Interview with author Tessa Gratton

Tessa Gratton is genderfluid and hangry. She is the author of The Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur, as well as several YA series and short stories which have been translated into twenty-two languages. Her most recent YA novels are Strange Grace and Night Shine, as well as the forthcoming Chaos and Flame. Though she has traveled all over the world, she currently lives alongside the Kansas prairie with her wife. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

Hi! I’m thrilled to be here. I’m Tessa Gratton, author of several SFF books in both young adult and adult categories. Most recently the adult fantasies The Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur, magical, queer retellings of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Henry IV part i.  My YA tends to be quiet, weird, and queer, like Strange Grace, a dark fairy tale about a town that sacrifices a boy to the devil every seven years and the three teens who decide to change the rules. My work has been translated into twenty-two territories, which makes my basement a real international library. I live on the edge of the Kansas prairie with my wife right now, but have lived on two other continents at different points of my life.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to the Young Adult medium and speculative fiction?

I’ve been a writer for all of my life, though I didn’t realize I wanted to be an author until I was in college. Then in graduate school I was having a really rough time—it was 2004, we were deep in the Iraq war, and my dad was part of the 3/25 Marines battalion. I was struggling with my family because of my queerness and just starting to pull apart my understanding of gender and how I relate to it. I also didn’t get along with my graduate cohort or professors. School and politics and culture wars were wearing down on me, and I realized that if I stayed on my path and went into politics, probably feminist lobbying, I’d just lose myself. So I had to step back and look at what I wanted, and decide how I could do it without giving up my integrity. I wanted to challenge privilege and make the world better, and I realized that what made me that way besides how my parents raised me to question everything, were the books I read as a teenager.  The SFF books.

I realized I could write the stories I’d always loved reading and writing for fun, and write them for and about teens. That was a way to do the work I needed to do. I’ve diversified into adult, but my heart is and always will be in kidlit. Teens are out there choosing who they’re doing to be, struggling with authority and fighting every day. I like to write for those kids, to give them stories about choice and love and longing to make the world better. And monsters and kissing, of course.

How would you describe your latest book, Moon Dark Smile? What inspired the story?

Moon Dark Smile is a genderqueer YA fantasy about a lonely heir to the throne and the dangerous great demon she kidnaps for a road trip through spirit-infested rainforests and volcanos ruled by ancient sorcerers in order to find a way to free themselves from the magical injustice that has been the foundation of their empire for generations—and maybe discover who they truly want to be, to the world, to each other, and even to themselves. 

In the book before Moon Dark Smile, titled Night Shine, one of the main characters is Kirin Dark-Smile, the Prince Who is Also a Maiden. He ascends to the throne, and makes a lot of changes to the court and how his people think about him and gender. I wanted to write the story of his daughter, both because the great demon of the palace was a loose thread from Night Shine, but also because I’m interested in intergenerational activism. In how change changes. Kirin changes a lot, but mostly cultural and personal, not much that is structural. Those structure flaws are the ones his daughter Raliel, the MC of Moon Dark Smile, sees. The conflict of the book comes from consequences of the personal and political choices that Kirin and his friends make in Night Shine. It’s very possible to read Moon Dark Smile as a stand-alone, because Raliel and Moon’s story is their own, but taken as a duology the two books tell a more complete story.

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

My favorite books when I was a young teen were Jurassic Park, The Vampire Lestat, Swordspoint, and the entirety of Robin McKinley’s works. I loved JP for how freaking cool it was, and I was a huge dinosaur nerd so the idea of it inspired me to really tear open my imagination. All of Anne Rice’s books felt queer to me, even when they were not overtly—especially the vampire books and the Mayrfair witches. There was something about the relationships and transformations that made me believe in queerness even before I realized that’s what I was getting from Lestat (and his awesome, oft-forgotten mother). Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint is about a bisexual swordsman in a fantasy world and his wild queer lover—it’s the first book I read that was overtly queer, and weird, dangerous, and wonderful. And it had a happy ending! I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ellen as an adult and meeting her was incredible. Robin McKinley is a hero of mine, because of how she has always maintained her voice and vision in her novels—they are crafted delicately and center relationships and a hero who is coming into their own. They’re perfect fairy tales.

I can’t ignore the influence Vanyel Ashkeveron, the gay wizard in Mercedes Lackey’ Valdemar series, had on me. I was obsessed with him, and with the unapologetic way those books depicted gayness. It was part of the fantasy culture, and Vanyel was not only so gay, he was the most powerful wizard. It was possible to be both! That blew me away as a kid. I didn’t hold on to Vanyel as long as the others, I think because at the end of the day it was a tragedy. Beautiful, meaningful, but still awfully sad. I needed that when I was figuring out who I was, but once I got it in myself better, once I had tasted a little bit of queer joy, I wanted that more than I wanted the catharsis of tragedy.

These days I watch a lot more television than I used to, and it’s very balanced with my reading. I am drawn to stories about relationships and magic, and always have been. My favorite current shows are The Untamed, a Chinese drama based on a xianxia boy love web novel filled with rival families and betrayal and dark magic and very soft queers, and Star Trek: Discovery, which not only has some of the best writing and acting on TV today, but just keeps getting more and more and more gay! That’s fitting, because the first time I saw myself really on TV was in Jadzia Dax, from Deep Space Nine. She was absolutely canonically genderqueer in the late 1990s. The way the show used her alien species to be overtly queer blew my mind—it normalized genderqueerness in a way that, honestly, I still barely can find on TV. Unless it’s on ST: Disco.

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

In general I draw inspiration from my daily life—from nature and exercise and my wife and family. I draw it from music that makes me feel a certain way, or from shows and books that make me ask questions and wonder how I would do it, and what I am desperate to add to that conversation. For Moon Dark Smile I listened to a lot of dreamy music, piano and strings, some dramatic soundtracks like Sunshine. I wanted the world to feel like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and I listened to those soundtracks and watched interviews with Hiyao Miyazaki to remind myself that I could still create when burned out or stressed (I wrote the whole book from proposal to finished draft during the pandemic). I read a thousand fanfics about two specific characters to be inspired by how a relationship can be inherently the same, inherently satisfying, even if the circumstances and entire world changes every time. To break myself out of the habits that were no longer serving me.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Follow your curiosity. Learn everything you can about whatever you want. Write, but write anything. Just keep doing it, and redoing it. Go on adventures when it’s relatively safe, whether it’s to a neighboring river or the other side of the world. Don’t be afraid to take the occasional risk, as long as you aren’t risking others. Talk to people who aren’t your neighbors or family or friends. Then listen to them. Read books in translation. Read books that have been popular for hundreds of years or just a few in other countries. Read whatever sparks joy. Practice being yourself, then practice still when who you are changes.

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

I am deeply excited to say that I wrote a Star War! It’s called Path of Deceit and it comes out in November. I can’t tell you anything else about it, except there are queer characters filling out that galaxy far, far away.

Next March I have another book I co-wrote with my friend Justina Ireland called Chaos and Flame. It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance fantasy book with dangerous prophecies, mad princes, velociraptors and kraken, lots of sword fights, assassination attempts, ancient magic and, of course, kissing.

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

Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and the sequel, which are about what might have happened if the zombie apocalypse started during the Civil War.

Adib Khorram’s Kiss & Tell, about the gay member of a popular boy band.

Natalie C Parker’s Seafire trilogy, and her upcoming middle grade debut The Devouring Wolf, about some queer kids who also happen to be werewolves in Kansas.

A few incredible adult queer SFF books:

Shelly Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun

Martha Wells’s Raksura series

Of course Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and the other books in that series, especially Tremontaine, which I also worked on for a few stories. Everybody is some flavor of queer, and it was glorious to work on, and I hope even better to read.

Interview with Author Zoe Hana Mikuta

Zoe Hana Mikuta currently attends the University of Washington in Seattle, studying English with a creative writing focus. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where she developed a deep love of Muay Thai kickboxing and nurtured a slow and steady infatuation for fictional worlds. When she is not writing, Zoe can be found embroidering runes onto her jean pockets, studying tarot or herbology, or curled up with a cup of caramel coffee and a good, bloody but heartwarming book. She is the author of the Gearbreakers duology (Gearbreakers and Godslayers).

I had the opportunity to interview Zoe, 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 Zoe Hana Mikuta, and I’m a YA author. I’m 22 and finishing up my undergrad English degree at University of Washington. Gearbreakers and Godslayers make up my first series!

What could you tell us about your series, Gearbreakers? What inspired the story and the world you’ve created?

The Gearbreakers duology is about renegade kids taking down 200-foot mechas (worshiped as deities). It has found family, enemies to lovers, and a sapphic romantic subplot between the two main characters—I found both the Asian and LGBTQ representation within the sci-fi genre to be severely lacking growing up. I was definitely inspired by dystopian media, and the entire plot of Gearbreakers stemmed from the bare initial need to write giant mechas. I built all the characters and the world. 

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

My writing process involves a lot of self-talk—it really is a practice in focus. Putting my phone in the other room or getting off the internet helps a lot. One of the most challenging parts of drafting for me is embracing the idea of the messy first draft, rather than editing as I go, which I think makes me harsh with myself. But when I get in a good flow, there’s nothing else like it. I’ll look up and three hours have passed.

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

Shirley Jackson reigns queen in my head, of course. Alberto Mielgo, who directed Love, Death + Robot’s Jibaro and The Witness. Anyone and everyone who worked on Over the Garden Wall. 

As an author, when and where do you say you first found your interest in storytelling? And what specifically do you do with speculative fiction, especially mecha?

I think the earliest book I can remember reading that made me go “I want to do something like that” was Because Of Winn Dixie, which I read in the third grade. I was a big Percy Jackson and Spiderwick Chronicles kid, too, just a big reader in general. From very early on I knew that writing was the art I got the biggest kick out of. I think watching Pacific Rim in the theatre was a big turning point for me, too, into the sci-fi and mecha genre. Now I basically flip out whenever there’s giant robots in any of the media I consume. 

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

I have a big interest in religion as a sociological feat (runs in the same vein as the study of literature, in that regard!)—I’m a History of Religion minor, and really big into philosophy even though I absolutely despise it at the same time. I aim to make Kierkegaard roll in his grave. I also dream of having a house with a little front garden. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

I mentioned this earlier for myself, but embrace a messy first draft. Make it terrible, and then make it better, but not all at once. 

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

Rabbit & Sickle is my third book, my current work in progress. It’s a fantasy horror, Alice in Wonderland retelling meets Attack on Titan, super bloody, super sapphic (read: there’s feral Saints in Wonderland Forest!). 

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

The Malice duology by Heather Walter, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Scapegracers by H.A. Clarke. 

Interview with Illustrator Keezy Young

Keezy Young (they/she) is a queer comic artist and illustrator from the Pacific Northwest, currently in Seattle, WA. Today, Keezy writes, draws, and designs their own young adult comics. Their stories are cute, eerie, and often dark, but almost always hopeful at their core. Their work is character-focused, and they use action, romance, and mystery to explore LGBTQIA characters and themes, since those are the stories they always looked for growing up, but could rarely find.

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

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

Hi, I’m Keezy! I’m a queer comic artist and writer from the Pacific Northwest who loves telling stories about eerie, creepy stuff in a loving and hopeful way. My first graphic novel was Taproot, originally published in 2017 (and re-released in July 2022!), and I’m currently working on Hello Sunshine, which comes out with Little, Brown in 2025. I also do short comics and artbooks between my big projects!

As a graphic novelist, what drew you to storytelling through comics, and why specifically Fantasy?

I’ve been drawing for my whole life, ever since I was running up and down the stairs and using crayons on the walls. I came to writing a lot later, but I was always having ideas that I couldn’t quite manifest through a single illustration, so when I found picture books and comics, I was immediately drawn (ha!) to them. 

And I always loved fantasy, too. I like being able to explore an idea through a different lens than usual, whether it’s me coming up with the idea or somebody else. It gets me thinking about the world in new ways.

As an artist, one of the comics you are best known for is your comic, Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost? Could you tell us what inspired the story? And would you say you have any particular experience or connection with gardening/nature itself?

I grew up in the forest and spent a lot of time with my mom in her garden, so I’ve always felt connected to the world that way. And when I was a kid, I felt ostracized and unloved by the world because I was queer, like my childhood was taken from me in a way, so I wanted to write something for myself in the past–putting those two things together, my happy memories of gardening, and queer love, was really cathartic for me. 

And like most of us, I’ve lost people. One of my very earliest experiences of death was my neighbor, a reclusive older man who I only really saw once. I was maybe 6, and had tripped and dropped my pea seedlings on the way home from the bus stop, was crying with scraped knees, and he came out to help me pick them up and put them back in my cup and make sure I was okay. He was kind and gentle, and that memory will always stick with me, even though it was a small thing. He died of suicide a couple of years later, but I will never forget that day, because it’s had ripple effects throughout my life. So I don’t necessarily want to say I’ve been inspired by death, but both his life and death, and those of all the friends who I’ve lost since then, have been with me for a very long time, and Taproot was partly a way of making peace with those losses. 

What are some of your favorite parts about this story?

I think it’s easy to only want to see life in nature and growing things, but death is just as important, and nothing ever truly ends with death, it just changes. I think Hamal using his necromancy to make things grow could be seen as a good guy thing to do, but it’s still upsetting the balance, because death is a part of life that you can’t deny or get rid of. 

I also really like drawing plants.

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

I try to find inspiration from everywhere, but music is a big one for me. I love wandering around listening to music and daydreaming, and it’s where a lot of my ideas come from. Of course, I also gather a lot of inspiration from other people’s creativity, as I think most of us do!

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

One of my favorite elements is when I’m coming up with ideas, losing myself in a different world with different characters, exploring my own feelings and experiences through someone else’s eyes. I also love finally getting to put those ideas on paper and see the things I love come to life so I can share them with others.

My biggest challenge is perfectionism. When I lose sight of what I want and believe in, and start worrying only about what other people want to see, or what other people will think of my work, that’s when things start to get really jammed up. I’ve gotten better at shoving those feelings away over time, but I still struggle with it sometimes!

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

A lot of people ask about my identity as a queer comic creator, and why I tell LGBTQ stories–there’s nothing wrong with this of course, but I would love to be asked about other aspects of my life and storytelling more often! It might be kind of simplistic, but one question I’m surprised I’ve never been asked is “why do you never draw cloudy, rainy days”: the answer is that I grew up in western Washington and we’ve got plenty of those as is haha. 

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

Imperfect is better than unfinished! (Or alternatively, ‘shitty is better than incomplete!’) The most important thing about your story is not how perfect it is, it’s that your story deserves to be told. Give people a chance to love it, and they will, no matter how amateur or unrefined you think it is. 

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

I’m currently working on a new graphic novel called Hello Sunshine (Little, Brown 2025) about a group of teenagers trying to find their missing friend. As time goes on, they realize something strange and supernatural is going on. It’s a story about mental illness and family, both found and blood, and most importantly, love of all kinds. And of course it still has queer characters and plenty of hijinks!

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

Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish is fantastic, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki is one of my favorites.

Interview with Author Alechia Dow

Alechia Dow is a former librarian and pastry chef living abroad with her partner in Germany. When she’s not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her daughter, baking, reading or taking teeny adventures around Europe.

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

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

Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Alechia Dow, and I’m the author of The Sound of Stars, The Kindred, Just a Pinch of Magic, a couple of short stories, and more to come. I’m also a former pastry chef, and youth services librarian. 

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

I started writing very terrible stories when I was five years-old. My teachers would write reports home that I wasn’t paying attention in school, but they liked my creativity. I wrote stories about cats in trees and one called Princess in a Jar, where a princess was––you guessed it, trapped in a jar by a wicked sorcerer, ha! Truthfully, though, it was the town library that inspired me the most. I considered the town library my home and the librarians my friends. One day I was going through their MG/YA section and I stumbled upon X-Men comics. I devoured them. I fell in love with the themes, the characters and especially the powers. From there, I read Star Wars books, R.L. Stine, anything compelling, but almost always scifi-fantasy. After baking school, I went into library science, specifically for teens. I’ve always felt that the library and books saved me and that MG/YA fiction is *the* place to inspire a lifelong love of reading. When I started writing stories again, that’s where I found my voice and where I thought I had something to contribute. And I have to say, it’s an absolute privilege to write in this age group and about children and teens. I know how impactful a good book can be at that age, and I hope, somehow, my books inspire compassion, empathy, and future writers!

How would you describe your general writing process?

Straightforward, ha! I sit down and I write. I have a clear idea of what I’m doing or what I’d like to accomplish and I do it. Also, I stay excited about my projects, I visualize them like movies. As I see particular scenes unfold, it not only helps me write them, but also get really pumped about the overall story. Basically, I get excited, I visualize, down to as many details as I can, and then I write it. Sometimes I’ll outline, but not until I’m about 3-4 chapters in. 

Where did the inspiration for your first book, The Sound of Stars come from?

The Sound of Stars was that book that just felt right to write. Out of nowhere, I was inspired by the idea of a secret, illegal library. Which got me to thinking, why is it illegal? And then it evolved over the course of a long walk into a story about a rebel librarian and an alien who loves music. This is often how my mind works, one minute I have a fragment of an idea, and the next, it’s a full-fledged plot bunny that I tend to follow on the page.

Also, as an aspec reader, I’m always grateful for more asexual/demisexual representation in books! Would you mind discussing what it was like bringing that representation to the page?

I think writing elements of my own identity is really natural, almost easy. Sharing it with the world, though, is the difficult part! It’s so important to be inclusive and to give meaningful, unharmful representation, but my brain is constantly worried that someone might read that and be upset that their experiences weren’t similar. Or it doesn’t resonate with them. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine writing another way. So to answer your question, bringing that representation to the page means the world to me and I love writing it, but I also try to be very careful and thoughtful about how I approach it.

In addition to demisexual rep, you’d mentioned in other interviews how personal your writing was to you in terms of reflecting Black and body diverse characters. Would you mind speaking a little about that?

Growing up Black and fat, there weren’t a lot of characters that looked like me, or experienced the world like I did. And some of those that did were villains, dehumanized, and hated. When I finally saw myself on the page in a non-harmful way, that was huge for me. I felt less alone. I felt seen and heard. It inspired me. Now when I write characters––most of my main characters are Black, fat, queer, brown, experience mental or chronic illness––I take a loving approach to it. I want my readers to feel proud of who they are and their bodies. I want them to see people like us being the main love interest, having adventures, saving the world, and living their best lives not despite their identity, but because of who they are.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Kindred and its inspiration?

The Kindred is a story about mind-linked grumpy duke, Felix, and commoner sunshine Joy, after they flee their home when they’re accused of murdering the royal family and crash-land on Earth. It is a love story that explores what it means to be connected when everything and everyone tries to keep you apart. I loved that aspect of Sense8; being mentally paired with someone across the world (or universe) and how this would make you feel as if you’re never truly alone. That you’re seen and loved for who you are by someone you’ve never truly met. It was a pleasure to write.  

From what I gather, food is also a big part of your books and your life as a baker. What yummy foods would you say will be featured in your writing, and what are some of your favorite things to make IRL?

Being able to combine my two careers (three?) is such a cool thing. Becoming a professional pastry chef was intense and taught me a lot about sensory details which honestly helps so much when I write about food. Whether I’m featuring a can of sweet baby carrots in The Sound of Stars or chocolate covered raisins in The Kindred, I get to have fun with how characters engage with food and describe it. In Just a Pinch of Magic, I got to include some of my favorite recipes like Should-Be-Famous Hot Chocolate and Ooo-Girl-You’re-In-Trouble Chocolate Chip Cookies! In real life, I’m always darting between the kitchen and my computer. I love making time-stealing masterpieces like baked Alaskas (making homemade ice cream is my favorite) and developing recipes for simple sweets like chocolate glazed doughnuts, apple scones, or new types of pie. It’s an absolute joy. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Keep writing, even when it’s hard. Find your people. Find CPs who understand your work, and you can trust with a piece of your heart. Find friends who you can trust with your anger and who make you feel good even when you lack self-confidence. Celebrate every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but be prepared to get it, and not in the ways you always want. Stay excited about your work. And lastly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else and JUST KEEP WRITING. Rejections will come and they’ll make you doubt yourself, your writing, and your future…but if writing makes you happy and you have a story you want to share with the world, please write it. There’s so much in the publishing industry you can’t control, but the one thing you can do is write. 

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

I think my writing tells a lot about me already, haha! Let’s see, I have a dog named Biscuit, I’m a mom to a very opinionated (the love of my life) eight-year-old, I will travel for food, and I listen to music probably as much as I write and bake!

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

Q: If The Kindred was a cookie, which one would it be? A: The Kindred is a story about love, friendship, and finding harmony. So I would say it’s a raspberry linzer cookie; the linzer dough doesn’t taste all that great on its own but paired with tart raspberry jam and sprinkled with a little cardamom & cinnamon sugar, it’s beautifully balanced. Like Joy and Felix, they go better together than apart.

Can you tell us about any new projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

Just a Pinch of Magic, my middle grade debut, comes out in Fall 2023. It’s a magical foodie book that is so much fun and has a big piece of my heart! I’m currently working on more YA scifi, middle grade mystery, a foodie paranormal YA, and so much more. I stay busy, lol.

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

I love Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love, MK England’s Disasters, Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Crownchasers & Thronebreakers, everything Kalynn Bayron writes, Lora Beth Johnson’s Goddess in the Machine duology, Claire Winn’s City of Shattered Light, Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King, and Adiba Jaigirdar’s collected works as well. I have so many more!!