Category Archives: Better Know an Author

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.

***

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.

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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!

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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.

Better Know an Author: Rebecca Barrow

New month, new author to fall for! If you’re not already familiar with Rebecca Barrow, please allow me to help you fix your life. She’s a contemporary YA author whose sophomore novel, This is What it Feels Like, releases on November 6, and if you’re a fan of authors like Emery Lord, Nina LaCour, and Katie Cotugno, I guarantee you wanna check her books out!

Let’s jump right in to your new release, which you already know I’m obsessed with. What’s This is What it Feels Like all about, and can you particularly tell us about Jules and her romance?

So This is What it Feels Like is about three former friends-and-bandmates who get back together to try to win fifteen grand and have to work through the past that tore them apart in order to succeed. Jules’ story is really about what happens when she meets a sweet, fun new girl and has to deal with the relationship Expectations vs Reality thing she has going on. She’s a super romantic and her last (first) relationship didn’t really work out well. And a big part of her character is this quiet fear she has that she won’t ever get to be in a happy, ideal relationship with another girl. I originally wrote her getting back with the ex and dealing with all the drama of their relationship again, but there came a point when I thought—why am I giving her this unhappiness? Why can’t she meet someone who gets her and write her getting to explore happiness and her shifting perception of that notion? So, I did.

We see a lot of the “gay best friend” in YA, but I think Rose in You Don’t Know Me But I Know You might’ve been the first bi best friend I’ve seen in YA, though it’s definitely been a growing trend since. She’s such a great character, too; what about her really spoke to you?

First of all, thank you because I know some people really don’t like her but I love her, mess and all! I didn’t set out to write The Bi Best Friend; when I first started writing Rose, the book was dual POV and she had her own thing going on. So really she got shifted into that role as I found the heart of the story and stripped back to just Audrey’s POV. But writing Rose was one of those moments that I know plenty of authors have had, where you write a queer character because you’re just SUCH a good ally! and then you stop and realise that ohhhh wait no okay it’s all clear now. So I guess what spoke to me about her was…myself?! I wrote her bisexuality not realising that it was also my bisexuality. And she’s similar to Jules in that she’s very certain of her sexuality and also very afraid that any relationship she gets into is going to go terribly. I guess..am I just writing my own fears again?! Possibly! It was definitely enjoyable to write a girl who’s so sharp and spiky but not a stereotype.

You’re a very interesting case of being a British author who publishes in the US, despite there being a reasonably thriving UK YA scene, and sort of a queer UK YA subscene. How did you come to the choice to publish this way, and what differences do you notice in the different publishing communities?

I didn’t intentionally set out to publish in the US; it was just a kind of unfolding of events that now I think works in my favour. I do write books set in the US, because I was raised on US media and I loved USYA and it was just what I started out writing. Then as I became more knowledgeable about publishing, and as the push for increased diversity has happened—well, as much as the US still has far to go, the UK has even farther. Specifically for the books I write, with black and sometimes queer girls whose stories don’t revolve around black pain and who are somewhat outside the stereotypical/publishing-approved narrative, it can be hard to find a place for them, especially in the UK. So while in the beginning it wasn’t a move I made specifically because of what I write, it is now something I definitely think is in my best interests and that I wouldn’t take back.

The UK scene is complex because while there are marginalised authors putting out great UKYA books and a very enthusiastic community of people supporting them, it also feelsto me, at leastoverall still quite stuck in the past. So a lot of the books that are really successful here have that old school children’s lit feel of magic and mysteries, and younger protagonists, and some of the older and more diverse books don’t reach the heights they really should. Then there’s another odd thing in that in the UK, in the past, we didn’t have YA as suchit was more of a children’s/teenage divide. So if you were to pick up a book in the teenage section, it could be something dark and gritty with an 18yo MC, or it could just as easily be a fun adventure story with a 13yo MC. And as YA has exploded, what’s really happened is that successful USYA is being brought over here and kind of flooding the space. In terms of diverse fiction, then, what often happens is people will point to the success of a USYA title in the UK, but not really register that we’re still not supporting diverse UK talent enough. Which kind of comes back to the question of why I publish in the US—it’s all a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle: USYA gets brought over, UKYA isn’t bought, UK authors seek to publish in the US, their US-published books get brought over, support still isn’t there…and rinse and repeat. It’s very complicated and as far as I can see, the answer really is for UK publishing to step up and buy/nurture/support works by marginalised UK authors. Until that happens, this cycle will continue.

But I do want to shout out a few people doing great work—Stripes puts out great diverse books and brings in unknown talents to write in their anthologies, several of whom now have solo deals. Knights Of is a new publisher focused on diverse lit—they just put out Jason Reynolds’ For Every One. And there are so many individuals working hard—we just really need the machine of publishing and a lot of the book-buying public to step up, too.

In the future I would love love LOVE to be published in the UK as well as the US, and hopefully find a space for my books.

Black girls barely get their due in YA as a whole, let alone in queer YA, but you’ve now had two beautiful books—one queer, one not—with Black leads and gorgeous covers that feature them. What has that experience been like, and do you have any tips for authors who’d like to follow in your lead but feel shut out by the publishing industry?

I can honestly say that I’d never considered my own identity so much as I did once I got my deal. It felt like all of a sudden it MEANT so much more and there were so many questions to answer and things people wanted justified and realising how much my identity was truly going to play into this career I was just starting out on…it was overwhelming. What’s kind of funny and kind of embarrassing is that in the beginning of my writing journey, I didn’t think too much about writing black characters. Like many POC authors I defaulted to writing white characters, and then by the time I wrote what became my debut and wrote my first black lead, it wasn’t a calculated move on my part—I hadn’t had some awakening and realised what I wanted to write. I just thought—hey, what if this girl was black? And it was only once I had sold that I really began to understand how lucky I was to have sold a black girl book and what I was up against. Now I write my black girls—more often than not queer, now, too—as a kind of defiance, and honestly, I’d encourage anyone wanting to take a similar path as me to do the same. Writing marginalised characters means dealing with aggressions both micro and macro from people across the industry, and facing an even steeper climb to success. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t fully aware of how hard it would be because maybe I wouldn’t have gotten this far—but I want anyone reading who dreams of selling characters with black, queer leads to know it is possible and it feels amazing and my rage only serves to fuel my writing nowadays. So let your anger fuel you, too.

And since you mentioned my gorgeous covers (the first by Sarah Creech and and the second by Michelle Taormina) which are such a positive in the whole experience, I should say something else positive too—because it’s not all terrible, of course not. There is no better feeling than someone saying “that girl looks like me”, someone reading and saying “this character is black the same way I am”, knowing that at least one person out there is going to see themselves in your words. And selfishly, for myself—these are the books I wish I had read as a teenager: complex black girls, queer girls, living their lives.

You might have the most similar taste in contemporary YA to me of anyone else in bookworld, so of course, I have to mine your brain for some recs here. What are your favorite queer books (YA or not) that you’d love to see find more readers?

I absolutely love The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz, perfect for anyone struggling with love of creating and love of someone close to you. I know she’s not exactly underrated but it’s my opinion that Nina LaCour is not nearly as widely read as she should be so Everything Leads to You and We Are Okay for sure. How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake spoke to me so much, Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta is the queer theatre mystery of my dreams, Like Water by Rebecca Podos is so magical. And to round it out, a book I read on your rec!  A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho. (Blogger’s Note: I love every single one of these books, to the shock of no one.)

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ experience you saw onscreen or in a book that really resonated with you?

You know, I’ve only really started to find queer media I connect to in the last couple of years, even though I’ve seen a decent amount over the years (I mean hello I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for the past century). So really the first was Emi in Everything Leads to You, as a queer, artistic, mixed race black girl.

I know you’re a tattoo person, which is something I always find immensely fascinating. Have you gotten tattoos for your books, and if not, what would you get if you did?

Right now I have one book tattoo, for You Don’t Know Me But I Know You. It’s not really specific to the book but one of my favourite artists does these heart-and-hairgrip tattoos and I thought it would be a perfect representation of Audrey and Rose. I’m still thinking about what to get for This is What it Feels Like…I feel music-based is a touch too on the nose, so maybe something baked goods-themed? I’m open to suggestions!

What’s up next for you?

Nothing official yet but I hope to be bringing you more queer girls of colour soon, perhaps dusted with a little more darkness this time.

***

Rebecca Barrow writes stories about girls and all the wonders they can be. A lipstick obsessive with the ability to quote the entirety of Mean Girls, she lives in England, where it rains a considerable amount more than in the fictional worlds of her characters. She collects tattoos, cats, and more books than she could ever possibly read.

Better Know an Author: Sara Farizan

I am such a fangirl of Sara Farizan as both an author and a human that it delights me to bring her to LGBTQReads and pick her brain about her awesome work, queer media, and, most importantly, basketball. Please welcome her to the site!

You’ve been up to so much this year, I don’t even know where to begin. Clearly you’re a go-to get for anthologies, as you’ve got stories in three this year. Can you tell us a little bit about your contributions to The Radical Element, All Out, and, most recently, Fresh Ink

Being invited to be a part of those anthologies was a blessing and I’m so grateful to have been asked. They really helped me out of a slump when I felt like I couldn’t write anything or I was too bogged down with my novel. All of the editors, Jessica Spotswood, Saundra Mitchell, and Lamar Giles were all incredibly helpful and I was very happy that they thought of me.

My story in All Out (“It’s The End of the World As We Know It”) is set on New Year’s Eve of 1999 and two estranged best friends spend New Year’s Eve together and are anxious about the Y2K bug that was though to wreak havoc at that time. My story for The Radical Element (“Take Me With U”) was set in 1984 and is about a young girl from Tehran who is staying with her uncle’s family in Boston. She bears a striking resemblance to Apollonia from Purple Rain and joins an all-girl band called the Ovarian Cysters. My story in Fresh Ink (“Why I Learned to Cook”) is about a young girl named Yasi who has a close relationship with her grandmother and wants to introduce her to her girlfriend over a meal she has learned to cook from her grandmother.

Last month saw the release of your first novel since Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Can you tell us a little bit about it, and how it feels to be writing from such a different POV from your other work?

I’ve written about a great kid named Bijan who has had a pretty low-key profile at his prep school. He suddenly finds himself in the spotlight as a basketball star and there are some people who are not happy with all of his newfound stardom so he becomes the target of prejudice. I had a tough go with this book because I knew there would be an audience however large or small whereas my other two books were written in graduate school and may have never seen the light of day. Readers will be able to tell whether Bijan reads as authentic. I think initially I was trying to make him perfect when I had to remind myself that he’s a teenager and should make mistakes.

You broke into YA with books about queer girls at a time when we were seeing so, so little. What was it like publishing it then, and what are your thoughts on it and how the landscape has changed?

I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into and I still have a lot to learn. I think I was naïve, but that was sometimes a good thing because I just wrote what was in my heart. I am hopeful and encouraged by all the new books and voices we are seeing, especially from own voices authors who can speak to queer experiences. Could there be room for more? Absolutely. I think we’ve seen LGBTQA books get more support, but that doesn’t mean okay well that’s enough. You’ve had your moment.

Another obviously notable aspect of your work is that you write some of the very few queer girls in YA who have culturally intersectional identities. What has the response to your girls been like, particularly from your represented readers?

What has been a wonderful thing in meeting readers of my work is that they are all so different from each other. There have been readers of different ages, gender identities, races and that’s been very gratifying.

There was one time where a reader met me at a conference and she said she had given my book to her friend who was of an Eastern background and struggling with coming out to her family. I asked how old her friend was and she said she was in her forties and still grappling with her sexuality. I started crying.

On the flip side, with cultural context being such an inextricable component of your work, especially in your debut, how have you found connecting with readers who might not grasp all of its implications? I feel like writing “ownvoices realistic fiction” before that phrase was really a thing is perhaps a uniquely difficult thing that doesn’t get enough airtime.

I constantly worry that people may think the one perspective I have in my work is the only perspective because they may not have read other narratives about the characters I write about. I also worry that the characters I do write about who represent real people don’t feel that I am doing it the right way. There is a lot of pressure to represent an under represented group well and to make sure you are doing things perfectly when there is no way to be perfect. My hope is that more own voices books make their way into the world so that people are not always given three dimensional depictions can have some depth, as well as having different perspectives from characters of similar background.

You’re such a strong proponent of supporting films of queer work in addition to the written word. What are some of your favorites and most anticipated, and what’s your dream casting for your own novels/stories?

I loved Miseducation of Cameron Post and feel it should have as much Oscar buzz as Call Me By Your Name. The book is one of my favorite books of all time and I enjoyed the adaptation very much. I’ve been a huge fan of the director Desiree Akhavan since her film Appropriate Behavior and am excited for her show The Bisexual. I’m also a fan of films by Angela Robinson like D.E.B.S. and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Pariah by Dee Rees was a revelation. I was so happy when Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a film or TV version of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel.  I think it’d be fun. I’ve never let myself think about it for too long but if it were to happen I’d want there to be Persian actors playing Persian parts.

What’s your earliest memory of queer representation in media, for better or for worse?

I think seeing Pedro in the Real World on MTV comes to mind. I remember liking him so much but I had to sneak in episodes at my grandma’s place because my house didn’t have cable. This isn’t the earliest memory, but one storyline/scene that was very emotion for me was Evan Rachel Wood having a secret girlfriend on Once and Again. It had a huge impact on me seeing her character Jessie grapple with her feelings. It was so well acted and I never really tuned into that show until that episode where Jessie kisses Katie was banned in a few states.

Very important, for my own personal curiosity: fave NBA player of all time and why? 

Pick one? That’s tough. Reggie Miller appears in my new book as a commentator in the main character’s head, but I know how you feel about Reggie Miller as a Knicks fan. (Blogger’s Note: She does know. It is not positively. *hisses*) I think the best Celtic of all time is Bill Russell but obviously I wasn’t around when he was winning all those championships. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Shaq and Penny Hardaway even though they played for the Magic.

I will highlight one player I liked so much when he was on the Celtics and that’s Brandon Bass. He was not an all-star, but when he played on the Celtics he came to work and he was consistent. He plays in China now, but I wish him all the best.

What can you share about whatever you’re working on now? And do we have any chance at getting a queer-girl basketball player someday? Asking for a friend. Of yours. Who is me 😉

Winky face! I have a story coming out in the anthology Hungry Hearts which is coming out summer of 2019 from Simon Pulse. I think fans of Tell Me Again will like that one as it’s very Sapphic and sweet. I am not sure what’s next after that, but I hope people still want to read my stuff. I’m very grateful to everyone who has read my books and stories. It means a lot.

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Sara Farizan, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, was born in Massachusetts. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school, not only because of her ethnicity, but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but were not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. She is the acclaimed author of If You Could Be Mine, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and Here to Stay.

Better Know an Author: Fox Benwell

New month, new author to meet! And today is a very special day to meet Fox Benwell, because he has a story in the all-#ownvoices disability anthology, Unbroken, edited by Marieke Nijkamp, which releases today!  So let’s get right to it!

It’s September 2018, and that means two things: 1) you have a new short story out and 2) it’s been a year since your incredibly unique f/f YA novel set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song, released. Newest things first: What can you share with us about your contribution to Unbroken?

“A Play in Many Parts” is…sort of a Faustus retelling. Or a number of retellings all tangled together and on the page at onceIt’s a love letter to (Marlowe’s version of) the play, and to theatre itself…a tale of bargaining for one more curtain call, whoever you are.

And your narrator is a cane-using enby with chronic pain, dodgy joints, fatigue, and wild love for crafting stories that change people.

For those who aren’t familiar with Kaleidoscope Song, can you tell us a little about it? 

Set in Khayelitsha, Kaleidoscope Song is a tale of first loves (both musical and human), of growing up queer in a sometimes-hostile environment, and of the power that lies in figuring out how to use your voice.

Both of your YA novels, The Last Leaves Falling and Kaleidoscope Song, are set in foreign countries (Japan and South Africa respectively). What draws you to writing about locations beyond your home nation of the UK, and what are your favorite ways to research them?

Honestly, while I’m intensely proud of those books in and of themselves, the world – and publishing – has shifted since I wrote those stories. Everything I’m working on at the moment is much closer to home, and I’d rather concede the floor to own-voices representation, for now.

That said, if you’re going to write other places (or experiences) than your own, research and respect in equal measure are the key. And not just for obvious facts: seeking out the stories and art and food and music and film (and hey, did I mention stories?) of those places and people is a good start to understanding someone else’s perspective, in addition to where your story might lie.

Music is really at the heart of Kaleidoscope Song, which of course means I must ask: what are you listening to and loving right now, and what are your forever favorites?

Oh my godddd, have you heard Grace Petrie’s new album, Queer as Folk? The entire thing is a roller coaster of queer feels. But I’ve had Black Tie on loop for a fortnight and it’s still making me cry. It’s big and hopeful and a little bit heartbreaking, and I love it.

And I’m working on a winter-and-music story right now, which means lots of not-so-Christmassy Christmas music is sneaking its way into my work playlists. Stuff like In Terra Pax, and old, obscure carols and folk songs.

Both The Last Leaves Falling and obviously Unbroken center around disability, as does your academic research. What are your thoughts on the state of disability rep in YA right now, both queer and otherwise? 

How long have you got? No, seriously, my academic thesis will be 80k, and it’s not nearly enough. 😉

We have a tendency to use disability as a (tragic and/or inspirational) plot point, and to fall back on notions of intelligence, ability and beauty of measures of worth or humanity. Sometimes this is big and obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle, in subplots and casual language, but it’s nearly always there.

There are, of course, some excellent books with equally excellent representation! But on the whole we need, quite simply, to do better.

There are some excellent people working on that, and it takes time, and changing societal perceptions of us isn’t always going to be an easy sell. But we must, because right now we’re doing a massive disservice to readers, disabled or otherwise: they deserve better. Consistently. Emphatically. Better.

What are your favorite representations of disability in queer YA, and what would you still love to see?

Everyone should read Unbroken, obviously: so much intersectional fabulousness in those pages.

Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension is totally badass. Rivers’ Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts may be bleak in a lot of ways, but I love it anyway, for the things that it explores. Hannah Moskowitz’s A History of Glitter and Blood is just…so deep and twisty and full of layers.

And I know this is sort of sidestepping the YA thing, but if you’re interested in the intersection of queerness and disability, you should read everything that Kayla Whaley ever writes.

As for what I’d love to see: I had to go back to my shelves to answer this, because my first instinctive answers were all one or the other – queer, or disabled – which clearly means there’s not enough of us multiply-marginalised folks on the shelves yet. We shouldn’t have to think for answers.

You transitioned between books 1 and 2, which came complete with a name change to the fantastic Fox. What was the process of changing your authorial name like, and what advice would you give to authors pondering doing the same?

It was terrifying. And then not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined: I’d somehow expected more pushback than I got. And sure, sometimes there’s a disconnect between books under one name and the next (which eventually will fade, if books go into the next reprints) but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for that first time you see your real name right there on a cover (I did not get that feeling the first time around, under my old name, at all). It’s worth it for not wincing every time somebody talks to you, or every time you sign a book. It’s worth it, because somewhere out there is another kid just like us, for whom it means everything to see that they could live that out-and-proud life, too.

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

Uhhh. I think I discovered Boys don’t Cry and Priscilla in the same week O_o.

And 13-year-old me accidentally found the gay erotica shelves in his Borders bookstore and somehow found the guts to buy (and hide) an anthology of ‘fairies and fantasy beasts’ stories. I don’t remember story details, but I do remember the magically right feeling of gender and attraction not being fixed points.

What are you working on these days?

I just finished copyedits for another geeky (D&D/ bathroom rights) story, coming soon, in Stripes’ anthology, Proud

And amongst my current WIPs you’ll find a pregnant trans boy building his kid a new, better world, a story of winter-song and deep dark voices, ace-spectrum rep and QPRs, transitioning, anxiety, neurodivergence, and chronic pain. And also pirates. Because we will populate your shelves with our adventures.

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Fox Benwell is a perpetual student of the world, a writer, adventurer, and wannabe-knight, who holds degrees in international education and writing for young people, and believes in the power of both to change the world. His in-progress PhD research examines disability in current YA fiction.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Last Leaves Falling, and Kaleidoscope Song.

Better Know an Author: Kheryn Callender

It’s one thing to debut with a great addition to queer kidlit canon, particularly one that fills a huge gap, and with something beautifully written, no less. It’s another to do it in both Middle Grade and Young Adult in the same damn year. But that’s exactly what this month’s featured author, Kheryn Callender, is doing with their 2018, and trust me when I say you wanna be along for the ride.

You, Kheryn Callender, have had A Year! I’m gonna be greedy and jump ahead to your next release, because lord knows I am dying for everyone else to read the incredibly cute glory of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. What can you share about it, and what’s your absolute favorite thing in it?
 
Thank you so much, that really means a lot! In Epic Love Story, Nathan Bird is afraid of letting himself fall in love–to him, happy endings only belong in rom-coms, not in real life–but his resolve against romance is tested when a long-lost childhood best friend, Oliver James, returns to town. Lots of cuteness ensues. 🙂

My absolute favorite thing in the novel? I’m pretty proud of the intersectionality, and seeing brown queer people in love and unapologetically happy. It makes my heart soar whenever I re-read the book, and is a love letter to myself and my QPOC sibs in a lot of ways: we absolutely deserve epic love stories, too.

Labels are conspicuously absent in Epic Love Story, which I imagine was a conscious choice. Is shifting away from labels something you’d like to see more of, or was it more of a “right for your characters” situation?

Glad you caught that! It was definitely a purposeful choice to shift away from labels in the book.

Labels are a source of pride for me, personally, and a way to connect with others who are also queer, trans, and/or nonbinary, for example. But when I’m around my community of QPOC friends and self-made family, we never really talk about labels. It’s understood, and generally unsaid, that one person can be into another regardless of gender identity. If we talk about labels, it’s usually for the sake of non-queer folk around us.

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is set in a perfect world, where there’s no anti-queer climate for the characters to worry about (or racism, for that matter)—where labels aren’t necessary, because the idea of queer sexuality isn’t groundbreaking. This is what I hope is a perfect escape for QPOC readers, since we already deal with so much homophobia and racism in our every day lives.

Of course, you also released a Middle Grade this year, the wonderful Hurricane Child, which is a standout for so many reasonsa queer girl of color, a Caribbean setting… What has response to the book been like, and who’s your dream reader for it?

The response to Hurricane Child has been amazing. I really never dreamed that it would receive the level of love and support its gotten, which I’m so incredibly grateful for.

My dream reader is ultimately anyone who feels alone and isolated, and reads and feels empowered by Caroline Murphy and her journey to be herself—that she deserves to exist, and deserves to be happy, no matter what. Whenever I need a reminder of that myself, I just take a look at the cover, and that powerful expression on Caroline’s face.

You also somehow managed to be an editor at Little, Brown among all this, which is just wild to me. What drew you to the queer titles you worked on as an editor, and what would you like to see more of?

Well, the main queer title I worked on during my time at LBYR was Ashley Herring Blake’s Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, which to this day remains one of the most beautiful middle grade novels in existence. Ashley is such a talented author, and I know she’ll blow everyone away with her second MG novel, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, which is out in March 2019 (I know, I know, such a long wait…)

As for what I’d like to see more of, I did want to see more queer MG books, and I do think that there’s still such a large gap to fill, but I’ve also been so uplifted by the number of recent queer MG books (such as Jen Petro-Roy’s P.S. I Miss You, Barbara Dee’s Star CrossedOne True Way by Shannon Hitchcock, and more)…

Right now, my focus is on seeing more intersectionality. I’d love to see more queer people of color as main characters, in all sorts of novels—and especially more rom-coms where the only tension is if the main character and love interest are going to make out or not, and where you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Unfortunately, historically, queer folks, and especially queer people of color, haven’t been guaranteed happy endings; it feels revolutionary to me to see stories where we are guaranteed that happily ever after.

As someone who straddled both author and editor positions, and particularly within the same category, what were the biggest challenges and the biggest perks?

The biggest challenge in the end unfortunately did become juggling a little too much, and spreading myself too thin. I wanted to help diversify the industry, so I tried very hard to continue working in publishing, as one of the few black editors in children’s books (and I believe the only black trans editor)… but the work became a little too overwhelming, sadly, and I started to become curious about other potential opportunities (my position at LBYR was my first out of grad school, and I’ve never explored any other fields!), so I decided to leave my position in the end, though I hope to now help other people of color and queer people of color find positions in publishing.

The most difficult part of leaving has been parting with incredible authors I’ve been honored to work with, but I know I had nothing to do with their talent, and that they’ll continue to flourish!

The biggest perk was definitely humility. Seeing the incredible talent of authors I worked with was very grounding in my own work, and a reminder that there are so many wonderful authors with so much extraordinary talent, and that no one author is more important than another, or that no one story is more important than another. I’m determined to keep this mindset as I move forward, in all of the work that I do.

I ordinarily ask people who the characters are in media who’ve resonated with them, but you already had a fantastic Twitter thread back in May about Adam from Degrassi. What was it about that character that really stuck with you and made a difference in your own life?

Adam not only changed my life, but I’m pretty sure he’s saved my life, too. Adam had a problematic ending on the show, but watching his story and journey allowed me to see similarities in him that I’d thought and experienced, but had never been able to put a name to before. Suddenly, everything shifted into place, and a few years later, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m not sure I was living life before–going through the motions, maybe—but now, as people around me say, I’m “glowing.” 🙂

Adam’s absolutely inspired me, and I hope to have a YA with a trans main character named Felix coming out soon!

Lightning round, based on things from This is Kind of an Epic Love Story:

1) Third favorite movie? My favorite movies are all Pixar, and my third favorite happens to be Coco. 🙂
2) Favorite movie character? Chiron, for all that he symbolizes.
3) Favorite writing craft book? Definitely Story by Robert McKee. Technically a film/screenwriting craft book, but novelists can absolutely learn a lot from his plotting advice as well.
4) Favorite Pandora station? While writing Epic Love Story, it was Bon Iver! Now, it’s Sia.
 

And speaking of which, there are some great shoutouts in the book, including ones to authors Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Gabby Rivera. Who are your insta-read authors?

So many! Right now, definitely Sáenz, but also Nina LaCour and David Levithan.

Shifting back to editor life, we’ve spoken before about how you’d love to help more people of color, and specifically Black editors, get involved in publishing. What tips do you have for PoC trying to break into publishing on the business/editorial side?

My biggest piece of advice would be to follow groups like POC in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books on social media for regular tips and job opportunities, and to take advantage of programs like Representation Matters. Reach out to editors for informational interviews, ask questions, be curious and passionate!

What’s something on the topic of queer lit/publishing you wish was talked about more?

I wish intersectionality was discussed a little more. I want to see a lot more queer people of color as main characters, and I want more stories by and featuring queer authors with disabilities, queer authors with different religions, queer authors with different socio-economic statuses, and a mix of all of the above, and more. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

Kheryn Callender is the author of Hurricane Child and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, and is committed to expanding diversity in children’s books. Kheryn loves playing RPG video games and watching soul-sucking reality TV shows in their free time. They really wish they had a dog.

Better Know an Author: Brandon L.G. Taylor

If you’re in even the remotest vicinity of queer book Twitter or literary Twitter or any of the good corners of Twitter, really, this month’s author needs no introduction, but I’m gonna give him one anyway.

Brandon L.G. Taylor is one of those literary citizens who makes you feel like you’re getting a little smarter every time you ingest a single one of his mindgrapes. (You know, I realized that sounded gross as soon as I typed it out, but I’m leaving it.) You can find his incredible essays and short fiction all over the internet, but lucky us, there’s so much more to come (thanks to a two-book deal and the fact that he’s a staff writer at Literary Hub anan Associate Editor at Electric Lit, all while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and by the way, he also Sciences) and I’m here to ask about alllll of it. Join us!

Q: I’m so excited to pick your brain on things that I barely know where to begin, but oh, I know a good place: YOUR UPCOMING NOVEL. What can you tell us about it?

A: I have been looking forward to this Q&A for a long time! I’m so thrilled to finally get a chance to do it. As for my novel, it’s called Real Life, and it’s about a queer black PhD student in the Midwest who finds himself grappling with the difficulties of relationships and also with what it means to live a real life. I really wanted to write a campus novel because I love them so much, but I also wanted to address the fact that as a genre, that kind of novel tends to exclude black people and queer people.

Q: You’re so well known for your short stories and essays, I have to admit that seeing you sell a full-length novel was the most delightful surprise. How did you find the experience of writing a novel as compared to shorter forms?

A: I was worried that people would feel like I had played a trick on them given all the slander I’ve made about novels over the years. But I’m so glad that wasn’t the case. Writing Real Life was not too different from writing the stories. I was very strict with myself because I can be lazy and unmotivated. So I was in butt-in-the-chair every day for about five weeks. It’s different, of course, in all the ways that writing a longer form is different from a short form. You have more room for character development and the kinds of details you can use are different. Also, the construction of scenes is different. But I think anyone who has read my stories will definitely not be too surprised by the novel in terms of voice or interest or anything like that. It definitely felt to me like I was writing the sort of novel that only I could write, and also the only kind of novel that I was capable of writing. So expect lots of sweaters and great décor!

Q: Speaking of your short-form work, is there a short story of yours you wish got more eyes on it? An essay? Please share any and all!

A: I think maybe like five people read this essay when it came out, but it’s one I love so so much. It’s an essay about masculinity, wounded art men, and queer desire. I was really trying to grapple with a lot of my own complicity in toxic masculinity which all along I thought I had been subverting.

Q: You put a magnificent amount of yourself on the page, which is something even the most privileged of people struggle with, let alone those most frequently silenced by the margins. Does it get less scary with time? Has the reception to your work surprised you? What’s the best thing you’ve heard in response to it?

A: I think because of some of the trauma in my past, I have a very difficult time with secrecy or withholding things. I don’t like to feel like I’m holding things back or like I’m being elusive. I like to just get things out up front and just say them and put them on the page. I think in many ways my honesty in writing is a coping mechanism because if I write it down and if I’m honest, then no one can tell me that I wasn’t honest? Or that something didn’t happen. So I’ve always tried to be really honest and really truthful, even if that means saying that I don’t know something or remember it or understand why something happened. And I think people respond to that. Because of the nature of my work, it would be a little irresponsible to give details about things people have shared with me in private in response to my work. But someone recently wrote me and said that reading an essay of mine in passing had given them the courage they needed to confront someone they hadn’t previously been able to. And that was just incredible. You know. Having that kind of effect on someone, giving them space to do something they felt the need to do. That to me is the best thing. I’m always trying to hold space for myself and by extension, for others.

Q: YA is where I’m most knowledgeable, so I’m particularly grateful that you’re generous with your literary fiction recs. What are some of your favorite titles you’d really love to see more people reading and discussing?

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A: I’d love if more people read Donald Windham’s Two People, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland, Nick White’s How to Survive a Summer and his collection Sweet and Low, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, and honestly a book that I think everybody needs to be reading right this very moment is Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh.

Q: You’ve spoken about being from the South, and you’re currently living in the Midwest. How would you say your personal settings inform your work? 

A: This is such a fantastic question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more in the last few months especially. I always struggle to write about the South. It’s really such a difficult place to capture. I’m especially aware of all the different ways people speak there, and as a writer, I feel this tremendous burden to try to capture the breadth of the sonic landscape. It’s just really hard for me because I’m from there and yet have always felt like an outsider so I’m aware of all of the false moves I make when trying to write about the South. And I’m not a born Midwesterner, so I don’t feel comfortable writing about them, but the landscape is so familiar to me now and I don’t have quite the same baggage as with the South. So what I’ve ended up doing is writing about Southern people who find themselves displaced to the Midwest. That to me feels like the one experience I know the most about. It’s always the perspective of the outsider, in a way. And so what I find is that in my work, my characters have a kind of visceral awareness of their surroundings—nature is so important in the South, and also humor and darkness—and yet they’re amongst all of these strange people and their strange Midwestern customs.

Q: I love when your Curious Cat answers pop up on my Twitter timeline. What’s your favorite question you’ve ever gotten over there?

A: Curious Cat is so much fun. It’s WILD. I don’t know if I have a favorite question, but my favorite genre of question is any time someone asks me to dreamcast a Jane Austen adaptation. Because WHAT A TREASURE. There’s one I’ve been sitting for like 6 months about dream casting an adaptation of Middlemarch, and every time I think I’m ready to answer that one, I realize I’m not. It’s quite stressful.

Q: You’re currently a student at Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which I suspect is a great dream of many writers. For those of us who’ve never done any sort of residency, what’s a typical day like?

A: Iowa is…yes, a dream come true, and also kind of boring? Which I know is a tremendous privilege. Essentially, I wake up at noon, drink some coffee, browse Twitter, and then write for a few hours. We don’t have a lot of demands on our time, which is nice. We go to Workshop every Tuesday. And some students have seminars to attend, but really, it’s just hours and hours of you and your own ideas and trying to not bore yourself half to death with your own bad writing. It’s kind of like year-round summer camp. The workshops are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it’s been a year of really thinking very deeply about what I want to do in my art and how I want to…push it forward or not. It’s a lot of me time. Which isn’t always great.

Q: Swinging back to your book deal, in addition to the novel, you’ve also got a book of short stories coming. What can you share about it? Will it be all new work we’ve never seen before, or are some old favorites creeping in?

A: It’s called Filthy Animals. There will definitely be some old favorites. Expect stories about ballet and open relationships and math nerds and mental illness and caregiving and desire. There are no straight people in any of the stories. And what I hope is that readers feel like they’re finally getting stories about people they’ve always wanted to read about. There are fat queer bodies in the stories. There are black and brown queer people in the stories. They are the center of the stories, not just side characters. I tried to write a book that felt unapologetically interested in the interior lives of people who often aren’t allowed to rise above the level of mere backdrop. And as an artist, I was trying to lay claim to material that is often not seen as the rightful material of black and queer writers. But, at the end of the day, I just wanted to write really elegant stories about the kinds of people I know and love and am curious about.

Q: Where do you feel like queer lit could still strongly use growth? What would you like to see that you haven’t yet? 

A: I think that queer lit could stand to be more interested in the lives of black people and fat people and fat black people. I think that queer lit could be more interested in our lives outside of desirability, if that makes sense. So much of the current discourse is around proving queer worth by virtue of our being desired by normative gazes. And I just think, yes, that is an important narrative to tell, but also, there is more to our lives than just desire and sex. There are more problems. And ultimately, our relationships to one another are so complicated and nuanced, and I really think that queer lit could stand to grow in order to accommodate that complexity. It feels like literary queer novels are novels of malaise and sadness or tremendous violence and more genre novels are novels of speculative futures and evolving body discourse. But I wonder if we aren’t missing the everyday mundane lives of queer people. It feels like there’s more work to be done there, in a mode that isn’t just stately and suburban. So, I guess, my answer to this question is that I think queer lit could become a bit more boring. I’d love to read more novels about fat black queer museum docents in cardigans who do not want to be touched and have meaningful relationships with their best friends. I don’t want to see that kind of story replace current queer narratives. I’d just like to see the range of options expand. There’s room for everyone.

Q: What’s the first queer rep you saw or read that really resonated with you? 

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A: The first queer rep I saw that really resonated with me that I can recall is probably Call Me by Your Name. I read that novel back in 2007 as a recent high school graduate who was just starting to identify as gay, like, in a real, concerted way. It blew me away. It gave me a reason to think that being gay, whatever that meant, could also mean being a person in the world. I hadn’t thought of that before.

Q: What upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?

A: Alexia Arthurs has a short story collection called How to Love a Jamaican which I am very stoked about. David Chariandy’s new novel Brother is also on my list. It’s sure to be beautiful. History of Violence by Édouard Louis, which comes out quite soon. And most of all, Ben Marcus has a new collection of stories called Notes from the Fog this fall which is definitely going to be good and weird.

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brandonljtaylorBrandon Taylor is the associate editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer’s workshop.  He currently lives in Iowa City, where he is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction. His debut novel is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.