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! 

Interview with Author Skye Quinlan

Skye Quinlan (she/they) was born in California during an earthquake and raised in the Midwest, where cornstalks outnumber people. Forward March (Page Street Kids, March 8th, 2022) is her debut novel. When she’s not writing, you can catch her at the nearest metaphysics or craft store, dressed up in cosplay at the nearest convention, or ruining antique furniture with epoxy resin and paint. Skye still lives in the Midwest with her wife, their two dogs, several lizards, a snake, and the occasional little human (their niece). She is represented by Moe Ferrara at BookEnds Literary Agency.

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

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

Thank you for having me! My name is Skye Quinlan, and I am the author of Forward March, a queer young adult novel centered around a high school marching band. Most of my free time is spent writing, but I’m also a huge nerd who cosplays with my wife and niece, so you can usually catch me at the nearest anime convention or comic con! I’m also really into gardening, so you can always find me at the nearest plant nursery as well.

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

I’ve been writing since a very young age; I distinctly remember being six or seven years old and letting a friend read the first story I’d ever written, which was a Pokemon fanfic (oof – that’s embarrassing to admit). She got so angry with me for having Pikachu evolve that she stood up on the bus and threw the notebook over the seat at me, screaming something about, “how dare you?!” I’ve been writing ever since, but  for a long time, I dabbled in fandom and fanfic, which was already heavily rooted in YA subculture, so making the transition from fanfic to original young adult fiction felt the most natural. I’ve stayed in YA because I love it—I love the books, the authors, the fandom, and it’s something that I want to be a part of. 

What can you tell us about your debut novel, Forward March? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

The inspiration for Forward March came from my days as a high school band geek. I played the clarinet for 10 years, and as a teenager, my entire life revolved around marching band—ask anyone who knew me back then, and they’ll tell you that I was the kid who took band way too seriously. I was a menace my senior year when I became section leader, always calling for extra rehearsals and making my clarinets march and play until they were blue in the face. In Forward March, Harper is very much the same way, and I used both her and her story as a way to memorialize my days in band, from some of our old traditions to a few beloved memories spent performing in the rain and snow.  

What can we expect from the characters of Forward March?

I’d be lying if I said that my characters weren’t a bit overdramatic, but that is why we love them. From Harper in particular, you can expect to see her journey of self-discovery, which includes coming to the realization that she’s an asexual lesbian with a thing for punk drummer girls in combat boots. You can also expect a dive into complicated family dynamics, friendship break-ups, and miscommunication—my characters are all teeangers, and they’re messy. Very, very messy, and they don’t always make the best decisions. 

Like the main character, Harper, have you ever had any experience with marching band or music in general, or was this something you had researched for the book?

Going into Forward March, I was very fortunate in that I didn’t need to do too much research where music and band was concerned—I always knew that my days as a band geek would pay off someday! 

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

Teenagers are the target audience for Forward March, and as an aspec lesbian author who never saw myself represented in the media until I was in my early twenties, queer representation means everything to me. I want my readers to be able to see themselves represented in my books, and that has always, always been the primary goal for me when it comes to my writing. If I can give my readers what I never had, then I’ve done my job.

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

My writing process is chaotic, and I think the people who’ve worked with me in publishing would probably agree. I don’t like writing outlines for my books (I tend to deviate from them when I do), and I often edit my work as I go—that’s probably the most frustrating part for me, editing as I go, but mentally, for whatever reason, I have to do it that way. So I’ll write a few paragraphs, open up a new word document, and then keep re-writing those same few paragraphs until I’m satisfied. It’s not the fastest way to write a book, but it works for me. My favorite part, though, is getting to create new characters and then bring them to life on the page. I probably spend more time writing character profiles and creating their backstories than I do writing the actual book.

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

For Forward March, my biggest inspiration came from my days in marching band. I really wanted to preserve those memories and traditions. In general, I draw a lot of inspiration from music, and you’ll almost always catch me listening to different soundtracks while I’m writing. For each new book I start, I create a different playlist on Spotify, and that’s what I have on while I’m working. For Forward March in particular, I listened to a lot of drum cadences, and I always had on the soundtrack from Drumline. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The advice that I would give to aspiring writers is this: keep writing. Your story, your voice, and the pieces of yourself that you’ll leave on the page are equal parts important and valid, and you yourself are worthy of a place in this industry. Publishing has a way of making even the best of us doubt ourselves, but the important thing to remember is never, ever give up. 

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

There isn’t much else to know about me other than that I cosplay and love gardening, but let’s see… I crochet, I love crystals and geodes, and I taught myself how to ice skate by watching youtube videos. 

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

I always wish someone would ask me about my cosplay goals! My very first cosplay was Lexa from The 100, and I would LOVE to re-make that costume and do it again. My wife and I are dying to be Vi and Caitlyn from Arcane, Korra and Asami from ATLA: Legend of Korra, and Adora and Catra from She-Ra. Someday, I would also love to be Loki, because like…Loki.

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

I have a few projects that I’m working on, but nothing too concrete right now, so it’s probably best to keep them secret! 

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

I recently read Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin and absolutely loved it, and I’m currently reading A Lesson In Vengeance by Victoria Lee and have enjoyed it so far! I’m really excited for Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us, F.T. Luken’s So This Is Ever After, and Maya Deane’s Wrath Goddess Sing

Interview With Illustrator Ariel Slamet Ries

Ariel Slamet Ries is an eggplant fanatic and longtime lover of dogs in snoods from Melbourne, Australia. They studied animation for four years before throwing away the prestige and money to pursue comics. They’re still waiting to see how that will turn out.

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

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

Thanks for having me!

I’m Ariel Slamet Ries, a comic artist and illustrator based on Wurundjeri land in Australia. I’m just an eggplant who likes to tell stories about people in fantastical worlds. I also spend a lot of time thinking about weird animals. 

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

I’ve probably been into comics since I sprung from the womb. My family had a small collection of comics—Calvin and Hobbes, some old Matt Groening—but I was rarely allowed to buy them for myself. My parents were both journalists at the time, so I think they considered comics junk food reading. 

Because of that, part of the appeal of comics to me was the forbidden fruit aspect. In my search for a taste of that elusive comics flesh I stumbled across webcomics. They were free and accessible, so I read as many as I could get my hands on. 

It was inevitable then that I got into making comics. I was already passionate about drawing from a young age, and took to creative writing in school. Combining the two somehow always seemed like the natural progression. I had dabbled with making comics in high school, but nothing stuck until I started Witchy during a break after my first year of university. 

How would you describe your comic, Witchy? What was the inspiration for this project and how did it come to be?

Witchy is set in the witch kingdom Hyalin, wherein everyone’s magical ability is determined by the length of their hair. If your hair is too long, you’re deemed a danger to the state and executed by witch burning. 

The story follows Nyneve, who is haunted by the burning of her father and the threat the Witch Guard poses to her own life. When conscription rolls around, Nyneve chooses to defy the institution complicit in her father’s death and commits a selfish act of heresy. 

Hair is a central part of the story because I was drawn to its ubiquity—most people have hair and so can easily imagine themselves in the story world. In the Witchy universe, the capacity to grow long hair is also something you’re born with—I wanted to use that to interrogate how power and wealth works in the real world; what kinds of strength we value, and who gets to wield that power based on the traits they were born with.

How did it come to be? Well, it had been something I’d been planning since high school, and then I started it in university, and then instead of having a life in university I spent all my free time making a webcomic. (don’t worry, I’m joking at least 50% here.)

Since your story is clearly set in a fantastic world, what draws you in to speculative fiction, and witches in particular? Did any real-world or magic based systems inspire you while creating your own universe?

First and foremost, I think magic is fun! Also, writing speculative fiction is all I can do—it’s just how my brain is wired. I find it more difficult to set something in the real world because there are so many elements that you have to get “right.” In a fantastical setting I’m able to examine reality and humanity through a different approach, and maybe that’ll lead to an interesting insight?

I actually don’t think I’m interested in witches explicitly—I wanted there to be magical people in this world, and I thought it would be fun to play with the more traditionally feminine image we have of witches.

The most significant influence to the magic system are the real world animistic religions that are practised traditionally all throughout Asia–the idea of a spirit, of godliness, being inherent in all things. They’re belief systems that are rooted in practicality–pay close attention and love to the rhythms of the natural world, you will be rewarded with food, medicine, and security. I’m just adding a magical twist to that. 

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

Pretty much all the characters in Witchy fall into one or more categories of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. I’m not particularly interested in writing about cis-straight characters; those aren’t the people I’m spending most of my time with, and there’s enough people out there doing that already.

That’s kind of the point of Witchy—I don’t have any grand illusions about the power of my work, I just want to create stories where us queers get to do the things that the straights get to do. Telling an action/adventure story like all the shonen manga i loved reading as a teen, but that centred on a lesbian protagonist, was a major part of my initial drive to create Witchy. 

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

Hmm, Ursula K. Le Guin and Satoshi Kon come to mind as artists whose works I admire deeply, but who didn’t sacrifice kindness and patience in their personal philosophies. They stick in my mind because of the way they resisted the grind mindset that is so prevalent in creative industries–when I think of how evocative and powerful their works are, I try to remember this and bring it into my own practice. 

I’m also hugely inspired by my friends! I’ve somehow stumbled across a supportive international community of comic and art-making friends that are frankly incredibly smart and talented, without whom I think I’d feel very adrift in the world. 

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

I pay a lot of attention to page layout and composition. Coupled with good writing (which, in comics, is paradoxically as much about image choice and acting as the dialogue, in my opinion) I think you can get away with everything else looking pretty rough. There’s a reason ONE—the creator of One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100— is so popular; despite the naivete of his draftsmanship there’s a real understanding of these fundamentals. 

Creating a page with a good flow for the reader can take a bit of work, but when I’m reading comics there’s nothing more off-putting than a page that’s hard to parse.

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

“Have you learnt any cool facts about eels lately?”

Why yes I have! Thank you for asking. We don’t really know how freshwater eels reproduce in the wild. We’ve been able to make them reproduce in captivity but we haven’t observed them mating or spawning or whatever, out there in the ocean. I just think that’s neat. 

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

Absolutely! I’m currently taking a hiatus from Witchy (I’ll be back! I promise!)  to work full time on my graphic novel Strange Bedfellows, a queer sci fi romance about Oberon, a boy who’s recovering from a very public “breakdown,” then develops the ability to conjure his dreams in real life—including a facsimile of his high school crush, Kon.

It’s a story that’s been floating around in my head for a long time, so I’m really excited to finally be working  on it. It has a lot of my favourite things in it, so I’m putting everything I’ve got into every stage of the process. We’re about wrapped with the writing now, and I’m so stoked to start drawing!

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Take care of your mental and physical health above all else. Going through a bad burnout is so much more of a sacrifice than getting enough sleep every night! Don’t buy into grind culture and work at your own pace—you’ve got time.

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

Here’s a few of my recent favourites:

Our Dreams at Dusk — a gorgeously drawn coming of age manga about a troubled gay student who discovers an eccentric queer community group in his small town. 

Beetle and the Hollowbones — this ones for readers looking for LGBTQ+ stories they can share with their kids: A super fun romp through a monstrous world as a goblin, a skeleton and a ghost try to save their local mall. 

Mamo — A young witch returns to her small town in the wake of her grandmother’s death and meets a girl whose family is besieged by a poltergeist in the attic. Beautiful art, captivating story.

Interview with Author Claire Kann

Claire Kann is the author of several novels and an award-winning online storyteller. In her other life she works for a non-profit you may have heard of where she daydreams like she’s paid to do it. She loves cats and is obsessed with horror media (which makes the whole being known for writing contemporary love stories a little weird, tbh).

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

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

Sure!

Hi! Hello! I’m Claire Kann, the author of quite a few novels now, including the forthcoming THE ROMANTIC AGENDA (preorder today!). I enjoy watching YouTube essays for hours on end, reading horror novels, and spending time with my cat. 

When and how did you realize you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to Young Adult Fiction and your upcoming Adult Romance?

Well… I haven’t told this story in quite some time so here we go:

Once upon a time… just kidding. 

As a kid/teenager, I was a voracious reader but it never occurred to me that I could also be an author. I thought being an author was something that was only available to other people who were not me. Which is silly. I know. I dabbled with writing poetry for a while, but nothing really stuck.

Fast forward to my college years. I attended right after high school, realized I wasn’t emotionally ready for the dorm environment, and dropped out after a semester. I spent the next few years reading, working, and hanging out with my friends–just normal growing up stuff and really enjoying life as a soon-to-be adult with a lot of hard lessons to learn.

Finally, I decided I was ready… It was time for me to go back to school. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in yet, but I knew I wanted to do something that would lead to a better paying job. To get started, I signed up for general education classes and chose creative writing as one of my electives.

And then everything changed, when the Fire Nation attacked.

The Fire Nation being my fellow students in my creative writing class. I wrote my very first original short story for a workshop and the response was so overwhelmingly positive I started crying. I remember walking to my car and thinking, “This is it. This is what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to be a writer.” I changed my major the next day. 

At that time, I was still a young adult so that’s where I got started–write what you know, and all that. Now, there isn’t really a specific special something that compels me to write one age group over another. I come up with an idea, and the characters who populate the story tell me who they are. I let my agent/marketing decide what it should be classified as. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you to write and keep on writing?

My writing process is both chaotic and repetitive as all get out. There’s a saying “writing is rewriting” which my creative brain took to heart. I always start with a rough outline and create a draft from that, often writing scenes out of order, huge chunks of dialogue, and info dumps galore. I just need to get everything out of my head first. From that draft, I create a new outline and rewrite the entire thing. Twice, if needed.

Usually after that third pass, my manuscripts are good to go. I send them to my editor or agent or critique partners for feedback. Then with their notes I revise, revise, revise…

While I’m drafting I like to have some coffee, crunchy foods like carrots or chips, and music playing. Music is a huge part of my process. 

These days, apart from my contracts, I’m not sure what inspires me to keep writing. It’s actually something I’ve been focusing on finding an answer to for the past year. I think because I started writing after receiving such instrumental positive feedback, I’m always striving for that experience again… which is… not smart. The internet doesn’t care about your feelings and will hurt them in ways you can’t even imagine. I’ve had to learn to disconnect my inspiration, the elation I feel from sharing my writing, from the reader’s response to my work.

I do love writing, though. I don’t think I could ever give that up, its hooks have latched onto my soul, but whether or not I continue to seek publication is another story.

Within the literary community, you’re known for your books featuring asexual representation, including Let’s Talk About Love and your upcoming ace romance, The Romantic Agenda. Just wanted to give a brief thanks for that! Where did you find the inspiration for those stories?

The stories began because both main characters just appeared in my head.

I knew who Alice, the protagonist of LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE, was almost immediately because she screamed a lot–she’s very excitable and chaotic. When I asked her what kind of story she wanted, we went through a few plots I had in my idea bank but she ended up telling me she wanted a romance. I paired her with Takumi, and there was zero chemistry. None. Zilch. The story wasn’t working at all. I wasn’t sure why so I did some character interviews, some research, and what do you know… she’s asexual. It was one of the biggest “AHA! Oh, wait… oh shit” moments of my life. I remember, in startling, visceral detail, exactly how I felt right then. (I often have to throw out a disclaimer here: LTAL is not autobiographical or even auto-fiction. Alice and I land on different spots on the spectrum, something I did on purpose.)

For Joy, the protagonist for THE ROMANTIC AGENDA, it was a bit easier. My agent asked if I would be interested in writing an ace romcom and I said, “I can try!” I knew I wanted to write an older ace character who had almost everything figured out. Joy appeared and was up for the task. Plot wise, I decided on a mashup between the movies The Great Outdoors and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Personally, I don’t see the end result as a romcom. I’d rather call it a contemporary love story.

Looking from your book, it is obvious you are a fan of romance and cute and fluffy content. What draws you in about writing romance?

More than anything else I’m a character driven writer. I do what they want. I tell their stories.

Because my focus lies so heavily with my characters, it’s only natural that their chosen supporting casts have a great impact on who they are, who they become, and why. Those relationships (whether they be romantic, platonic, familial) determine how the story plays out. Labels are decided by marketing–I revise to match genre conventions based on what the primary perception is (if I agree it fits the overall heart of the story, of course).

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?

I love listening to music and spend a lot of my time watching YouTube. This year one of my goals is to focus on reading more. I really want to push beyond my comfort zone by reading things I think I won’t like. 

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

Oh, this is a difficult one. I’m a notoriously private person, so I don’t like being asked questions. But in the spirit of sharing…

What’s my favorite color and why? 

Purple because a long, long time ago Howie D. from the Backstreet Boys said it was his favorite so it had to be my favorite. I also love forest green. 

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

Hmm. I truly believe that all the writing advice that could ever be given can already be found on the internet. There’s no such thing as an inspiring writer. If you write, you’re a writer.

But if you’re an aspiring author, as in you are seeking publication, actively or someday,  I’m going to use a quote from ACROSS THE GREEN GRASS FIELDS by Seanan McGuire, from her Wayward Children which series I heartily recommend reading: 

“Be Sure.”

Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?

I am indeed working on other projects! I wish I could talk about them because I’m really excited about what’s coming up next! But alas! I cannot!

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

FIRE BECOMES HER by Rosiee Thor

RISE TO THE SUN by Leah Johnson

THIS POISON HEART by Kaylnn Bayron

GIDEON THE NINTH by Tamsyn MuirA LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers

Interview with Author Kosoko Jackson

Born and raised in the DC Metro Area, and currently living in Brooklyn, Kosoko Jackson is a digital media strategist for non-profit organizations; which enables his Twitter obsession. Occasionally, his personal essays have been featured on Medium, Thought Catalog, and The Advocate. When not searching for an extra hour in the day, he can be found obsessing over movies or drinking his (umpteenth) London Fog. He is the author of Survive the Dome and Yesterday is History.

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

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

Thank YOU for having me! I’m so excited to be here. I’m Kosoko Jackson. I’m an east coast native, author of Survive the Dome and Yesterday is History. I’m a Scorpio sun, Virgo Moon, Scorpio Rising (fun fact, I have a triple stellium). I love to write, watch far too many movies (in 2022 I’m trying to watch IMBD’s top 100 movies by the end of the year), and I love indie folk music. I say that without any shame.

How would you describe your upcoming book, Survive the Doom? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

Survive the Dome is basically Black Lives Matter meets Internment by Samira Ahmed. I came up with the book in 2020 during the George Floyd protests. I was in NYC, during the height of COVID, unable to protest with my fellow Black brothers and sisters, and I wanted to come up with a way to resist. I always have believed writing is a form of resistance, so I put my pen to paper and got started. I’m a huge science fiction nerd, and believe science fiction is the perfect grounds for dealing with complex world issues on a grand or microscopic scale. And thus, Survive the Dome was born!

What do you do to help yourself as a writer? Any tips to spark or help creativity?

Most of my books, honestly, come from movie or TV show inspirations. It can be a simple shot, one line, or something I wish the director/writer did differently and wanting to explore that. I get a lot of inspiration from music, too. I listen to soundtracks and albums when writing, and sometimes just one well played line can inspire a whole scene, or book. 

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

I’ve always loved writing. When I was young, I used to write stories and have my parents listen to them during commercial breaks or shows. I fell in love with writing young adult fiction because, as a team, I didn’t see a lot of positive Black queer characters. When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I knew that I wanted to fix that and add to the tapestry of diverse authors who are helping to diversify our literary canon. When it comes to science fiction, I think I just started writing that because it was a lot of the entertainment that I absorbed when I was younger. Stories, books, movies, TV shows about fantastical worlds where anything was possible, but rooted in science, always interested me the most.

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

Personally, and I think it’s a bit of my writing crutch, I really like dialogue. I think you get the most characterization in the most understanding of the world and the internal motivations of said characters through their dialogue. How they talk, what they omit, unique ways to create differences in two different characters simply by their word choice is the most fun part for me. and I’m a big fan of banter also period there won’t be a book written by me, no matter the genre, that doesn’t have at least two or three good solid banter scenes.

Were there any stories or authors that inspired you as a writer coming into your own?

The Pendragon Series by DJ McHale. It’s an epic 10 book series that I encourage everyone reads. I ADORED it and it was probably the series that made me want to be an author. 

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

I’m obsessed with movies! Like, before the pandemic I used to see 100 movies a year in theaters. Starting in 2022, I’m going to try to get back into that, but using more streaming services to watch more movies. By the end of the year, I’m hoping to see the IMDb top 100 movies. Interview me in 2023 to see if I actually achieved it!

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

I never get asked if I could have one superpower, what would it be? And this seems like a pretty easy question, but if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m kind of obsessed with DC and Marvel Comics and I just feel like it’s such a lowball question. The non-nerdy answer would be phasing. If you’re a fan of Marvel Comics then you know of Katherine Pryde, AKA Shadowcat, and I’ve always found her ability to be the most interesting. The nerdy answer would be telepathy, with a focus on psychic surgery and skills augmentation through precise psychic manipulation.

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

I think the hardest piece of advice to follow is to understand that your writing will change. I never thought 5 years ago I’d write adult rom coms, but I’m loving this journey for me. You do not have to stay in the genre, or field, you started in, just because you think that’s right or where you belong. Allow yourself to grow. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t succeed.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I cannot discuss some of the cool things I’m working on YET, but I am working on my second adult rom com that I’m very excited about, and something secret!

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

I’m a big fan of anything by CL Polk, Sam Miller, Ryan La Salla! I’ve learned so much about writing from reading their work.

Interview with Nina Moreno and Courtney Lovett

Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick. Her second YA novel, Our Way Back to Always, was published by LBYR in Fall 2021.

Courtney Lovett received her BFA in Visual Arts and Animation from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She works in different mediums and artistic disciplines, including illustration, character design, and animation. As a Black American and a native of the DC, Maryland, Virginia area, her work reflects her heritage and upbringing, which adds to today’s cultural shift of creating diverse and relatable stories from perspectives that are often underrepresented or misrepresented in art and media.

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

NM: Thank you! I’m a Florida girl who was born in Miami but moved to a small town outside of Atlanta after Hurricane Andrew. I returned to my home state and attended the University of Florida (go Gators!) where a class about kid lit reminded me how much I used to love reading and got me back to writing.

CL: Thank you, I’m honored. I am from the DMV, born and raised in Maryland, where I currently live. I specialize in illustration and character design, but I am passionate about all things storytelling. I love reading it, watching it, analyzing, and discussing it. Switching off that part of my brain can be difficult, sometimes to the annoyance of my family whenever we’re watching movies and tv (haha). My family is my biggest inspiration for my work and beyond. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the outpouring of love and support from them and the community that raised me. I’m also passionate about kids and education, so when I’m not creating stories, I teach digital art at a local art studio.

Where did the impetus to create Join the Club, Maggie Diaz come from? How did you both come to work with each other on this project?

NM: The initial spark actually came from my editor, the incredibly funny and fellow Florida kid, Shelly Romero. As someone who was working on YA novels, I hadn’t planned to write a middle grade story yet, but Shelly came to me with an idea and my imagination just took off. I love writing about friends, families, and communities and fell in love with writing MG. And when Shelly and the team showed me Courtney’s illustrations, the entire project came alive in this really exciting way. Courtney’s work is amazing and she brought so much to the story and characters. It’s a total dream team. 

CL: I was excited to work with Scholastic since their imprint was on so many books of my childhood. When I read Nina’s writing, I fell in love with the project. I saw so much of myself in Maggie and her journey, and she’s so funny! The grounded story combined with the laugh-out-loud scenarios fed into my inspiration. It was also enlightening for me as a Black woman to learn more about Cuban American culture. Representation and diverse stories are important to me, so any project that reflects that, I’m all in.

Photo by Craig Hanson

Do you remember any books or authors/artists growing you that touched you or you felt reflected in your identities in any way?

NM: I loved going to thrift stores with my mom when I was younger and searching the shelves of used books. That’s where I found all of my books as a kid, and so discovering Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban on one of those shelves was a really big deal to me. The title alone was a thrill. I loved reading and tended to secretly imagine some mentioned brunette was Latina like me, but that was the first time I realized a story could be so specific to me and my family’s experience.

CL: Hmm, it’s difficult to say because growing up I wasn’t exposed to many books that reflected my identity as a Black girl. The only one I can think of was the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake I read in fourth grade. It was the first time I read a story that reflected my experience and had characters that behaved and spoke as I did. There weren’t many protagonists that looked like me, but interestingly it wasn’t something I was fully aware of. In the same way I related to Maggie, I latched on to the characters’ personalities and journeys. Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors growing up because her stories had some of the most relatable characters I ever read. The lack of representation wasn’t something I paid attention to until I started comparing it to what I saw on television. I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s watching many sitcoms where Black people were at the center. One of my all-time favorite shows that inspires me to this day is The Proud Family because it combines two things I’m passionate about – animation and representation. I was not seeing that reflected in children’s publishing. Now the landscape has changed and there is a push for representation from all walks of life. I believe both are necessary. Kids should see themselves as heroes of their own stories, but they can also engage with stories where they are not at the center. Everyone gets a seat at the table, where we all can acknowledge our similarities as well as celebrate our differences, where all of us are seen. To me, that is what it means to be inclusive.

What do you think pushed you toward going on the paths you went?

NM: It took me a while to realize that writing and publishing was even a possibility. I loved books, sure, but to become a professional writer? That meant being able to afford going to some fancy college for a hundred degrees or becoming a journalist. It meant having connections or being brilliant and I was not that shiny of a student. But then I rediscovered my love for reading and writing after college. I remembered what it was to be a voracious reader and I had so many story ideas that I knew I had to try. So, I went to the bookstore and bought this huge book about queries and it had all these literary agents listed in it. And then I got to work.

CL: I always knew I wanted art to be my career choice. I didn’t, however, foresee how much the dream would change. At first, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, then I wanted to be a comic artist, then I wanted to be a cartoonist, an animator, a writer, a teacher. After I earned my degree, I dabbled in freelance, where I tried anything and everything that would land me more work. My current path in publishing started in 2019 when a client I personally knew approached me to illustrate her picture book. I realized through that experience and my time in undergrad that what I was truly passionate about wasn’t simply the art or being an artist. When I think about all the dreams I had, there is but one through line – storytelling. Once the book was self-published nine months later, that same year I signed with my agent and began my career as an illustrator. The amazing irony of where I am now is that publishing allows me opportunities to live in nearly every dream I named earlier. I’m an illustrator, a cartoonist, I create short comics, I dip into writing, and outside all of that I am a teacher. It’s crazy to think about all these pivots when my career has only begun. The path of a creator is beautiful and unpredictable in that way.

Your first book, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, is a lovely YA novel reflecting grief, magical realism, and Cuban identity. Where did the inspiration for this book come from and what was it like writing it?

NM: I wrote Don’t Date Rosa Santos while I was on submission with my first book that never sold. I was feeling burnt out and anxious over whether this whole writing thing was going to work out. Instead of worrying about that book, I started to write something new that was bursting with stuff I loved. I wanted something where a girl like me could live in a cute, seaside town and not have to sacrifice any parts of herself or her culture to be the main character. I love Rosa so much because writing her book reminded me why I love doing this and that there’s always another story around the corner.

Photo by Jacadra Young

As a writer, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

NM: The blank page can be as intimidating as everyone says it is. There’s such a thrill to coming up with a new story and getting lost in daydreams about it, but then you have to somehow get what’s in your head onto the page and when it’s not clicking or working, it can be really tough to keep writing. But that’s why, for me, I love editing and revising so much. It’s the promise of making it better and knowing you’ll be able to step back later and see the bigger picture. If I can just get those first words down, I know that I can fix it in edits and get the story to that place I imagined or somewhere even better.

As an illustrator, what would you say are some of the best and hardest parts of your process creating something?

CL: The most difficult part of the process is the beginning. A blank canvas can be intimidating. How I learned to work through the fear is to get inspired – an engaging book, a fun movie, browsing artwork from my favorite artists, sometimes a walk – and then come back to the blank canvas with a much more relaxed mindset. The best part of creating is to witness an idea evolve into a completely different result from what I initially envisioned in my head. I find, more often than not, allowing myself to play and be fluid in my process lends itself to better results.

Could you describe your artistic background in some detail, like how did you get into art and what your art education was like?

CL: Since I was very young, I was captivated by the cartoons I used to watch with my siblings. Actually, the reason I started drawing in the first place was that my elder sister did it, first. Like any little sister, I wanted to try all the cool things my siblings did (haha). From that point, I couldn’t put down my pencil. I kept drawing and eventually caught the eye of my second grade art teacher. She invited me to enroll in her art program More Than Conquerors (MTC) Art Studios, where I trained over ten years in the foundations of visual art. Once I graduated from that program, I attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where I earned my BFA in Visual Arts and Animation. I’m so grateful for the solid foundation I received at MTC, which prepared me for any challenge I met in undergrad. I credit my training there for my ability to adapt to different art styles and mediums.

How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?

NM: I live for the moments when I’m able to capture a feeling or idea. When the words click together in a satisfying sentence that says exactly what I hoped it would. I’m a pretty big outliner and like to work on story beats when I’m daydreaming the story. It feels a little like detective work figuring out what might happen next and it helps me stay engaged and in love with the idea. I’m at my best when I’m obsessed with something, so I love losing myself to a story idea and finding my way around it. And with those beats and outline I feel more confident when it’s time to finally face the blank page.

CL: Much like my body of work, my process can be quite eclectic and my style varies from project to project. For Maggie Diaz, specifically, I was heavily inspired by Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Where my approach deviated from Jeff Kinney’s brilliant style was the amount of detail I included in each spot illustration. My goal was to capture the warm setting of Miami in the environments and the richness of the Cuban American culture in the characters’ features, the hair (my personal favorite part), the details in the food, and so much more. That is what I love about illustration – the opportunity to explore settings and cultures outside my everyday experiences.

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

NM: I’ve never been asked this! I love getting to talk craft and inspiration. Writing stories so closely linked to my identity is a gift that I don’t take lightly, but sometimes it can feel like I get put into the Latinx box and left there until our heritage month rolls around. But getting interviewed about this book has been really fun because I get to talk so much about comedy and humor now too. 

CL: What motivates you to create stories? Kids. Whenever I’m making a decision on any project, young people are always at the forefront of my mind. It was the stories I read and watched as a child that inspired me to become an artist. At the very least, I want to bring joy to young lives. Beyond that, I want to help bring out that same spark in another child and encourage them to use their voice and tell their story no matter who they are and where they come from.

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

NM: Remember to stop and fill the creative well with the books, art, and media that inspires you and gets you excited to create. Turning something we love into a job can be tough as the work and all the deadlines hit, so it’s important to rest and hydrate and remember.

CL: Harkening back to my previous answer – allow the dream to change. Have a goal, yes, but do not be so rigid as to limit your options. Explore. Play. Try everything. You never know what skill or insight you will acquire from trying different art forms, or even things unrelated to art. One of my course requirements in undergrad was screenwriting, which I initially had little interest in. It ended up being my favorite class and broadened my interests beyond illustration and animation to writing and directing. You might think because of what I do that my biggest inspirations are other illustrators and cartoonists, when in fact, I am most inspired by performing artists – singers, dancers, actors, musicians, and theater performers. The best advice I can give is to never stop learning and to expose yourself to a wide range of influences.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

NM: I am working on something and because this is publishing, of course I’m not able to discuss it yet. Ha! But I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to share!

CL: Yes! I recently signed on to a 4-book deal with Scholastic. It is an early chapter book series Disaster Squad written by educator and STEAM expert Rekha S. Rajan. Each book follows a family that travels the U.S. as first responders to natural disasters. The first book will be released in fall 2023.

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

NM: I love Mark Oshiro’s books so much and their latest is a fantastic middle grade debut called The Insiders that is so full of heart, some magic, and is all about honoring ourselves. And This is Our Rainbow just released and is the first LGBTQA+ anthology for middle graders with a wide range of stories and amazing authors! 

CL: Oh, good question. I recently read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera, and I could not put the book down. It’s beautiful, it’s emotional, and relatable for any young person simply trying to navigate life. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel Here’s To Us.

Interview with Author Chloe Gong

Chloe Gong is the New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and its sequel, Our Violent Ends. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York pretending to be a real adult. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok under @TheChloeGong.

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

Hello! It’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m Chloe Gong, the author of These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends, which is a Romeo and Juliet retelling duology set in 1920s Shanghai. I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this year, so now I’m a full-time author hopping along in New York City.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

I started way, way back, writing my first novel when I was 13! I gave writing a go because books and stories were a form of entertainment and escapism for me, especially because I always complained that I was soooooo bored in suburban Auckland. There were only so many times that my mum could take me to the library in a week, and once I tore through my book pile, I turned to writing stories instead of reading them. Creative writing was this outlet to create worlds for myself—I didn’t even think of myself as a writer until much later in high school.

Where did the impetus to write These Violent Delights come from, besides the obvious Shakespearean source?

I wanted to write a blood feud story mashed with the setting of 1920s Shanghai, so the Shakespearean source genuinely did come later! I was fascinated with the aesthetic of the 20s and Shanghai in the 20s in particular because my parents always talked about it as the city’s golden era in modern history. Then I did some research of my own and learned about the lawlessness and the gangster rule and everything being a result of imperialism after the Opium Wars, and it was just such a fascinating world that I wanted to work with it in fiction.

As an author who wrote These Violent Delights while studying in college, how did you balance your schedule between your classes and writing? Would you say your academic studies have influenced your creative projects?

It was hard! I had to do a lot of planning in advance, looking at my semester as a whole and pinning down which days I had assignments due so that it wasn’t clashing with my book deadlines. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it was certainly a lot of intense calendar-managing to make sure I was keeping a good balance. My academic studies influenced what I wrote for sure! Or rather, I would take classes in the sort of things I was interested in anyway, but my Russian Lit professor did get some very bizarre emails from me about duels and how people fought them in history.

How would you describe your crafting style, i.e plotting, pantsing, something in between, or something else entirely? How would you describe your typical writing routine?

I’m a very thorough plotter! I need things outlined before I can dive in, otherwise I find that I flounder a little. My outlines tend to look like Draft Zero too, and by that I mean I dump out everything I’ve imagined in the scene: the sequence of events, the dialogue, the character’s feelings, my behind-the-scenes craft work etc etc. By then, Draft One is the pretty prose run and I can focus on my language because the other heavy lifting has been done.

What’s your favorite cultural (film, book, etc.) adaption of a Shakespearean work, Romeo and Juliet and otherwise? Are you interested in writing any new stories based off the Bard’s work?

I really love the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. I think I’m going to stay in the Shakespearean retellings niche for some time, there’s definitely a lot to work with! I’ve written an Antony and Cleopatra retelling too, but that’s all I’ll say for now…

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

We have the darling Marshall Seo who is out as queer, described to have a Cheshire cat smile because he’ll be a ray of sunshine if you’re on his good side but he won’t hesitate to smack around anyone on his bad side. He has a budding romance with Benedikt Montagov, who is more hesitant toward embracing his identity because he’s an intense thinker and feeler living in his own head so much. And of course one of my favorite characters to write is Kathleen Lang—she’s a trans girl who is fiercely devoted to her family and will do everything in her power to protect them. I somehow accidentally gave her a line from Taylor Swift’s mirrorball before Taylor Swift even released mirrorball.

The central conflict is between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, Chinese and Russian groups respectively. What was the process like for you, writing about a culture that you were already familiar with versus one that you weren’t?

Most of the cultures I wrote about in These Violent Delights I’m actually quite familiar with! I included these groups because of Shanghai’s true history and I’m in Shanghai often (at least, in our pre-pandemic days), where the remnants of the 1920s immigrant groups are still around in what I hear about from my relatives or in the shops and areas I go to. I did a bit more nosing around on Russian words as opposed to Chinese words I already knew, but ultimately I just approached all cultures with a lot of respect and wrote on what I’ve researched and soaked in about Shanghai. In general, I actually read more translated Russian literature than I read translated Chinese literature!

In various interviews, you’ve discussed how intense the research process was behind writing These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends? Could you describe that for us?

I flipped through soooo many textbooks. I spent a lot of time very early in the process only absorbing information so that I could properly imagine the world as it was in history. That meant it came a lot easier once I was working on Our Violent Ends or on the spin-off duology that’s coming after that, because I already had the base work from all my heavy researching pre-These Violent Delights. 

What’s an interview question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were?

If I could fight any animal which one would I fight—and I would answer a salmon fish. I don’t know why, I just think it would be kind of funny.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

To keep writing and writing! Craft can only develop with practice—it’s truly impossible to get something right off the bat or in one go. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately as you want it to, and don’t buy into people who say they can teach you something fast. Writing is something that gets honed with time and effort.

Are there any other projects or ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?

In Fall 2022, I have a spin-off duology coming! Set after the events of Our Violent Ends, Foul Lady Fortune follows a character who we’ve already met in the previous duology, but we can’t reveal who until Our Violent Ends is out so that we’re not spoiling anything! But I always pitch Foul Lady Fortune as a political C-Drama meets a Marvel movie as it’s about two fake married spies infiltrating a corporate workplace to uncover an imperialist scheme, and I’m very excited to reveal more eventually.

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

Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie is releasing February 2022 and it’s described as a coming-of-age/coming-out story as Ophelia navigates the end of high school and contemporary lovers absolutely have to scramble to pick it up. And for SFF lovers, Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta is the most wild ride of found family and giant mechas in truly the best possible way so read it before the sequel Godslayers releases in June 2022!