest book, Coming Back?

Hi, I’m Jessi! I make comics with a lot of plants, magic, food, and big difficult feelings in them. Coming Back is about two young women, Preet and Valissa, who love each other very much but still have trouble navigating each other’s desires and beliefs. A threat appears in their isolated community, and soon afterward they each have to depart on separate journeys, both of which strike at the heart of their respective anxieties.

What drew you to comics? Were there any comics or artists you believe who inspired you and/or influenced your own personal style?

I’ve read comics from a pretty early age, but I think reading the first volume of Ranma ½ was when it clicked for me that comics were something that I could make, too. Takahashi’s work in general is a big influence on me, plus Miyazaki movies, the Nausicaa manga, and YA fantasy authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce. I also have a deep love for picture books, especially ones with lots of little fiddly bits to look at in the illustrations.

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

Writing is really fun and inking is so satisfying to me. Thumbnails are the hardest! There’s so much to keep in your head at once, it takes a ton of focus and mental effort. Good thumbnails also make penciling easier, so I have to try extra hard at them. 

In addition to your latest book, Coming Back, your debut graphic novel, Witchlight, is also known for its beautiful queer characters. What does representation on the page (queer or otherwise) meant to you as an artist and reader?

I mostly want to reflect all the different kinds of people I see around me, it just feels natural. I also get bored of drawing the same type of person over and over very quickly! I love fantasy and sci fi, and when I started Witchlight, I wasn’t seeing a lot of comics with queer characters in those settings. I want to make and read the kinds of fantastical stories with rich worlds that I love, with different types of people as the leads. I want so many varieties of queer stories that it stops feeling like its own genre. I want fantasy that happens to feature queer people, and for that to feel completely unremarkable.

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

The process varies person to person and project to project, but generally I start with a script, then do thumbnails, then page layouts and pencils on paper, and inks directly on top of the pencils. Then I scan the pages into my computer, do digital cleanup and fixes, lettering, and finally, color. With a publisher, they’ll want the front cover figured out earlier in the process, so that gets worked in around halfway or a bit later. It’s a long road and requires a lot of different skills!

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives who would want to create their own comics, whether as artists, writers, or both?

Start making comics. Use whatever paper you have on hand and whatever you have to draw with (I made my very first comics in lined notebooks with regular pencils). Start with something low pressure, like a gag comic or journal comics. It can help to give yourself constraints, like the same panel structure every time, at first. Read lots of comics formats- newspaper strips, webcomics, manga, superhero comics, YA comics- check your library, most now have at least one comics section, if not several. Read critically- what do you like/dislike and why? Where do you get confused and what would you do to fix the problem? What works really smoothly? What stands out?

If you’ve already been making comics for a while, find tricks and shortcuts where you can. Making comics takes a lot of time and effort and you are one finite person! Remember that people read comics very quickly and no one will notice if every panel isn’t perfect. Work hard but make sure you’ll also be able to work for a long time! Do your stretches!!

Are there any other project ideas you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’ve got secrets in the works but for now you can check my social media (IG @hug_box, Twitter @jessizabarsky) for weekly journal comics where I draw myself as a small rabbit.

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

‘Hey, Jessi, why do you draw the moon as full in nearly every instance regardless of the time that’s passed in the story?’

Thank you for noticing, it’s because circles are a great design element and I love the moon and she deserves it.

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

I really love the Hakumei & Mikochi manga! It’s plausibly deniable in its queerness, but it centers two tiny “roommates” who live in the base of a tree and cook, shop, eat, and explore together (they’re wives). There are also several other female characters who definitely don’t have crushes on each other. 

For more direct queerness, I’ve been really enjoying the book series that begins with A Memory Called Empire, a space opera about colonialism and selfhood. And an all-time favorite of mine, Ursula Le Guin’s short stories are really excellent for imagining different ways of thinking about sex, gender, and relationships!

Interview with Author Amanda DeWitt

Amanda DeWitt is an author and librarian, ensuring that she spends as much time around books as possible. She also enjoys Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragon-ing, and also writing, just not whatever it is she really should be writing. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Masters in Information and Library Science. She lives in Clearwater, Florida with her dogs, cats, and assortment of chickens.  Aces Wild: A Heist is her debut novel.

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

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

Hey, thanks for having me! My name is Amanda DeWitt and I’m a public librarian and author! So most of my time is spent around books, which I think is a pretty good way to spend it. Aside from books, I love playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and learning all sorts of different arts and crafts. My favorite genre to read is science fiction/fantasy in any age group, but I also like to read a little bit of everything! 

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

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but I know I’ve been interested in writing ever since I was a kid. I remember role-playing Warrior Cats on the family computer, being absolutely obsessed with the idea of making my own stories and characters. From there writing became pretty inevitable, because it’s always been something I love to do! When I started getting serious about drafting a novel, I was drawn to young adult fiction because I was a young adult at the time, so it really made sense, but I’ve stuck with it because I love it, and because I feel like the themes you find in young adult fiction are things you can find yourself facing again over a lifetime. In a lot of young adult fiction you’ll find stories about finding out who you are and where you fit in the world, but it’s not something you figure out by a certain age and then remain that way. People grow and change over the course of their entire lives, and I love that when writing young adult fiction it can be stories that anyone can see themselves in and connect to.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Aces Wild: A Heist? Where did the inspiration for the book (and the title) come from?

Aces Wild: A Heist follows Jack Shannon as he tries to prove that his mom, a Las Vegas casino mogul, was arrested because she’s being blackmailed by Peter Carlevaro, a rival casino owner who has been obsessed with her for years. Jack recruits the help of his four friends from the information asexual support group that formed after meeting on fandom forums—Remy, Gabe, Georgia, and Lucky—to break into Carlevaro’s inner sanctum and sabotage his nefarious plans. All of which, between a colorful and meddlesome family and online friends meeting in person for the first time, does not go entirely as planned. Especially when a mysterious girl shows up to throw a wrench in Jack’s plan. It’s a fun, heartful, and chaotic little book, and I can’t wait for people to read it! 

I actually started with the title, because a book with asexuals and playing cards is too good of a pun to pass up, and Las Vegas is the perfect backdrop. I actually started thinking about it while watching a (not very good, so my mind was wandering) magic show, but the thought of cards = magic quickly evolved into cards = poker. I was a little afraid to write a contemporary book—I’d never done it before, and I wasn’t sure I knew how—but the pieces just all came together. I was definitely hugely inspired by my own friends, many of whom I met online, and I was surprised by how much online friendships became so central to the book. A lot of Aces Wild is about different kinds of love and how equally valuable they are, and I definitely put a lot of love into writing it! 

Do you have any personal experience or interest yourself in casino or card games?

My favorite story about this is that I actually learned blackjack in elementary school, from my 4th grade teacher of all people. We used to play blackjack as a class—we were playing for extra time to play outside, and our teacher was playing for extra quiet time. I was totally into it for a summer. I remember teaching it to my friends in Girl Scouts and we’d play sitting on the floor, betting jelly beans. Which is pretty funny in retrospect, but we had a great time. Otherwise, I never gamble—Jack’s high risk/high reward mindset is totally opposite of me. I’m more of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush kind of person, and I definitely like to keep my money in hand!

As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what representation in general means to you?

My motivation was that I’m also always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world! I first connected to the word asexual through asexual interpreations of fictional chracters (Katniss Everdeen, aroace in my heart forever) and I know how special it can be to see someone like you reflected in the books you’re reading. There’s a sense of validation in seeing characters you can relate to and knowing that your perspective and experiences are things other people feel too. Talking about being ace was always difficult for me, and I considered it a very quiet part of myself, but seeing these characters and narratives be embraced, and being able to write about them myself, has gone a long way in my relationship with myself.

When I first started exploring the idea for Aces Wild: A Heist, I wasn’t really sure what was ‘allowed’ and I was nervous about it. I knew I didn’t want to write a book about asexuality—I didn’t want to write about characters struggling with their asexuality or discovering it, I wanted it to just be another part of them. I wanted them to go on an adventure, while also being asexual! I wanted them to be the main characters, and I wanted there to be more than one of them! It’s what I, as an ace reader, wanted to read, and I hoped that it was something that would resonate with other people, especially aspec readers, too. It was a little nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, but seeing how excited people have gotten about it has made it all worth it!

What kind of things can we expect from the characters of Aces Wild: A Heist?

You can expect messy families and goofy friends and just so many characters lying to each other for different reasons. I’ve met some of my best friends online, so it was a lot of fun writing a friend group as chaotic as mine, including stealing bits of their personalities like a raccoon digging through the trash for jokes (I say this with love). With Jack, I wanted a character that has that cool outward confidence and competence of Kaz Brekker, but the insecurities and obstacles of a modern teenager. He’s playing high stakes trying to get his mom out of jail, but he’s also figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. I went for a mix like that for all of the characters—a larger than life kind of exaggeration, but with a grounded center. I want the complexities of Jack’s family life and the relationship between the friend group to be relatable and sincere, but, well, also they’re staging a heist in Las Vegas. Relatable, but also a little more exciting than real life! 

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

Compared to some people, I think my writing process is pretty straightforward! I always write chronologically and I never skip over scenes or write placeholders—they work for some people, but it just mixes me up if I leave something unwritten. I’m basically allergic to outlining, so the first draft is basically me discovering the characters and the story as it unfolds. 

I always joke that my favorite part of the process is whatever I’m not doing at the time, but I think my favorite really is writing the first draft. I tend to start a lot of different ideas, so sometimes it takes a bit to find the one worth writing all the way, but once I do, it’s a lot of fun. First drafts for me are all about potential—I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet, so that means it could go anywhere, and that creative freedom is so exciting. Sometimes editing can be fun too, because it’s a bit like a puzzle where you’re moving around pieces and changing shapes so they all fit together in the best way. Buuut editing can be frustrating too. Now I have to fix all the problems I left for myself while drafting!

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

This was the hardest question! One of my friends joked that I should ask myself ‘did you have fun?’ so y’know what—I DID have fun. This is my first time giving an interview, so I super appreciate the cool new experience! Writing is such an important part of my life, I love talking about the process and it’s awesome to get to talk about my book, even if it’s still a little mind-boggling to think that people are actually going to be reading it. You spend so long writing books, querying them, sending them on submission, and then all that hard work pays off and you’re like whoa, I still have something more to learn! 

What advice would you give for aspiring authors?

Love your story, even when you don’t love the process. Once you’ve reached one step—the agent, the book deal, the whatever—it’s tempting to look back at all the steps leading up to it and be like ‘wow all the blood, sweat, and tears shaped me into who I needed to be for this step, the stars have aligned to bring me here right now’. And sometimes that’s true! The timeline of my career hasn’t gone like I daydreamed about, but each setback and disappointment was an important part of the process. But also the process sucks! It’s torture! And it doesn’t so much get easier as it gets hard in new and creative ways. 

That’s why it’s so important to love your story, because the story is what it’s all about, and that relationship between author and story is where you’re going to feel fulfilled, even when everything else sucks. Love it when you’re drafting, when you’re editing it, even when you have to set it aside and move on to the next story. Because you’re going to have to read it so, so, so many times.

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

I’m always working on something! The nature of publishing means I don’t know if they’ll ever see the light of day or when, so I’ll keep it tantalizingly vague, but I’ve got a lot of projects at different stages that I’m excited for, and excited that they’re all a bit different from each other. Aces Wild: a heist is my first contemporary, and it taught me how much fun I can have in a contemporary space. I’ve got an asexual romcom that was a lot of fun to work on, and I’m hoping to work on an aromantic romcom sometime in the future too. Right now I’ve been working on a YA scifi, but I’ve got thoughts about trying my hand at adult fantasy in the future too. I love trying out new genres and exploring their possibilities, so you might see just about anything from me in the future!

Finally, what are some LGBTQIA+ books/authors you would recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

In recent memory I really enjoyed Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White and May The Best Man Win by ZR Ellor, which are very different but both very good books. Coming up I’m also looking forward to Funeral Girl by Emma Ohland and A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy!