Category Archives: Better Know an Author

Better Know an Author: Rin Chupeco

You’ve been seriously busy these past couple of years! But let’s focus on your newest release first: the fabulous The Never Tilting World, your YA fantasy that released on October 15 and has been billed as Frozen meets Mad Max: Fury Road. What drew you to this story, and were either of those movies in fact inspirations?

I love the aesthetics involved in Mad Max: Fury Road, and wanted to construct a world where those aesthetics would feel right at home. There’s a lot of sparseness to Fury Road that I wanted to emulate, and what strikes me is that the lack of any specific settings never detracted once from the story. In fact, the absence of any concrete locations is what helps propel the story – all Furiosa knows is that she must make it to the mythical Green Place, and is disheartened to find that it’s long gone. For the same reason, both Odessa and Haidee are trying to get to the Great Abyss, the center of Aeon where the worst of the destruction had happened, because they believe there’s something there that will help them figure out how to heal the world. Their hope is what pushes the story forward, too.

TNTW is a little different from Frozen in that, while it’s a story about two sisters, both Haidee and Odessa haven’t even met each other yet. Both begins their travels with an idealized idea of what their sister must have been like, what kind of a family they could have been, and it’s their motivation to try and make the world a better place, because its destruction is what tore them apart in the first place. And it’s a great way to highlight their similarities and their differences with each other before they even meet, so readers get an idea of what kind of relationship they could have as they barrel toward the story’s climax!

There are four characters who really take center stage in The Never Tilting World, including an f/f couple. What one character in the group would you trust to take you to the end of the world, and why?

Right off the bat, it’s not going to be Arjun. We are too similar in personality, which is why I know I can’t trust him for crap. His only advantage is that he’s got a better sense of direction than I do, but we are going to drive each other wild snarking on each other and ignoring all the warning signs and wind up getting eaten by a monster goldfish or something.

Odessa’s a bit too sheltered to understand how the world works at the book’s beginning, and Haidee will be too distracted by the possible automata she could be building en route, and also she will be absent-minded enough to bring helpful inventions to aid on the trip, but not enough food and water. So it’s definitely Lan I’m going to trust, because she’s a responsible leader who is also an excellent healer, scout, fighter, and tracker…. as long as we’re not making the journey on a ship.

You had another work out just before autumn hit, which happened to be in His Hideous Heart, an anthology I know a little bit about. “The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is such a cool and different take on one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous stories, and one you completely made your own, including setting it in the Philippines. Can you share some details about it that are especially meaningful to you?

Boracay was where I, four months pregnant with my first kid, was when Typhoon Haiyan hit. It was one of the first places in the Philippines where it made landfall, and considering that it was a super-typhoon – well, you can only imagine the destruction we saw, and the destruction we barely managed to avoid. Boracay had always been my safe place, in a way – it’s a gorgeous beach, I know how to avoid all the noisy party areas and where to go so it feels like you’ve got the whole place to yourself. That’s where my mind goes when I feel stressed and want to recharge. But that changed a lot after the typhoon, and I started to look at it as a place where bad things could and do happen, even though it’s still one of my most favorite places in the world. Edgar Allan Poe is a huge inspiration to me, and I thought it would be great then to marry a tribute to him with the one place that I know best. Most of the locations in the story are actual places in Boracay, down to the drinking challenges at the bars and the cafe where you can get calamansi cupcakes (although of course, I wish there were eldritches and fairy beer there, too!) One of the murders in my story though, was based on an actual murder of a trans girl by a US marine that made national news (and I can’t really say much else beyond this, because spoilers!).

But wait, there’s more! In just a few months, you have another queer YA fantasy coming, this one with a gay male MC. What can you tell us about Wicked as You Wish?

WICKED AS YOU WISH was seven years in the making, and it’s about a Filipina teen descended from the Filipino mythical heroine Maria Makiling, who winds up helping a young Avalon prince defend his kingdom against the Snow Queen. It’s my “what if fairy tales were real historical events” storyline that I’m really proud of.

My deuteragonist is Alexei Tsarevich, a prince with a HUGE chip on his shoulder, mostly because he’d witnessed his parents’ murder, had to flee his own kingdom when he was five years old, had to watch his kingdom freeze for twelve years, making it inaccessible to all and worrying about any survivors still inside, and had been bouncing from one hiding place to the next, because many governments are searching for him and the powerful spelltech patents his family own. (because yay, capitalism.) To make things worse, he also has a curse where everyone he kisses turns into a frog – excepting Tala, and he cries when he realizes there’s at least one person in the world he couldn’t hurt. He’s kind and loyal and supportive, but he also harbors a lot of survivor’s guilt, and also guilt for many other things he’d had to do to survive. He’d always believed his family’s most powerful weapon, the firebird, had been destroyed decades ago – so when it comes for him on his eighteenth birthday, he now has to deal with suddenly being given the power to change his destiny for the first time in twelve years. Sometimes he does that poorly, and often a little too aggressively to make up for the feelings of vulnerability that had been a constant to him over the years, but I think this is also why I like him very much. Like Lan and also like me, he deals very poorly with trauma, and I wanted to emphasize the different ways people process that, because those ways have happened to me.

One of the most interesting things about watching your career is seeing you thrive thousands of miles away from the so-called center of YA publishing. What’s it like building a career in American publishing from Southeast Asia, and what’s the bookish scene like in the Philippines?

The writing community in the Philippines is a lot similar to the one in the US, I think, albeit in a smaller scale. A big difference though, is that many writers prefer local publishing, which I find personally disheartening. There’s a lot of good stories here waiting for an international audience, but I also think colonial mentality plays a big part in the reluctance. We’re used to looking at the US as something infinitely grander, so we tend to think the works that we do pale in comparison to the works abroad, and that’s not the case at all. This was the mindset I had to unlearn because it’s very prevalent here, but that might also be because I had big dreams and wanted to write for a living, which would not have been possible with the local publishing industry. As odd as it sounds, my name is probably recognizable in the US pub field, but not in my own country. So many people have assumed I’m American simply because I published abroad, and most local panels I’ve done always inevitably wind up with people coming up to me and going “wait what, you’re Filipino?! You’re not visiting from the US, you actually live here?!” There’s a lot of other factors, too (my books are too expensive for many, I don’t look like a typical Filipino and my last name is more of a Chinese-Filipino hybrid, looking down on children / teen books – yes, this isn’t just an American thing – or looking down at books written in English and not in Tagalog) but what IS heartening is the number of writers here who do know me and started querying agents because they saw it was possible. That’s what I want to encourage more of!

What other books do you recommend for queer Southeast Asian rep? What would you still really love to see?

I can’t answer this question without talking about Gail Villanueva and My Fate According to the Butterfly, because I think it gives the best perspective on Filipino culture and issues, primarily the drug war here, and there are some relationships between Sab and important people in her life, including gay supporting characters, that breathe life into her work. America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo is about trying to define your own Filipino-American identity along with also being queer. For other Southeast Asian but not queer-centered, there’s also Hanna Alkaf and her gorgeous poem of a book, The Weight of Our Sky, and I can’t help but tear up just thinking about this. But speaking specifically for Philippine gay rep though – as I mentioned before, that’s the most frustrating part. There’s so many LGBTQ+ books here in the Philippines, many of which try to navigate being gay while at the same time still being Catholic – and often in humorous tones, because Filipinos find a lot of solace in humor – but they’re virtually unavailable to most people outside of the country. There’s Tagalog books written to make people laugh, like Happy Na, Gay Pa (“Not just Happy, But Also Gay”) by Danton Remoto, or something that explores the issue more seriously, like Don’t Tell My Mother by Brigitte Bautista, but as a whole it’s not something people outside of the Philippines can very easily find.

What’s your first recollection of LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media, for better or for worse?

I don’t think there’s been any one specific recollection that I remember, because I grew up with LGBTQ+ prevalent enough in local media. While that sounds like a good thing, considering that the Philippines is a very highly conservative country that doesn’t even have divorce laws yet, much less abortion rights or marriage rights for same-sex couples, it’s also very problematic. You’ll see a lot of gay celebrities and gay representation in TV series, but the mindset seems to be treating them for their entertainment value, not for them as people. You’ll also see problematic depictions of them (the one I remember most clearly as a kid was this movie called Barbie: Maid in the Philippines, which is a pun. A straight cis man pretends to be a female maid because he’s on the run, and gets into hijinxes. It’s like a weird combination of Some Like It Hot and Mrs. Doubtfire. They shot this movie across from my house, and I actually have old pics of toddler me being held by some of the actors, so I remember it well.) So it’s “you can give them rights in movies and other media, but you can’t make that official in law”, which has always been the strangest thing to me. I’ve seen some LGBTQ+ people enforce this opinion even, like “I shouldn’t be given rights because it’s against the Bible and so it can’t be officially legal – but as long as no one’s stopping me personally to be the way I am, it’s fine”. There’s a lot of Catholic guilt to unpack.

I know fandom and gaming are big parts of your life. What in particular are your great loves?

I feel like I’ve been in every major 90s and early 2000s fandom that’s ever been made, from Buffy to Harry Potter to Deadwood to even the really niche ones like Kindred the Embrace or Harvey Birdman. Star Trek is my first and biggest love, but I think the one with the really biggest impact to my life is probably anime, simply because so many people here were into it. Almost everyone in the Philippines with a working TV know what anime is, and we love it. (There was this popular variety program / gag show that has one frequent skit that satirizes televangelist Bible readings, and they used the Voltes V theme song as their ‘religious’ song to open, and it’s hilarious how so many people here can sing it from memory. Heck, we celebrate a Naruto Day.)

Anime was really the gateway drug that opened me up to gender fluidity. Ranma 1/2 in particular was very eye opening, but not necessarily the way I wanted it to be. This is about a martial artist who falls into a cursed spring, and now he turns into a girl when he gets hit with cold water, but turns back into a boy with hot water. The whole plot is about him trying to find a way to undo the curse, and I always wind up mentally screaming at him. Like – “You can TURN into a man or a woman! That’s a BLESSING! Why are you trying to get rid of this blessing?! I would kill for this power!” And that opened doors into understanding deeper definitions of fluidity beyond just the binary, for me. Anime really made me understand the gay parts of me I didn’t realize I had. I was defined by series like Gravitation (which was really gay boy porn for girls and it’s so embarrassing to remember how teen me was so hot for the main character, who was also an angsty brooding traumatized bisexual AUTHOR) and Revolutionary Girl Utena (lesbian swordfighting! personally, I believe Utena walked so that Gideon the Ninth could run). Video games really emphasized that too, particularly with my favorite category, mmorpgs / multiplayer rpg – I could subsume myself into the personality of a male berserker instead of being limited to say, a female healer. I was always the main (male) tank / defense for group runs with friends, for example, and that grew to be my trademark class.

As we stare into the abyss of 2020, what upcoming queer titles are you most excited for?

Is it too early to be super-excited for Harrow the Ninth??? Also, Reverie, The Gravity of Us, and Belle Revolte! I’m still only just starting on amazing 2019 titles as it is, including Crier’s War and Her Royal Highness, just because I’ve been so busy!

author

 

Rin Chupeco wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. She now writes about ghosts and fairy tales but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. She was born and raised in the Philippines and, or so the legend goes, still haunts that place to this very day. Find her at rinchupeco.com.

Better Know an Author: Candice Montgomery

You may have already heard me hype Candice Montgomery a million times, but honestly, it’ll never be enough. Their voice in YA is like nothing else out there, and if you haven’t yet read their work, I hope this’ll convince you to dive in! (If not, just read the acknowledgements of By Any Means Necessary, which just released on October 8 and is basically a master class in voice all on its own.) Especially if you’ve been looking for more queer and/or nonbinary Black voices and/or Muslim voices, have I got some wonderful news for you. So please welcome the utterly fabulous Candice Montgomery!
New book! New book! It’s well documented that I’m obsessed with Torrey and By Any Means Necessary, but could you please share a little about your sophomore novel and how it came to be for those who didn’t get an early read?
HAAA! It is absolutely well documented that you run my literary (and personal) life better than I do.
So, By Any Means Necessary is a story about a newly minted college freshman. He’s hyped and ready to take on his new town up in San Francisco, and nervousness—though present!—takes a backseat. That is, until he gets news that the apiary he owns back home, by way of his late uncle, is being seized.
So he’s torn between taking on this new thing that’s only about Torrey himself (and also maybe a little about a certain dancer boy named Gabriel) and going home to a place that’s chewed him up raw, all to save his uncle’s legacy.
The idea for BAMN came to me when a friend and I were on the phone talking about gentrification and how it was affecting us directly, as individuals. And then, common to our conversational flow, we segued into talking about weird hobbies for main characters. She talked about her characters operating a vineyard and I suddenly had the idea for a character to run a bee farm where his struggle (getting stung constantly) and his desire to be free (flying away from the hive he knows) would mirror his hobby. In Torrey’s case, his passion.
Queerness (and specifically queer characters of color) also feature in your debut Home and Away, which has a kickass female football-playing protag and a wonderful male love interest who happens to be bi. What would you say draws Tasia and Kai together, and in your mind, where are they now?
I think Taze and Kai are opposite sides of the same very big coin. And that’s what works for them. Kai brings out Tasia’s looser side and she not only lets Kai just be who he is, but she actively enjoys it. It’s basically just two teens who don’t feel they fit in finding out that they actually DO. With each other.
In my mind, Taze and Kai are still very much together but also attending separate colleges about an hour from one another. Taze is playing ball for Cal and studying Pan African Studies and Kai is over at the San Francisco Art Institute taking the art world by storm. And making Taze laugh while he does it.
For readers looking for even more of your published work, you’ve got a fabulous story in Habibi, the all-Muslim anthology edited by Hadeel Al-Massari and Nyala Ali, starring a Muslim girl who’s managing both depression and her feelings for her best friend, a trans guy named Aaron. What made this the story you wanted to tell in this collection in particular?
Oof! Thank you! I love that story and that anthology so much. Don’t forget about that one by the way. It’s got big plans for the future.
But my story in Habibi is called “Love God Herself.” And it’s a story I wanted to tell because a muslimah (now) friend of mine tweeted on a trending about wanting to see hijabis who are questioning their faith, who are bucking back against traditional Islamic partnerships, who are depressed and not instantly healed, all—MASHALLAH!!!
I reached out to her. Asked her if she’d write it. And then she turned around and asked ME if I would.
And speaking of anthologies, we’ll get even more Cam goodness in 2020 when you feature in the upcoming all-queer anthology Out Now: Queer We Go Again!, the contemporary followup to All Out, once again edited by Saundra Mitchell. What can you tell us about your story for that collection?
My story for Out Now was honestly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. I’m so in love with it. I struggled for months with it and then one night it all just poured out of me, start to finish. I didn’t even read it through before I sent it off to Saundra; I was already so past deadline. Twice. And from there, I didn’t get asked to make any structural changes to the story, either. Just a few grammatical things. It’s a raw story and probably the best thing I’ll ever write. It’s about a skateboarding enby who has a crush on a girl whom they think will NEVER notice them. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. But the main character will take you all the way through it.
Cam Anthology Goodness of 2020 Part II has you breaking into MG in Once Upon an Eid! What was it like to write for a younger audience, and is it something you could see yourself doing in longer form?
First—CAM ANTHOLOGY GOODNESS OF 2020! YESSSS. ONCE has been such a fun process. It was just happy-making anytime I worked on it. This was my first time writing ANYTHING MG. And immediately after my story was submitted, I started drafting an MG novel of my own. It’s on hold for a moment, but I’m 12K words deep and still sooo excited about it.
You’re such a great advocate for more midlist authors and especially for other queer/trans Black authors, and QTAoC in general. What books and authors would you love to see get more attention, and what queer books have meant a lot to you as a both an author and a reader?
Oooh! I love this question. There are a few key QTAoC that I’d undoubtedly return to religiously, one of whom being Rivers Solomon (they), author of An Unkindness of Ghosts. It is the queer Afro-futurist fic of my marshmallow heart. And I wish I’d written it myself. Also entirely jealous of this human’s 12-ton talent: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (they). I should say that these are some pretty heavy novels, though. But I think anybody who reads them will be made better for them. My heart needed ’em.
And if we’re talking books that formed me as both an author and a reader—it’s not fiction, it’s a memoir. But my favorite book in the world, the reason I was able to tell my family I’m queer, the path through which I found my label as a Pansexual person—it’s Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. Yes, it’s a memoir. Yes, it’s horrifically heartbreaking. Yes, it ends in a way that will ruin your entire week (lololo). But also… it’s romantic in ways I’ve never seen expressed on the page before.
What’s your first memory of LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media, for better or for worse?
Glee. It was, unfortunately, when Glee introduced Kurt and… the kid with the chin and the hair? Blaine? My mom and my little sister and I would watch it together every week and I remember sitting in strained, awkward silence with them, while such an explicit and open GAY display moved across the television. We never talked about it. I just wanted it to be over, not for my discomfort, but for theirs. My mom and sister’s. I wanted to tone down my relationship to queerness in order to make others more comfortable.
And as far as I knew, out of the 3 of us, I was the only one who connected to it. (spoiler: my little sister is out and openly panromantic polyamorous).
As someone contributing to a couple of great collections next year, what would be a dream project for you specifically to helm? 
I absolutely have an answer to this… but that’s all I can say for now. Stay tuned! 😉
What can you share about what you’re working on right now?
Right now, I’m pulling my own teeth out trying to draft a new YA romance about two Black teens who explore their ancestry through Hoodoo and Voodoo. It’s difficult. And it’s unlike anything I’ve written before.
***
Candice “Cam” Montgomery is an LA transplant now living in the woods of Seattle, where they write Young Adult novels. Their debut novel, featured on the 2018 Kirkus Best list, HOME AND AWAY can be found online and in stores now, and their sophomore novel, BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY was released earlier this October. By day, Cam writes about Black teens across all their intersections. By night, they bartend at a tiny place nestled inside one of Washington’s greenest trees. They’re an avid Studio Ghibli fan and will make you watch at least one episode of Sailor Moon and listen to one Beyoncé record before they’ll call you “friend.”
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Better Know an Author: Katherine Locke

I am so thrilled to have Katherine Locke on the site today, not only as one of my best friends and not only as one of my favorite authors, but as one of the editors of It’s a Whole Spiel, an anthology in which I happen to be a contributor and which releases on the 17th from Knopf! Here’s where I’ll mention that you can see us both at Books of Wonder in NYC on September 17th and Children’s Book World in Haverford on September 19th! And now, on to get to better know Katherine Locke! (Which, by the way, you can also do as a Patron at the $10+ level, as they’ve also done an interview there!)

Happy It’s a Whole Spiel month!

Thank you!! I’m so excited it’s finally here 😀

Of course, I have a little more insight into this one than usual being that I’m a contributor to this all-#ownvoices Jewish anthology you coedited with Laura Silverman, but for those a little less in the know, can you share a little bit about the process of editing it, and about the queer stories in it?

36511766._sy475_Yes! Spiel is Laura Silverman’s brain child. She called me in February 2017 and wanted me to co-edit this anthology with her. I was fresh off finishing my story for Unbroken (edited by Marieke Nijkamp) which had been a tough story for me to write (personally, but also from a craft perspective, I hadn’t written short stories since college and hadn’t read much either, to be honest.) But I said yes right away. We worked really collaboratively on putting together the author list, the proposal, and then the editing of the anthology.

It’s been a really interesting experience. There are four explicitly queer stories in it, all by out queer authors–Alex London wrote about a gay boy at summer camp who falls in love with a fellow camp counselor, while also trying to make sense of a crisis aboard the space station, one of his favorite nerdy topics. David Levithan wrote a really moving story about a Jewish boy’s coming of age, falling in love, and how that weaves through being Jewish too. It has lines that brought tears to my eyes and lines that made me sigh. It’s lovely. Hannah Moskowitz’s short story is about a Jewish girl who is dating a more observant Jewish girl, and grappling with her eating disorder on Yom Kippur. Hannah writes with this beautiful sparse language that really guts you, and this story really showcases that. I love that it’s the story of two girls dating and religious observance all tangled up together (with a good serving of self-acceptance and taking the first steps toward recovery mindset as well.) And my story is also queer!

Your own story has some A+ queer content, including a non-binary sibling who undergoes a religious coming-of-age ceremony. It’s a great example of how queerness and religion intersect, and I’d love for you to talk a little about that!

Yes! Davey, the younger sibling to my narrator Gabe, is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. I used B’nai Mitzvah for the name of their coming of age ceremony (for non-Jewish readers, Bar and Bat Mitzvah are gendered (as is Hebrew) after consulting with a rabbi and parents of nonbinary kids. I really loved writing Davey and writing Gabe’s interactions with Davey. Gabe’s fiercely protective of his sibling (a theme that comes up a LOT in my work). Gabe identifies as cishet, but there’s another character, Yael, who is the moderator of the fandom website Gabe haunts, who is also nonbinary and uses they/them but online only. That’s all I can say without spoilers!

Of course, this isn’t your first queer work (or even your first Jewish queer work); your most recently published novel, The Spy With the Red Balloon, is a dual-POV set during WWII and told from the perspectives of two Jewish siblings, one of whom is a bi girl and one of whom is a demi boy in a relationship with another boy. How do you go about writing historical with identities that didn’t have the terminology we have now, and in what ways does their queerness impact the story you’ve told?

38650956I struggle a lot with terminology in historical fiction. A lot of it, including phrases which marginalized people used to self-identify, would be considered slurs and harmful now. And sometimes, people just didn’t have the language we have now. I try to describe how they feel instead, being as precise as possible. I was more vague with Wolf (my demisexual MC in Spy) at first and my editor asked me to be MORE explicit. I balked at first, mostly because I think it’s hard to describe demisexuality on the page (I am demisexual and I wrote Wolf’s ID largely from my experience). But I’m glad I did because that’s been something readers really connected with. But Wolf uses the word ‘queer’ because that’s the word that came up frequently in my research that I could be comfortable with, versus other words I wasn’t comfortable putting on the page. Ilse doesn’t have the word “bisexual” but says she likes some girls the way she likes some boys.

Spy was the first time I’d written queer main characters. I really loved writing those queer relationships that felt bold and brave and hopeful in that book because a lot of that book is grim and dark. When I think about the book, I think about those quiet, gentle moments between those characters–Ilse and Polly’s first kiss, Wolf asking Max if he volunteered to be a pilot because Wolf was on the mission, Ilse teasing Wolf and Max, the last scene that I can’t talk about because spoilers. Those relationships got me through the dark parts of writing the book. And they were often the first scenes to come to me. Writing SPY was a really hard process and I wrote it in a pretty chaotic fashion. But Ilse and Polly’s first kiss has been there from the first draft, written exactly as it is now. Those are the lights in the dark. (Tl;dr: writing the queer relationships in SPY gave me the same joy writing fanfic does.)

Like our most recently featured author, you’ve got a short story in the upcoming Out Now, edited by Saundra Mitchell. What can you tell us about it?

Ahhh! I can tell you…that technically it lives in the same universe as my short story in It’s A Whole Spiel! There’s an overlapping coffee shop, because queer coffee shop AUs are the best? The Out Now story is called ‘Seditious Teapots’ because the main character, Rory, collects teapots. They don’t drink tea. They just like teapots. (Their mom does not get it.)

I’m not sure everyone realizes this, but back when YA Pride had a book club, you were its spectacular moderator! Any advice for someone seeking to do a queer book club, and any recommendations that sparked particularly interesting conversation?

Yes! I did that for many years, actually. I would use this lovely website, LGBTQReads as a great resource, if I was running a book club now. And I would talk and communicate with the group members! Some people really don’t want to read any stories in which queer characters come up against tragedy or hate, and that’s totally fair! Some people aren’t into coming out stories. That’s also okay. It’s good to know what your group’s hard limits are. Book recommendations: all of Ashley Herring Blake‘s books sparked great conversation, as did A Line In The Dark by Malinda Lo. I think that one makes a particularly good book club book because it gets that true crime x lgbtqreads crossover. Plus that cover literally sends shivers down my spine.

Your books require a lot of research, and your writing schedule requires a lot of discipline. What are your favorite resources for looking up historical details, and your favorite resources and tricks for staying on track?

I wish I had all the discipline my writing schedule requires! I do a lot of reading for my books. I think the book I’m researching now is going to end up being about 22 books in total. And then there’s the movies, tv shows, articles online, and interviews. I borrow books from the library when I think I can read it, get the general gist and won’t need to touch it again. I buy them when I think I’ll need to reference them again and again. I have a pretty good memory so for the most part, I highlight and bookmark. I only write down the timeline of the events because I do not have the brain for dates/years/times/etc (a problem for my previous two YA novels which were time travel books…)

I have a rule that I read 3 sources before I begin, and the rest I read as I go along. Otherwise, I’ll drown in the research and never surface to write the book. So I usually try to read an overview of the time or event, a personal memoir or biography, and then something broader about that time period in the world OR the time period right before the time period I’m writing about (history builds on what came before it. You can’t write historical fiction and only read about that ONE time period.)

I flag things in manuscripts as I first-draft so that I don’t slow myself down. Part of my problem is my brain gets distracted very easily (ADHD, and also, our brains are being rewired by our technology to have shortened attention spans). So if I open up a tab to look up a street name, I’ll end up with ten tabs open, buying a rug, researching swimsuits, and in a twitter argument. It’s best if I just put [STREET NAME] in my document, and fill it in later in revisions. Everything can be fixed in revisions. EVERYTHING.

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you recall in media, for better or for worse?

I think Jack? From Will & Grace. I can’t think of one earlier. I certainly didn’t read one in books until college, I think. Or one that I recognized. I suppose in retrospect there’s a lot of queer coding that I did not catch.

Naturally, you’re one of my favorite people to talk upcoming books with, so I have to ask: what are you really excited about this fall and in 2020?

OKAY. I’m excited for everyone to read The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (which has a gay protagonist!) because it is simply stupendous. I’m also excited to read Gideon The Ninth which I’ve heard great things about. I have not read, but am absolutely dying to read, King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender. Kace is one of my favorite kidlit writers (they also have an adult novel called Queen of the Conquered coming out this fall I think that I want to dive into!) and King looks lush and magical and heartfelt. I am also DYING-ACTUALLY DYING to get my hands on Julian Winters’ next book How To Be Remy Cameron! I loved his debut, Running With Lions, so much and I just want to shove his books into everyone’s hands. And I’m excited to read By Any Means Necessary because bees! (BEES!) Also: Crier’s War. That’s on my list. (I’m just scrolling through pre-orders right now.) Jackpot by Nic Stone because the voice in Dear Martin blew me away and I just want to get sucked in like that again. OH and The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd Jones because I try to read one creepy book each year even though I don’t do creepy well, and this is my pick this year. But I’m in it to win it because I’ve been promised an undead goat. [Blogger’s Note for readers: Those last three are not queer books, AFAIK, though both authors do have other queer work! I forgot to specify the queer part in my question.]

Also I hear there’s a really amazing Edgar Allen Poe anthology that’s coming out? His Hideous Heart! That’s the one. So I guess I’m going to get creeped out TWICE this fall. *shivers* *buys more blankets and hot chocolate to make up for it*

What’s up next for you?

*nervous laugh* UHHHHH. It’s A Whole Spiel is out on September 17th, and Out Now is out in May 2020. I am breaking out in my picture book debut in spring 2021 (!!!). And right now, I’m hard at work on another novel! It’s adult, historical fantasy (similar vein as the Balloonmakers books but with a weirder magic system), and I love it very, very much. It’s so weird. It’s so historical. That’s my favorite.

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Katie Locke April 2016-21Katherine Locke lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of The Girl with the Red Balloon, a 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and 2018 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book, as well as The Spy with the Red Balloon. They are the co-editor and contributor to It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories, and a contributor to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairytales in disguise. They can be found online at KatherineLockeBooks.com and @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.

Better Know an Author: Julian Winters

I’m so thrilled to have Julian Winters back on the site today, this time as the guest of honor! You almost definitely already know him, given he’s become quite the darling of YA even before debuting with Running With Lions last year, thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for books and support for their authors, but now you can get to know him even better as we await the release of his sophomore novel on September 10, 2019, from Interlude Press! Come say hey to Julian Winters!

Congrats on the upcoming release of How to Be Remy Cameron! Please tell readers a little about it?

Thank you! How to Be Remy Cameron is coming of age story about an out-and-proud seventeen year-old-boy named Remy Cameron who’s always been comfortable with who he is. He’s president of his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, has a very supportive family, and a diverse group of friends. When he’s assigned an essay in AP Literature about “Who Are You?” that will decide whether he makes it into his dream college, Remy’s forced to examine the labels associated with him and whether he truly knows who he is.

If you were sticking three post-it notes onto the cover to share your experience of writing it or your feelings on having it out in the world, what would they say?

“Be Yourself.” “Queer AF.” “Overjoyed.”

You, of course, debuted with Running With Lions, which is such a delightful mix of sports, romance, bi rep, and friendship, but is also pretty rare in being a male-authored queer YA rom-com. What was your path to publication like, and what’s response to the book been like? And, maybe more importantly, what’s your favorite soccer team?

My path to publication didn’t follow the traditional route. At the time I was writing Running With Lions, there weren’t many queer male authors being published in YA. I had one goal for Lions: to reach at least five queer teens who needed to know that they could be anything in life. But I didn’t see that kind of story being pushed in the major publishing houses—so I researched independent publishers and found Interlude Press. Independent presses provide the leverage needed to tell the story of your heart with all the support found in major publishing houses.

The responses to Lions have been overwhelming. From the bisexual teens who needed to see themselves on page more to the queer Muslim community who needed a character like Emir, it’s been incredible. It’s also been amazing to have so many athletes who didn’t have a queer YA sports book get so excited for this book. To know I’ve been able to give so many people a reason to smile, cry, or know they can accomplish things has blown me away.

As far as favorite soccer team, I’m a hardcore UCLA fan.

You’re also something of a pioneer in being a queer Black male author in YA, which we’ve discussed on the site before is one of the least heard voices in the category. In the time following this post, of course, there’s certainly been an increase (two of the contributors to this discussion have since landed book deals, as has Jay Coles, and I hope/imagine there are more I’m missing), but clearly there’s still a long way to go. Why do you think it’s still such rare representation, and what are some stories you’d still really like to see?

Oh, I remember reading that article and feeling so inspired! For once, I didn’t feel alone. It meant the world to me.

I’ve always wonder why there aren’t more queer Black male voices in publishing. Part of it is our intersectionality. We’re just beginning to get more Black voices in general out there. We’re still fighting to get more queer voices telling our stories out there. It’s almost an either/or situation where the intersectionality is erased in favor of one or the other. But there are so many talented queer Black male voices that need to be heard. We have so many stories to tell. I’m excited for Ryan Douglass and Kosoko Jackson to debut. I’m ready for more Jay Coles. I want us to have fantasy novels starring queer people of color. We need mysteries, horror, queer Black boys in space, romcoms. I’m ready for more Black male voices, period.

Speaking of stories! You’re a contributor to All Out Now, the upcoming all-queer YA anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. What can you share about your contribution?

I’m so excited to be apart of All Out Now! My short story is one I rarely see but needed—a positive father/son coming out moment. It’s very special to me because it’s a Black father/son moment, which we rarely see because of the stigma within the Black community surrounding queerness. I won’t spoil everything but it’s a little bit romcom and a lot of heart.

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember seeing in media, for better or for worse

The character Hollywood in Mannequin. It’s kind of funny but also sad that I share this with Shaun David Hutchinson, who wrote about Hollywood in his YA memoir, Brave Face. In the ’80s, queer characters were painted two ways: either as a joke or as a tragic character. We weren’t taken seriously, we didn’t get happy endings, we fell in love with the wrong people, we died. I didn’t recognize that growing up because I was surrounded by a community that didn’t welcome LGBTQIA+ people. I was embarrassed by Hollywood, especially as a Black male terrified to come out. But he’s one of the reasons I write the stories I do. Because we deserve better.

You’re really getting into publishing as queer YA is wildly on the rise. What have been some recent favorites for you, and what are you so excited for coming up?

I have so many favorites, so this list isn’t complete but: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Disasters by M.K. England, Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig, Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson, How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom by S.J. Goslee, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Keep This To Yourself by Tom Ryan, Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. And so many more!

I’m super excited for Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, By Any Means Necessary by Candice Amanda, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, Reverie by Ryan La Sala, Monster of the Week by F.T. Lukens, Ruinsong by Julia Ember, Red Skies Falling by Alex London, The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, Until You Come Back by Jay Coles, Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson, Crier’s War by Nina Varela, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia, Jake In a Box by Ryan Douglass… should I keep going?

It’s hard to miss, if you know any queer YA authors and go to their events, that you’ve certainly become a favorite human among them. What do you think makes for a great queer YA author community member/literary citizen?

Listen, be supportive, be kind, and hold the door open once you get in. I cannot stress the last one enough. As a queer author, our numbers are limited. It’s even smaller for queer POC. We must get past this mindset of only holding the door open for our inner circle/friends. This world is not built on the voices of select people. The publishing industry is not an Olive Garden on Mother’s Day. There are plenty of tables and seats for everyone! We can’t think that if we let someone else in, our spot will be taken from us. We can’t reserve seats for our friends. Every reader needs a book they can pick up and feel valid, understood, loved. They can’t find it in only one group of authors’ books. They need a variety. We must be willing to help each other so we can help them.

After Remy Cameron and All Out Now, what’s up next for you?

A nap! I have a short story in the Up All Night anthology, edited by Laura Silverman. There’s an unannounced project coming from Interlude Press. I just finished something that I’m really excited about but, of course, I can’t talk about it. I will say this: comic geeks, gamers, Pride, convention shenanigans, and Queer AF!

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Julian Winters is the best-selling author of contemporary young adult fiction. His debut, Running With Lions (Duet, 2018), won accolades for its positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow—volleyball and soccer. How to Be Remy Cameron is his second novel.

Better Know an Author: Sam J. Miller

Sci-fi fans undoubtedly need no introduction, but I’m gonna go ahead with one anyway and welcome Sam J. Miller, YA and Adult author, to the site! It’s been quite a past couple of years of awards and category-jumping, and I’m thrilled to have landed him the month of the release of his sophomore YA, Destroy All Monsters. Come get to know Sam J. Miller!

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Congrats on the new release! Please tell us a little bit about Destroy All Monsters, and especially about Solomon!

Destroy All Monsters is the story of Ash, a regular teenager in the real world, who is trying to save her best friend Solomon from a mental health crisis. But it’s also the story of Solomon, a gay teenage photographer who lives in a city full of monsters and magic, who is trying to save his best friend Ash – the Refugee Princess – from a conspiracy trying to destroy all magic. As their quests progress, these two worlds begin to collide. There’s some of me in all my characters, but Solomon definitely has a big piece of my heart – a gay Jewish boy trying to make art and make sense of the world around him while struggling with mental illness.

I’m selfishly so happy to have you back in YA; I was afraid we might’ve lost you back to adult SFF for good with Blackfish City, but you manage to juggle both so well! In sci-fi, a genre that always seems to be a bit more nebulous than others when it comes to what age means, how do you decide what’s a YA story and what’s an adult story?

Well thank you for that, but YA will never lose meas a reader and as a writer I spend a lot of time here! In a lot of ways, I don’t really see a difference. It’s not about “mature content”I feel like my YA has more sex than my non-YA! And it’s not just about the age of the protagonist, although that’s a big factor. I guess if the story can be told exclusively through the eyes of young people, it’s probably YA. But if I need to get into the heads of lots of people to tell it, and venture into the lives and concerns of folks who are older, it might not be. But who knows! I’m still figuring out the rules of genre, and marketing categories. I wrote a story I thought was science fiction, and they gave me a horror award for it, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Speaking of Blackfish City, it’s been so thrilling watching it sweep up so many accolades! For those who aren’t familiar, can you give us a quick sum-up of the story, and then tell us what it was like to get nominated for eleventy different awards for it??

In a post-climate-change future, where rising sea levels and wars for resources have transformed the globe, floating cities are constructed in the Arctic, where polar melt has opened up the interior for resource exploitation. Qaanaaq is one of those cities, essentially a giant oil rig where a million people live, and one day a woman arrives in town with a polar bear and an orca, on a mission… maybe of bloody revenge. And wackiness ensues! As for the award nominations, that was pretty surprising to me, because – like a lot of artists from marginalized communities – I spent a long time being told that my stories were not universal stories, that they would only resonate within my own community, and if I wanted to get a broad audience I’d need to step outside the ghetto of “gay stuff.” My work has always been extremely queer, and so no matter how many accolades it gets, I never ceased to be shocked that folks respond positively to stories about oversexed irresponsible gay boys, lesbian grandmas, gender nonbinary folks, and so on.

Of course, you came onto my radar with your YA debut, The Art of Starving, which is so marvelous and powerful, I knew immediately you were an author to watch. What made you decide to dip into YA at that point and with that story, and what has reaction to it been like?

I’ve always adored YA, going back to getting totally messed up by The Chocolate War when I was twelve. Just like Disney movies, I never understood why they have this reputation for being juvenile or saccharinelike Disney movies, they’ve always been dark and terrifying and sad. And while I’d written a YA novel already at that point, it was pretty closeted (and not so great)I thought I’d never be able to publish the dark queer edgy sexy stories I wanted to tell. Luckily I studied under Holly Black and Cassandra Clare at the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop, and they convinced me that folks were really pushing the envelope for queer rep in YA, and that I should do what I want, tell the stories I needed to tell. And I did! And people were into it! And I’m still kinda shocked.

Queer Adult SFF is a spot of ignorance for me, so whenever I have an expert here, I must ask for recs. What are some of your major faves, and who are some authors to watch, in your opinion?

OMG SO MUCH GREAT STUFF!! JY Yang, Carmen Maria Machado, Lara Elena Donnelly, Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, Ruthanna Emrys, Ellen Klages, Indra Das, Richard Bowes, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Kai Ashante Wilson… I know I’m leaving out tons of folks and IT IS KILLING ME. We really are living in a beautiful moment where tons of queer SF/F/H is being writtenand published!by tons of incredible diverse writers.

Shifting away from your written work for a minute, you’re one of my favorite people to follow on social media because I feel like I just never know where you’re gonna suddenly pop up with some gorgeous photograph, especially throughout New York. What’s your favorite travel spot and why?

Awwww, thank you! I love to travel, and have lots of favoritesThailand, India, Iceland, the Dominican Republic. But even here in NYCa friend of mine told me that I photograph my home city like I’m a visitor here, and I kinda love thatwherever you go, even your own back yard, there’s tons of weird wild shit to capture if you just try to look for it.

Please explain “He got married in a guerrilla wedding in the shadow of a tyrannosaurus skeleton” from your longform bio on your website. Immediately. 

Well, gay marriage became legal in New York State in 2011, and my husband and I had been together for almost ten years at that point. We decided to get married, but we wanted to honor our rebel queer heritage with a guerrilla wedding, without permission, that incorporated elements of direct action. I’m a community organizer, after allorganizing protests is what I do. And we both love dinosaursA LOT. So on our tenth anniversary, we decided to go to the Natural History Museum here in NYC and get married under the tyrannosaurus rex. I told my mom, wear comfortable shoes, we might need to run from the cops. I also trained one of my friends in how to be a police negotiator in case security rolled up on us, so he could buy us some time to get through the ceremony. Security did roll up, but they thought it was awesome.

What’s your first memory of LGBTQIAP+ rep in media, for better or for worse?

It was definitely for WORSE, even though it’s a musical I adore: A CHORUS LINE, which we saw on Broadway at some point in the 1980s. There’s a gay character in it, and his father kicks him out of the house. I was young, under 10, and it had literally never occurred to me that something could make my father love me less. I remember it made me super sick to my stomach. As it happened, I didn’t need to worrymy father responded with nothing but love and support when I came out to himbut the shame and suffering I’d seen gay characters suffer in A CHORUS LINE and other media did make my coming out so, so much more difficult. Which is why I’m so committed to providing positive representation and emotional validation in my own work, and supporting it in the work of others.

What’s up next for you?

My fourth novel will come out in 2020it’s called The Blade Between, and it’s not YAit’s a supernatural thriller, sorta like a House of Cards as told by Stephen King, about folks fighting gentrification in a small town while being manipulated by people they don’t know are ghosts… of whales. Still editing it, and it’s super exciting. So, that, and SHORT STORIES! I love them, and I miss them. Noveling takes up a lot of time.

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Sam J. Miller is the Nebula-Award-winning author of The Art of Starving (an NPR best of the year) and Blackfish City (a best book of the year for Vulture, The Washington Post, Barnes & Noble, and more – and a “Must Read” in Entertainment Weekly and O: The Oprah Winfrey Magazine). A recipient of the Shirley Jackson Award and a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, Sam’s work has been nominated for the World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, John W. Campbell and Locus Awards, and reprinted in dozens of anthologies. A community organizer by day, he lives in New York City.</p>

Better Know an Author: Kristen Arnett

Today on the site I’m so excited to have Kristen Arnett, author of the flamingo-covered book everyone is talking about. (And if you think you haven’t heard about it, consider whether you’ve seen the words “lesbian taxidermy” cross your timeline at some point.) Believe the hype, because Arnett is a master of nailing that rare combination of brutal but funny, open and honest but dry and self-protective. It’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read in a long time, with an opening that knocked me flat on my ass. If you don’t believe me, you can go ahead and check out The New York Times or Autostraddle or any of Kristen’s brilliant essays, but you can also just go ahead and check out this interview, as long as you’re here!

First, though, let’s check out this debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, releasing tomorrow, June 4, by Tin House Books!

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Books & Books

And now, come meet the author, Kristen Arnett!

Let’s begin with the stuffed elephant in the room – your first novel! Mostly Dead Things has one of the most viscerally memorable openings I’ve read in a long time. How did this story of a lesbian taxidermist taking over the family business following her father’s suicide become The One after all your years in essays and short fiction? And please God can you share a little about your taxidermy research?

I was busy working on a short story about a brother and sister who attempt, and fail, to properly taxidermy one of their neighbors goats. At the time, I was doing a lot of weird internet deep dives into fucked up terrible taxidermy. It was funny to me, and I also loved the idea of writing about two siblings fighting over something as bizarre as a dead goat, so I sat inside that story for a while. When I was done, I realized I wanted to keep thinking about them: the characters, the setting, their relationship dynamics, all of it. So I decided to toss out that story and see what I could do with these characters in a broader sense. And that eventually became the novel!

With regard to taxidermy, I am a librarian, so research is a natural path my brain loves to take. When it came to looking up taxidermy, I spent a ton of time online: videos, chat rooms, web forums, etc. I also bought a lot of old school taxidermy manuals and read through them constantly. I wanted all the work I was having the characters do on any animal to not only feel authentic, but to seem hyper realistic. I wanted to make absolutely sure everything felt just right!

Speaking of short fiction, your fiction came a couple of years ago with felt in the jaw. For those who’ll be discovering you through Mostly Dead Things, what are some themes you see rising up in both works? Is there a particular story in that collection that’s closest to your heart, and if so, is it the same one you felt closest to when it first released?

I definitely want to write about the queer lives of women. By that I mean I am interested in something that I’ve called “the lesbian domestic.” I wanna see the day-to-day interactions of queer women in households. I know that theme filters into all of my work because it is something I also want to see as a reader. I am also deeply interested in bodies – tactile sensations, physical forms. That crops up over and over again in my work. Also Florida! I’d say all of these themes coalesce in much of my writing, but particularly in the title story from that first collection. I felt it exemplified all of the things I was trying so desperately to write about when it comes to queerness in a household: relationships between queer women, household dynamics and their breakdown, and the actual landscape of a Florida backyard.

Of course, you’re also well-known for your personal essays; I don’t think anyone could make the Olive Garden and 7-11 sound quite as poignant as you do. What’ve been your favorite and most unexpected reactions to your non-fiction work?

I would say the thing that has been the most surprising and what I have absolutely enjoyed the most in hearing from readers is that they have identified with Florida in my work. Specifically, I have loved hearing that from other Floridians. It is always so dicey, trying to write lovingly (or maybe not-so lovingly, maybe writing something in a raw, painful way) about home and the places where we live and live in us. So whenever I am putting my version of Florida out there, I always get that little worry that people won’t understand it, or maybe it won’t sit right with them like how I envisioned it in my own head. I have been so lucky in that, because the people who have read my work for place have all been so thoroughly encouraging about it. Not only that, but they share with me their own stories of Florida and home. That is very precious to me, so special. I feel like it’s just an even bigger kind of community, but through writing, and it makes me feel so glad.

Fellowships! Residencies! I’ve always wondered what it’s like to truly surround yourself with an environment dedicated to honing your craft and to experts in it. Do you have a favorite experience or anything that’s particularly notably emerged from those times? 

I’ve been truly lucky to have experienced several residencies over the course of my writing career. I would say one that really stuck with me as a place that allowed me to get a tremendous amount of work done was my residency at the Millay Colony. It’s located in upstate New York and is pretty secluded. I decided to drive myself up there all the way from Florida, stopping midway in Virginia. I had never driven alone that far by myself before and took it as an opportunity to sit with myself and really try and think about things – my writing, my work, my relationships to those things. And when I got there I was able to still spend so much time in solitude. It truly gave me the time I needed to kind of fix my mind in the new directions I was trying to take it. I got so much from that residency. I know that I am lucky that I was able to do it – not everyone can afford to take time off from work like that, so I especially tried to appreciate every single moment of it.

What’s the first queer rep you saw that really resonated with you? Is there anything you’d still really like to see?

My first experience in queer reading was sitting down with Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina. It was the first book I’d ever read where I just sat and thought, “wow, here I am – I see myself in here.” The writing was so raw and bare. It was a revelation for me. It’s the book I read that made me know I wanted to be a writer. I love all of Dorothy’s work for sure, but I can think about that book any time and still have that feeling in my chest, that huge heart glow that made me feel just a tiny bit less alone.

I would say I am always reading looking for other queer writing that makes me feel like I am experiencing the day-to-day dynamics of queer relationships. I am much less interested in reading coming out stories and would just love to see more narratives that focus on how dynamics sit between queer people in a family, in a household, in a region, in a place. Those little moments of time, smaller pockets. I am forever searching for that as a reader. Also I would love to see more queer horror narratives!

There’s a lot of talk about how adult fiction, particularly literary fiction, is harder to find online, and as a blogger for a site that tries to cover it all, I certainly can’t argue with that. How do you stay on top of queer lit coming out, and is there any you’d particularly like to recommend, or are especially excited to read?

I would say that I try and search for it, for sure, but there are places I definitely go to hear about new queer lit. One of those places is Lambda Literary. I also have a large community of queer writers who I trust and value their opinions, so I am forever picking everyone’s brains when it comes to new work. There is also a ton of queer poetry out there now that I am obsessed with and I don’t think gets talked about as much as it should. Tommy Pico’s entire body of work is a revelation. I wish everyone could read every single book of his! I love T Kira Madden’s memoir that dropped in March, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. Also Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy that drops very soon! Jaquira Diaz has an essay collection dropping as well called Ordinary Girls. That’s very queer and also VERY Florida.

And finally, perhaps most important question: what is, technically, the best ravioli?

Human beings are the finest raviolis on the planet.

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Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She was awarded Ninth Letter‘s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction, was runner-up for the 2016 Robert Watson Literary Prize at The Greensboro Review, and was a finalist for Indiana Review’s 2016 Fiction Prize. She’s a columnist for Literary Hub and her work has appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Electric Literature, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, Literary Hub, Volume 1 Brooklyn, OSU’s The Journal, Catapult, Bennington Review, Portland Review, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her debut story collection, Felt in the Jaw, was published by Split Lip Press and was awarded the 2017 Coil Book Award. Her novel, Mostly Dead Things, will be published by Tin House Books in June 2019.

Better Know an Author: Jen Wilde

With her third book on the horizon (Going Off Script releases May 22nd!), Jen Wilde has quickly become one of my favorite YA authors to read and recommend. She’s always a reliable summer read with heaping doses of warmth and queerness, and this year is no exception! She’s here to share a little more about her upcoming book, publishing f/f, and the golden age of television. Please welcome Jen Wilde!

First things first, let’s talk about your newest book! Going Off Script is your freaking adorable and super-current upcoming release about a lesbian named Bex who’s still kind of in her coming out process as she joins a writer’s room and has her work not just stolen by straightwashed. This feels like a book that had some strong inspiration; can you talk a little about that?

wildeoffscriptIt definitely had some strong inspiration. I tend to channel a lot of my anger into my writing, and at the time I was working on Going Off Script, I was pissed about how many queer characters were being killed off on popular television shows. Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t seen Supernatural, but Charlie’s death is what really set this story into motion for me. And of course, the #BuryYourGays movement inspired much of this book. I wanted to write a character who launches her own version of the movement from inside the industry.

While it’s only a quick mention in the book, there’s the suggestion that Bex will somewhere along the line progress into questioning her gender identity as well, and I loved the way that was done; it felt true to me that figuring out who we are, especially in adolescence, is a multi-phase process. Who is Bex to you, and who do you think she’d be in a sequel set a few years down the line?

Bex is still learning about herself and who she is. She’s figuring out that certain clothes make her feel more herself, more comfortable in her own skin, but right now that’s as far as she’s thought about it. Exploring your gender identity really is a journey, and at the moment she’s still in the early stages of it. It feels true to me, as someone who’s own gender identity exploration began with clothes and how I expressed myself through fashion. I see a future for Bex where she’s identifying as a non-binary femme, and THRIVING. I picture her at red carpet events rocking floral suits and looking badass!

Pop culture obviously plays a huge role in your work, from social media to music to television. What are your favorites in the arenas you explore in your work?

We are in the Golden Age of Television right now, and I am loving it! My list of favorite shows is constantly being updated almost as fast as streaming services add new content. Right now I’m loving Special, Dead to Me, Brooklyn 99, The Bold Type, and Big Little Lies. But I’m also a huge fan of reality TV, especially Bravo shows like Real Housewives. Oh, and Game of Thrones, of course!

You’ve very quickly become one of the most prolific authors of feel-good queer YA, which is no small feat, especially since when Queens of Geek released in early 2017, there wasn’t nearly as much lighter f/f fare as there is now just a couple of years later. What’s the experience been like for you as one of the first authors to break out in this specific way?

wildeqogWow, thank you so much for saying that! What a huge compliment. Personally, I’m just so damn excited to see more f/f books coming out – not only as a writer but as a reader! While there’s still a ways to go, it gives me hope to think about how far we’ve come in just a few years. But it’s important to acknowledge the writers who inspired and paved the way for all of us. Authors like Nancy Garden, Nina LaCour (Everything Leads To You has a special place in my heart and is one of the reasons I started focusing primarily on writing f/f), Jacqueline Woodson, Malinda Lo and of course, YOU, Dahlia! (Blogger’s Note: *blush*)

I do also want to visit that aforementioned earlier work. For those who are just getting to “meet” you now, how would you pitch Queens of Geek and The Brightsiders?

Oooh, good question! Fellow author Mike Jung described my work as a “pop culture funhouse” and I love it, so I would definitely pitch Queens of Geek as that. As for The Brightsiders, I’d pitch it as an epic rockstar romance filled with paparazzi scandals and the best group of friends anyone could ask for.

You’ve shared quite the personal queer journey online in these past few years. As someone who also uses the internet very centrally in her books, what do you see as the role of social media in queer life and in queer art?

wildebrightsidersI’m pretty open about my life online (maybe too open? *shrug*). But I believe there is strength in being vulnerable. It’s the fastest way to realise that you’re not alone, that there are others going through similar challenges, and maybe together you can make it through. I think social media has been both a sanctuary and a hellhole for queer life and art. On the upside, it has allowed people to find a sense of community, friends and even family – the kind they might never have found in the real world. On the downside, hate and bigotry have also found a home online, and sometimes it feels like it can drown out all the good. But I try to focus on the upside – or at least use the hate as fuel to keep fighting and writing my anger into my work.

What’s the first memory of LGBTQIAP+ representation in media you recall experiencing, for better or for worse?

The first memory that comes to mind was when Ellen came out as gay on her sitcom. I was young so I don’t remember much, but what stayed with me was the initial excitement and conversation in the media leading up to that monumental episode. I remember the magazine covers, the interview with Oprah, the huge build up…and then it getting cancelled shortly after it aired. The message that sent to me as a kid was coming out = rejection. I’m sure there’s a whole generation of queer folx who can relate to that!

Any recent or upcoming queer books you’d like to recommend, or that you’re particularly excited about?

Oh god, there are so many amazing queer books blessing us this year. I’m so freaking excited! A few on my radar are If It Makes You Happy, by Claire Kann, These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently working on ideas for my fourth (!!!) book, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone once it’s ready!

JenBioPicJen Wilde is the YA author of QUEENS OF GEEK, THE BRIGHTSIDERS and GOING OFF SCRIPT. She writes unapologetically queer stories about geeks, rockstars, and fangirls who smash the patriarchy in their own unique ways. Her books have been praised in Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed, Autostraddle, Vulture and Bustle. Originally from Australia, Jen now lives in NYC where she spends her time writing, drinking too much coffee and binging reality TV. Follow her online @jenmariewilde.

Better Know an Author: K. Ancrum

It’s a new month, and that means hanging out with a new author, in this case the positively brilliant K. Ancrum, whom you might know from her incredibly intense and beautiful debut, The Wicker King, or from her tender and alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming sophomore, The Weight of the Stars, which releases on March 19! Whether you’re already a fan or you’re about to become one who just doesn’t know it yet, come along and meet her!

First of all, congrats on the upcoming release! For those who haven’t been lucky enough to read The Weight of the Stars ahead of time, what would you like them to know about it?

Its a tender love story about two girls standing in the wreckage of their parent’s circumstances who find a way to learn how to face the same circumstances “harder better faster stronger”.  If you’ve seen the movie Interstellar, its like… if the movie was about Murph growing up, but from the perspective of another girl who thought she was super hot. I wrote this book because I wanted to make a soft and precious love story for the huge HUGE turn out that the WLW community had for The Wicker King. I really hope I did them justice with this one.

Of course, The Weight of the Stars isn’t your first queer YA, as you debuted with your fabulous and wildly intense and thoughtful The Wicker King, which is so much about co-dependency and mental health at its heart. What drove writing that book for you, and who do you really hope finds it?

Like many authors who write about difficult contemporary circumstances, I wrote The Wicker King from a lot of personal experience. I really wanted to explore the nuance between Jack’s colorful display of physical illness and the dramatic and incredibly realistic portrayal of August’s descent into mental illness. That sliver of a line between August’s experience with Jack and how readers processed August as a child who desperately needed help and whether or not they would recognize that he did was very personal to me. That aside though, I really hope that it finds teenagers who have noticed a friend struggling, adults who are in positions of power who need that extra push to intervene when something doesn’t seem quite right with the teens in their lives and, and I haven’t mentioned this at all before but: I also hope that older MLM find the book because a significant amount of my older MLM readers have said that August’s struggle with his orientation really resonated with them in a specific and very gentle way. And I think that’s very precious ,so I hope more older MLM find The Wicker King.

One thing that’s great about your website is that you’re really into sharing information on your publishing journey with your readers, which I love. What do you think are the most important bits from yours for other aspiring authors to know? And what’s been your favorite moment of the journey so far?

There are still posts there from when I almost gave up writing The Wicker King, or was struggling with whether I wanted the book to be explicitly Bi because I was afraid it wouldn’t sell. Mostly because I wound up pushing through both of those insecurities to find myself where I am now. But looking back: reading the plaintive cries of a younger me, the soft worries and requests for help, is such an encouraging thing. It really makes me want to pull myself up and march towards an uncertain future.

I think my favorite moment of the process is reading all of my edits. I have had the incredible luck to have had two a hilarious and great agents and 3 hilarious and great editors. I love flipping through the pages of my book and seeing comments like “Oh my god”  at the chaotic things my characters are doing. There is this one scene in particular in The Weight of the Stars, where the MC spontaneously realizes that she’s had a crush on her love interest the whole time and she has a full on hysteria fit about being really gay for her in a car, and one of my editors wrote that she screeched through reading the scene and I remember reading that comment and laughing so hard.

I really really love the team that helped me build both The Weight of the Stars and The Wicker King and hope I can continue working with them as long as possible.

In The Weight of the Stars, we get some really wonderful aspects of queer representation that aren’t often found in YA. What felt really important to you to have in this story, and why?

I ride or die for found families. Found families are such a huge part of western queer culture and modern western queer history that its an honor to continue the tradition of their representation. Mostly-LGBTQ friend groups providing familial love and support, shoulders to cry on, homes to crash in, food to eat and physical affection is so pure, so precious and so important.

I also feel like there is a yawning chasm of butch characters in F/F. The Weight of the Stars gives you Soft Butch with Alexandria and Butch with Ryann, for people who are familiar with those terms and with those identities. F/F is already rare and tends to sell less than M/M (for a multitude of reasons), so this isn’t meant to be divisive. But a majority of F/F is not about butch girls and I wanted to build this love story between two butch girls that is ten times softer and more gentle than anyone would imagine a story about butch love could be. I wanted tenderness that prickles tears at the corner of your eyes and soft yearning that you’d usually associate with Virginia Woolf, but I wanted it for a giant muscle girl.

Your books feel so…rare, I guess is the word? There’s something about the way you write that’s so special and so different but still feels like part of the same unusual universe. What’s a K. Ancrum book to you? What do you think will always show up in your work in some way?

This is such a cool question! First, I think my format is probably a huge part of that. I’m “known” for telling instead of showing, largely because I have something else big to show instead (example: August telling the reader that he’s well, while he shows the reader that he is Not, Ryann telling the readers she has no family, and then showing the readers that she has a close family made of friends. ). I also kind of format my books more like movies, they’re intended to be read straight through and the pacing  and format reflects that. There is also an immediacy in the way I write romance. I write like the words “I love you” are pushing at the inside of the teeth of my characters, and I think that really resonates with a decent amount of readers (thank goodness haha).

I think the thing that will always show up in my work is tenderness in the relationships between my characters and physical affection. I like my characters to show care through touch, even if its hard for them to use their words to express it. Teenagers have a very particular and rare relationship with touch, especially because they are in that transitional stage where familial touch and platonic touch start moving to make room for sexual touch. And they often explore the boundaries of that in a way that adults and children do not (example: when I was in HS, I had a friend who would often do the hair of the other girls and it was a very familial touch moment that I can never imagine her repeating as an adult) There is a tenderness to that that I think makes my books feel kind of quaint and strangely realistic in ways that a lot of people are unable to put their finger on.

Important question as relevant to The Weight of the Stars: What’s your very favorite space-related fact? 

I am OBSESSED with The Golden Record. Just…. we really did that! We really made a record of all of humanity’s Greats and sent it out to space to be found by anyone or anything to try and make them love us! Make them want to understand us! Make them listen to our music and hear the sounds of our woods, our fields, our seas! and then we gave them a map so they can find us, and by god isn’t that the pinnacle of humanity? The desperate craving to be loved? The desperate curiosity towards the beyond? The desperate humbleness of our offering, but given with earnestness nonetheless?  That hopeless sort of Human Hope we fling in every direction, reckless and violent to the end? Our endless chasm of “Maybe… Please?” and “Look at us!” and “Look for us!”

We sent it in the 1970s it still flies, endless in the black. As singular and lonely as we are.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aR6oV8kJKf4

What other queer YA are you reading lately that you’ve loved? Anything you’re especially looking forward to?

This is a nightmare answer but I’m currently just reading tons and tons of fan fiction. I’m learning a lot about portraying the intricacies of desire in a thousand delicate ways, and learning how people tend to view courtship when they’re at their most self-indulgent, most secret, most private. Fan fiction is written in the dead of night in the dark for your friends or because your heart says that you Must. I want to access that flavor for my work, from a learning perspective.

As for books I’m looking forward to: I’m so freakin’ hype about Wilder Girls and The Last 8. I’m also super pumped for His Hideous Heart, the anthology you have coming out. I love EAP and the prickly way he writes and I’m excited to see what you all made of him. (Blogger’s Note: Thank you!)

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember in media, for better or for worse?

This is going to sound really crazy, but when I was 8, I read a romance novel that included an intersex major character. I remember reading descriptions of her and her body like I was looking into the face of god. I had literally never heard of anything that was so perfect and so beautiful. I don’t remember what the book was called or anything about it, but I remember her lover saying something to her about how “she was made up of many pieces of many pretty things” and melting. Just, filled to the brim with a hunger for that sort of acceptance and for being cherished exactly as I was (which was a bi child).

I’m working on a cool novel about a train heist and another novel about possession!

***

K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

Better Know an Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Aaaaah! I’m so excited to have Tehlor Kay Mejia on the site today to discuss her upcoming debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, as well as her short stories, her upcoming work, and her general takeover of the publishing world. (Plus some really, really great books she loves.)

You are so wildly busy these days, I don’t even know where to begin, except that I obviously do: please tell readers all about your upcoming fantasy out this month, We Set the Dark on Fire!

Yes! We Set the Dark on Fire is a feminist, dystopian YA fantasy set in a Latin-American inspired country called Medio where upper class men are assigned two wives when they come of age. The book’s main character, Dani Vargas, is assigned to a very high profile political family along with a second wife – her longtime school rival Carmen Santos.

The government itself is very patriarchal and restrictive for women, and their husband is a nightmare, and on top of that Dani is hiding a major secret about her citizenship status in Medio – namely that it’s all a lie, and one that comes with deadly consequences if she’s found out. She’s approached early in the book to spy for a rebel organization fighting to bring equality to the two warring sides of the country, and it begins a book-long internal struggle for her about who she is and what her place is in this world.

Also there’s some f/f enemies-to-lovers going on and hopefully enough kissing to balance out some of the darker political vibes!

Before your first novel even released, you were already getting tapped for anthology work. Can you share a little bit about your stories in All Out and Toil & Trouble, and what it was like getting published in short-form first?

I had actually only ever written one short story when I was approached to do All Out, so I was really nervous. But Saundra Mitchell is an amazing editor, and even though the path to my story “Healing Rosa” wasn’t exactly straightforward I always felt really supported and free to explore what I needed to there. It was a really great experience for my first time ever being published, and I’m still really proud of the story (a queer historical tale of a teen curandera healing the girl she loves) and grateful to everyone who’s enjoyed it.

In Toil & Trouble I wanted to do something really contemporary and modern, the anthology is about witchcraft, and for most people that seems like a fantasy or paranormal theme. For me though, magic is culturally sort of ordinary in this beautiful way, and I wanted to take the opportunity to remind people that while “witches” are a very fantastical pop culture thing, witchcraft and a lot of the things we associate with it are actually daily occurrences in a lot of cultures.

Getting published in short form first was interesting, mostly because the themes both called for stories that are very different from We Set the Dark on Fire’s style, so I’ll be interested to see how people who loved those stories will respond to the novel.

In addition to your fantasy series, you’ve also got a (non-queer, I assume?) Middle Grade series coming up with Rick Riordan presents, but you’ve also got a co-authored novel coming up with LGBTQReads Fave Anna-Marie McLemore. What can you share about Meteor, and does it fall under the rainbow along with both of your other YA work?

There will definitely be queer characters in my Middle Grade, but no, not the main characters this time. And yes, we’ve been a little tight-lipped about Meteor so far! That will change as the release date gets closer, I promise.

For now I can say it’s a small-town book that really explores what it’s like being different when you’re under that kind of social and cultural microscope. The thing I love most about the book is that while there are two very swoony love interests, it’s primarily a story about how strong female friendship is, and how much it can overcome even when the friendship itself is complicated. Also yes, it’s very queer!

What was the experience of co-authoring like, and what kind of writers and friends would you recommend it for?

From my perspective I can say that it’s sort of unnerving at first to work with one of your heroes! I was such a fan of Anna-Marie’s work long before we were ever friends, let alone considering working together, so there was some definite anxiety when we actually got down to the process of getting words on the page.

Luckily for me, Anna-Marie isn’t only absurdly talented, but also one of the most gracious, kind people I know, so once we got into our groove the writing process was actually wonderful. We both have very distinctive styles, but I think we’re inspired by so many of the same feelings and experiences that it really grew from a place that felt organic. I believe to this day that there was something alchemical or magical happening during the process of our first draft, and we’re both really proud of the book and so excited to share it with the world next year.

As far as cowriting in general and who should do it, the only thing I’ll say is that communication is so important. It’s intense to allow someone into your creative space, not to mention the business aspect of things. I think you have to be willing to be so honest about what you each expect and/or want out of the experience at every stage. And that’s just the beginning, really. But if you feel like you can expect that from each other, it can really be beautiful.

You’re very heavily and wonderfully into promoting your Latinx author sibs, so here’s another shot to do that: any queer Latinx lit you’d like to give a shout?

Yes! Thank you! My favorite question! I’m so deeply grateful for Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost for depicting a bi Latina in a fantasy setting. It was the first time I’d ever seen that identity intersection on the page, and it’s so, so well done. Then Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, who is such a powerhouse, is a book I will never stop screaming about. It’s so unapologetically queer and such a handbook for finding your way to self-love as you embrace your identity and find your community.

In terms of upcoming books, I’m literally losing my cool over Adam Silvera writing a fantasy – Infinity Son is out in January, though I’m really gonna try to snag a copy before then let’s be real. And last but for sure not least is All of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruíz Keil, which might actually be my favorite book, ever. Post-punk San Francisco, a healthy dose of magical realism, a rockstar family, and a bi Mexican-American character that is the closest I’ve come to seeing my own experience reflected in a book. It’s out in June and you don’t want to miss it, trust me.

And speaking of recommendations, queer fantasy has been majorly on the rise, which is just delightful. Once readers have read and loved We Set the Dark on Fire, where do you recommend they go next?

Okay, right? There’s still so far to go in terms of reflecting more intersections but I’m so here for how much queer fantasy is happening right now. Of course, Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars (how excited are we all for a sequel this year?) Basically anything and everything by Malinda Lo, who is one of my forever heroes. I just finished Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan which was breathtaking. Current read is Black Wings Beating by Alex London, which I’m loving so far. And then Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is out the same day as my book and I think I might actually be more excited for her book than my own, so there’s a start!

What’s your first recollection of LGBTQAP rep in media, for better or for worse? How about queer Latinx rep in particular?

Ricky Vasquez from My So-Called Life was probably the first ever in both categories, and he will always have a very special place in my heart, even though he didn’t have much to do with my own personal queer awakening. Probably the first time I saw something I related to was in Empress of the World by Sara Ryan which I read in its entirety in a library chair my freshman year of high school just freaking out. It’s so heartening how much more queer content is out there in the media right now though, I really hope that makes it easier for teens today than it was for us growing up – although I’m sure this age of hyper-visibility has its own unique struggles, too.

It seems a little silly to ask what’s up next for you when we can see your dance card is full up until 2021 or so, so I’ll ask this instead: what writing opportunity would you still squeeze into your hectic schedule if it arose?

My answer to this has been the same since before she won the National Book Award, but I would absolutely lose my cool to collaborate with Elizabeth Acevedo in any way shape or form. I’m also very casually between-deadlines working on my very first adult project, which may never see the light of day, but is really exciting in a this-is-the-book-I-pretentiously-yearned-to-write-in-high-school kind of way. Lastly I’d really love to do more anthologies! Especially culturally inspired ones, but also just anything with an odd or super-specific theme.

We Set the Dark on Fire releases on February 26th. Preorder it now!

***

Tehlor Kay Mejia is an author of Young Adult and Middle Grade fantasy at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

Better Know an Author: Hillary Monahan aka Eva Darrows aka Thea de Salle

Well, I think it’s clear from the headline that we’re ending the year with an author who wears a whole lot of hats, and I’m very grateful at how many of them are queer ones! You may know Hillary/Eva/Thea from YA (including her New York Times-bestselling Mary), or from fantasy, or from her brand-new Western, or contemporary romance…or you might not, in which case, settle in and better know an author who’s really three!

First things first, I think we’ve gotta break down those pen names. Could you tell us what, for you, defines Hillary Monahan vs. Eva Darrows vs. Thea De Salle, and give us a little intro into the queer books written by each one?

It’s confusing and somewhat irritating, I know, so I’m really grateful to my audience for name hopping with me. I PROMISE THERE’S A METHOD TO MY MADNESS, THOUGH.  Hillary Monahan is my horror slanted and/or adult stuff. My YA horrors have been fairly straight to this point because, frankly, horror is violent and I’ve seen enough violence aimed at queer folk I was wary of contributing to that paradigm. There’s a careful balance to be struck, I think, particularly where the trope says sassy gay friends almost always get murdered.  You’ll see more queer YA horror coming from me (look to my Havisham retelling with PRH next year) but I’ve been cautious. I think I have a better grasp on what to do and what not to do now, but it’s taken a bit to get here.

On the adult side, Snake Eyes is an adult, horror slanted urban fantasy about Tanis, a half lamia, who is involved in a turf war with the Gorgons down in the Everglades. Tanis is queer and expecting a child with her girlfriend, Naree. Their relationship is the heart and soul and spine of the book, and I’ve called it my queerest book yet. It’s got an all female cast who live and love and bleed together, and it has a soft spot in my stable. My new Western fantasy is called Gunsmoke & Glamour and I have described it as Sherlock and Watson in the old west, running from murderous witches, only Sherlock is a sarcastic half fairy marshal named Clayton, and Watson is a trans lady doctor named Irene.

Eva Darrows is my snarky, feminist stuff, more apt to slant on the humor side. Dead Little Mean Girl had lesbian moms, and is a story about a fat, nerdy girl named Emma who didn’t look past the veneer of her dead step sister to see why, maybe, Quinn had some toxic personality quirks.  Belly Up is finished and due out in spring 2019, about a questioning teen, Serendipity, who gets pregnant after a one night stand. Her best friend is a gray ace girl named Devi, and two of her other friends at school are Morgan, a trans girl, and her girlfriend Erin.

Thea de Salle is my romance pen name. Two of those books featured queer characters in Sol, in book one (The King of Bourbon Street), who’s blatantly bisexual and paired up with a fat heiress named Arianna. I felt like bisexual males were the unicorns of romance.  Book two is about Maddy, who identifies as pansexual, pairing up with a big ginger Texan named Darren, both of them navigating PTSD and anxiety together.

You are a serious genre maven, too! Contemporary Romance, Urban Fantasy, Horror…what genre feels closest to your heart, and what haven’t you hit that you still really want to?

I’d probably say horror. I’m a gloom cookie. Always have been, always will be. What my pattern seems to be is “write a dark book, write something else to recover from it.”  But the constant is the scary stuff.  I grew up with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark pretty much sewn to my palm, and that forayed well into Christopher Pike before Stephen King.

As for what I want to do, fantasy. Period. I have two rattling around in my bean right now that I hope to get onto the page sooner rather than later, one centering Arthurian legend and a very queer Morgan le Fey, one with a patriarchy versus a matriarchy divided country with pansexual sex priestesses at the center.

Gunsmoke & Glamour is your newest release, out just a couple of weeks ago with Fireside Fiction. Can we please discuss that cover??

YES. YES, WE CAN.  As a fat author, I have struggled—oh, have I struggled—to see myself and people like me properly represented on my covers.  I’ve either had my characters fattish but not too fat or completely thin washed.  I mentioned this to the publisher at Fireside, and, at the same time, I fretted about Irene (being a trans woman) getting her labels erased.  Pablo’s answer was brilliant; he hired a trans artist of color who understood the representation struggle, who looked at the material and produced something really special.  I’m in love with it and hope other publishers take note.

I was lucky enough to get an early read of Belly Up, which releases April 30, 2019, and the way you have Serendipity kind of questioning her bisexuality in the background is really interesting. Was that a ground-up decision about her character, or something that came out about her as you were writing?

I wasn’t super specific by design. Our teen years are often (not always, but often) exploratory years, and I don’t just mean sexually.  When I was coming around to my labels, I fumbled my way through the discovery process.  It’s like trying on jeans—when you get the wrong fit, you’re uncomfortable all day, but find the perfect pair?  Wow, awesome.  That said, the thing that landed me solidly in keeping with her “questioning, probably bisexual, but not sure yet” ID was the relationship with Devi.  I love that pairing, a lot, and I realized halfway through that if Leaf hadn’t happened, Sara would have been more than content just being with Devi for the foreseeable.  In fact, I think if Devi hadn’t been straight, they could have been a thing.  Alas, Devi isn’t into girls, and Sara knew that and respected that.  Accepting that sometimes your crush just isn’t into you doesn’t have to be traumatizing.

In addition to writing bi and pan main characters, you also have queer parents in your most recent Eva Darrows YA novel, Dead Little Mean GirlAs a queer adult, what’s it like writing queer adults into your teen fiction?

On top of my girlfriend’s teenaged son living with me and requiring frequent step-momming, I’m the child of a queer adult, so basically, I apply my own experiences to the parents in my books. My father is a queer man who married his husband back when Vermont was the only state legally recognizing same sex pairings. I grew up within the culture, know firsthand that love is the primary marker of success in being a family. It’s cathartic, honestly, to be able to “show” that on the page when there are so many detractors out there who try to imply otherwise.

Following you on Twitter is always an adventure, as you’re definitely one of the more outspoken authors on my timeline. What are topics that really suck you in, and what do you wish we discussed more?

This is the nicest way of saying I tweet too much ever. But you’re absolutely right. I’ve grown up in a family that put a lot of stock in not tolerating bullshit. Of course that’s a sliding scale for everyone depending on politics and experiences, but my brand is to go hard about fatness, queerness, mental illness, Romani rights, and the rights of sex assault victims. There are other subjects that can get me going, but those are my lane and I’ll defend others sharing my labels because not everyone has a platform—or the spoons–to take on this stuff. They’re hard subjects. It comes down to a baseline philosophy that it’s not actually hard to be decent, but people can’t be decent if they don’t know how they’re being indecent in the first place. If me telling someone that gypsy is a racial slur prevents them from saying the word in the future, I’ll take the lumps that go with being outspoken.

What’s something that’s really stuck with you in LGBTQIAP+ lit, for better or for worse? 

For better: that I think we’re seeing more of the umbrella represented than ever before. It’s slow, but the progress is there. Queer people of color, bisexual people, trans people, ace and aro people, intersex people are getting more attention in trad pub than I’ve seen before. That leads into a bit of the for worse, though, which is this high is coming because diversity is “trendy” right now. I hate that notion, by the way—the world is diverse so the art should be, too—but I feel like there’s a push because of marketing buzz not because pushing marginalized people is the right thing to do because they have valuable contributions to media.

Ultimately, I’ll take it, whatever the reasoning, because it topples the princes of queer YA thing, wherein all queer folk should be happy to be represented by handsome white allocis queer boys. Their stories are important, too, but not at the expense of everyone else. And there’s a lot of everyone else.

YA I know, but adult fantasy is a bit of weak spot for me, so I’m always psyched for recs by people who really know it. What are your favorite queer fantasy recs beyond YA? (Of course, I’m curious about your YA faves too!)

I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory and I’m absolutely dying to get into the novella sequel, Stone Mad. Bear writes queerness without making it angsty, in a fantasy setting, and I appreciate that. Sometimes, matter of fact queerness is a huge breath of fresh air; I know every one of my decisions isn’t informed by my sexuality. Some, definitely, but not all, and I think Bear navigates those waters really well.

Frankly this is a totally appropriate place to put a plug in for the Tor.com column by Liz Bourke Sleeps With Monsters. Liz is a queer woman who spends a lot of her time reccing and reviewing LGBTQIA+ fantasy fiction, so if you need a good, solid voice to check out, for vetted and intelligent suggestions, you can’t beat her in a lot of ways.

As an author who seems to push boundaries a little more with each book, what’s something you still feel like you’d still have to work up to, although it’s definitely on your “to do someday” list?

Poly and/or open relationships is on my to-do list. I know a lot of people who are quietly or not-so-quietly poly and/or in open relationships, who don’t get to see themselves in fiction beyond work that presents those lifestyles as toxic dramafests or as some deviant, sexually charged thing. That’s not the reality for many people, and I’d like to shine a spotlight there, to challenge a society that pushes monogamy as “the only acceptable way.”

I am just gonna leave this blanket open for you: Queer fat rep. Thoughts, recs, loves, hates, etc. GO.

Two people queer folk should be following on Twitter for queer fic recs on the adult side are definitely @bogiperson, who tirelessly advocates for the umbrella, and @TGStoneButch who not only gives fantastic queer recs, but also advocates for trans, fat, and disability rights.  I put Bogi and Corey’s picks high on  my reading rec lists for reasons. They are A+ humans with fantastic insight.

What’s next for you?

Edits and contract books, mostly. This fall saw Gunsmoke & Glamour out through Fireside Fiction and my debut duology, MARY, rereleased through Disney Hyperion. Eva Darrows has BELLY UP out in spring 2019, and my next PRH book, a YA horror about Miss Havisham, is out in spring of 2020.  Once I get all of that stuff cleaned up? I’m hoping to knock out one of the aforementioned fantasy novels (co-written with my bestie Lauren Roy) and work on a Thea De Salle title.  Busy, busy, busy.