Author Interview with Caleb Roehrig

I have the honor of interviewing Caleb Roehrig for the blog today! It’s been a dream to interview Caleb, and I’m so thrilled I get to do this.

Here’s a bit about Caleb:

Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

And a bit about his latest book:

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life.

By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them — for good?

And now for the interview!

Since your debut came out in 2016, you’ve had a busy career with two additional published books, two forthcoming, and three short stories coming. What do your writing days/nights look like to accomplish all that? 

OOF. Ugh. This has actually always been a bit of a moving target, but…lately it’s been moving in a bad direction, haha. When I wrote my debut, I was living in Europe without a work visa, and my schedule was eight hours of writing a day: 3 pm-7 pm, break, 10 pm-2 am. Three moves and several spirals later, my schedule while writing THE FELL OF DARK and A WEREWOLF IN RIVERDALE (simultaneously) often had me up until 5 am. (Not something I want to maintain!) (I am happy to report that over the past two months, my bedtime has moved back to 2 am!)

Your first two books are told in first person while Death Prefers Blondes is told in third person. What drove those specific decisions?

This is such a good question! I cut my teeth on first-person detective fiction—Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Sara Paretsky—and I really love the opportunity it affords to dig into the main character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. However, when I was plotting DEATH PREFERS BLONDES, and I knew it was going to be an ensemble narrative, (and one with plenty of switching back and forth, even within the same scenes and sequences,) I had to consider what would be the cleanest and most elegant way of effecting those transitions. Ultimately, I decided that a third-person limited perspective would be best.

Your books are set in many locations. Last Seen Leaving in Ann Arbor, Michigan, White Rabbit in Vermont, Death Prefers Blondes primarily in Los Angeles, and the forthcoming The Fell of Dark in the Chicago suburbs. What drives your decision for book settings?

Environment is an absolutely crucial factor for me when I’m plotting a story, and to date I’ve chosen settings that are all personally meaningful. Ann Arbor is my hometown, I got married in Vermont, I lived in Los Angeles for ten years, and I lived in Chicago for one year before that (and now live there again!) In many ways, it’s a chicken-vs-egg situation: I choose the location because its vibe fits the atmosphere I want for the story, but the story can change as it develops because the environment of the location requires it.

Writing can be immensely stressful. What ways have you found to relieve some of that stress? 

I always give the most disappointing answer to this question, but here it is: running. I want to be clear that this is what works for me, because I know it isn’t possible or enjoyable for everyone—but it might be the only thing that truly works for me. I burn off anxious energy, I build up endorphins, I give myself a full hour to do nothing but mentally focus on the story I’m trying to tell while my body is otherwise engaged. Anyway, I guess that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it!

What has been your most rewarding part about being an author? 

Typically, I’ve always answered this question with a glib remark about how I can show up late for work with a martini in both hands and still not get in trouble, but the truth of the matter is, I’ve never felt luckier in my life. I get to tell stories, and I get to see people engage with them; I get paid to let my imagination run wild—and my fantasies were always as alive to me as the real world anyway. Plus, at least in my books, I can control the chaos spilling into everyone’s lives, and I get to decide when and how it ends.

I often fall into the trap of looking ahead at upcoming releases that I miss so many fantastic books already out there. What already released books would you say are absolute must-reads (any genre)? 

To shout out a few titles just off the top of my head, for YA: NOTEWORTHY by Riley Redgate; ALL OF THIS IS TRUE by Lygia Day Peñaflor; UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson; THE DARKEST CORNERS by Kara Thomas; KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF by Tom Ryan; The Engelsfors Trilogy (THE CIRCLE, FIRE, THE KEY) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren; for adult fic: LOCK EVERY DOOR by Riley Sager; THE LIE by CL Taylor; THE DARE by Megan Abbott; GARNETHILL by Denise Mina; and the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky.

As an author, you sometimes have an opportunity to read early versions of upcoming releases. Besides your books, what upcoming releases should we add to our TBRs? 

REVERIE by Ryan La Sala; SURRENDER YOUR SONS by Adam Sass; THE GRAVITY OF US by Phil Stamper; HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters; SCAMMED by Kristen Simmons; THE LIARS OF MARIPOSA ISLAND by Jennifer Mathieu; DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore; and DARLING by K. Ancrum!

Thank you so much to Caleb for his time!

Links for Caleb Roehrig 

Add Caleb Roehrig’s books to Goodreads
Make Caleb Roehrig Rich
Follow Caleb on Twitter

Links for all of Caleb Roehrig’s recommendations

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
All of This is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan
The Engelsfors Trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
The Lie by CL Taylor
The Dare by Megan Abbott
Garnethill by Denise Mina
The VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky
Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters
Scammed by Kristen Simmons
The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu 
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Darling by K. Ancrum

Author Interview with James Brandon

Today, I have the honor of interviewing James Brandon, author of Ziggy, Stardust, & Me which released in August of this year. The book is absolutely incredible.

Here’s a bit about James from Penguin’s Website:

James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is codirector of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington PostBelieve Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health MagazineZiggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel.

You can visit James Brandon at

Here’s a bit about his book from his website:

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal–at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.

And now for the interview!

Ziggy, Stardust, & Me is set at a pivotal point in LGBT+ history. What drove your decision to set the book in 1973 and deal with some (terrifying) history?

On December 15, 1973, the life of every human who identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum changed when the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (otherwise known as the DSM; otherwise known as the “Big Book of Mental Illnesses”) and suddenly all those people being “treated” for their “sickness” were “cured.” This was a pivotal moment in our history and one that–coming on the heels of the Stonewall Riots–marked the beginning of the modern-day LGBTQ+ movement. I knew nothing of this time, and having been out for over half of my life, I was ashamed to realize I didn’t know my history. So I started researching this moment, and subsequently started learning what that generation of LGBTQ+ peoples had to endure on a daily basis just to survive. It changed my life. This was the initial seed of Ziggy.

What did your research process look like?

Intense. I proudly deem myself a Research Geek. I spent a solid year researching this novel. Some of my time was spent in the basement of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco excavating materials through their vast archives. Most of my time was spent at every library in Los Angeles (and I mean almost that quite literally) digging through books and magazines and movies and newspapers for every topic I cover in the novel. Research is the key to unlocking your story’s mysteries. Even if you aren’t writing historical, any issue you explore or character you’re writing outside of your own lane, needs to be throughly and viscerally researched for true authenticity. YA readers, to me, are some of the smartest humans out there; they can see through anything that even slightly resonates a sense of falsehood. I always wanted a reader of Ziggy to feel fully immersed in the story, to not even think they’re reading a historical novel, but to feel like they’re actually living it. I hope that comes through in the narrative.

When you write heavier scenes, how do you take care of yourself?

An excellent question. Self-care comes in many forms, but here’s what it looks like for me when I’m writing “heavier scenes.” I first let myself feel everything I’m writing. There were many times along the way I was writing a scene through tears, but kept pushing forward. I had to get the words out, even if I knew they weren’t going to end up in the final manuscript, even if I knew only one of those words would stay. Allowing myself to fully feel these emotions through any one of my character’s eyes, gave me a deeper connection to their being, and ultimately to my self. But the minute I felt like I was finished with the scene, I saved my draft, closed my computer, and stopped working for the day. Even if it was only after writing an intense few paragraphs with one hundred words. I’d take a long walk, shake it all off, and wouldn’t think about it again until the next day or week or month or whenever it was time to get back to it. It’s important, I think, to separate your “self” from your “work” at the end of each writing session to keep your identity in check and to continue living a healthy life along the journey

Do you have any interest in visiting some of the other pivotal years in LGBT+ history in your writing? Why or why not? (And if you do, what years would you consider?)

Yes! My next book, and in fact, the next couple of books I have in mind, will all focus on a lost or forgotten moment in LGBTQ+ history. Queer history isn’t taught, and the importance of our generational stories being shared today can no longer be ignored. Queer peoples have obviously existed since the beginning of time, and they’ve contributed innumerable gifts for the betterment of society. We just don’t know about them and it’s time we do. I obviously can’t write about every historical moment, and I’m not particular about any specific year or decade, but I do have some stories in mind that may interweave with Ziggy. I’m focusing on the moments that create a spark within me, because I know that spark will eventually turn into a beacon of light to carry me forward through the hundreds of drafts and rewrites.

What has been the best moment of your debut year?

I’m currently experiencing this at the moment: Being on tour. I’ve spent the better part of the past few years hunkered down in my rabbit hole of writing, interwoven with some major life changes, lost in my own world without too much socializing. The original idea of touring was a little daunting for me, to say the least. And then I was asked to do school presentations in front of 500 students! (Even as an actor, I’d never performed to that size of an audience at once!) But instead of letting my anxiety get the best of me, I pushed through. And I’m so glad I did. Meeting people from every age and walk of life has been so inspiring. To share stories, to laugh, to cry, to connect through this imagined (and some parts unimagined) world I created has been nothing short of pure magic. I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be to meet readers who’d fall in love with these characters that I care about so deeply. And to be able to share my personal journey along the way, to hopefully help those who might be questioning their own, has been the biggest gift I could ever receive.

What books do you recommend that would pair well with Ziggy, Stardust, & Me?

1- Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian — another queer historical set in the 80s that has a beautiful story with gorgeous prose.
2- The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante– a queer speculative story that interweaves immigration and f/f love in a delicate and lush narrative.
3- The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold– for any Bowie fans out there who love Ziggy, this story had a Vonnegut-esque twist and was such fun to get lost in the mind-bending narrative.
4- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz– THE classic queer love story…enough said.

Author Interview with Ryan La Sala

I had the honor of interview Ryan La Sala for my blog, and oh boy, this one is something quite out of this world. I somehow got approved for an eARC of Reverie earlier this summer, and I found it to be such a compelling read. (Review is here)

First a bit about Ryan (from his website) :

Ryan La Sala has always lived on the partition between the real and unreal. He writes about surreal things happening to real people, and his stories are almost always queer. His first book, REVERIE,  focuses on the worlds we build within ourselves—our dreams and our delusions—and how they warp our reality. You can read an interview about it here.

Ryan grew up in a quaint suburb of Connecticut with his three siblings and three parents. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University in Boston and now works atop an antique movie theater at a digital design agency in Somerville, MA. He lives in a house festooned in decorations from past theme parties, where the TV alternates between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kingdom Hearts, and Sailor Moon. If not writing, Ryan is doing arts and crafts with his roommate, lounging around on gym equipment while listening to publishing podcasts, or listening to NPR while cooking. He loves CATS the musical unironically.

And, for those wondering, Ryan writes about drag queens but is not regularly in drag himself. He just doesn’t have the nose for it, and that’s okay.

Ryan is represented by Veronica Park at Fuse Literary.

And then a bit about Reverie, his forthcoming book (again from his website):

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since the accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different… reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is in accident, and only he can stop their town from unraveling.

And now for the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit about your publishing journey so far?

I’ve been wondering about my publishing journey recently, and I’m pretty sure I did everything wrong. I wrote a book so indulgently gay and tailored to my tastes that I was sure it was never going to get me represented by an agent, never mind sell to a major publisher. And to make it worse, I wrote about ~*~DREAMS~*~, and fantastical amnesia, which are rather threadbare territories in the genre. And then, when it got rejected, I ignored everyone’s advice to ‘please for the love of god write something different’ and just kept choo-chooing along.

And THEN, instead of having a nice and professional and smart digital presence, I sort of turned into a virtual clown on Twitter, known for not wearing pants and not knowing how to spell, which is actually who I am IRL.

Anyhow, my agent found me on twitter. So did editors. And my nightmarish, gay-ass book has found a dramatically enthusiastic audience even before publication. It’s a dream – PUN INTENDED – come true.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t recommend anyone follow in my footsteps. Truly I’m baffled any of this worked. But somehow doing stuff the wrong way has worked for me, so here I am!

You have another job in addition to the writing job. How do you find balance in this?

It’s true! People can’t possibly imagine me in a professional scenario, but I actually work in project management and tech. I oversee engineering and design projects for websites! It’s fun and nerdy and I really love the agency I work for. It’s also super demanding, so I’ve got to be pretty organized with how I spend my time.

For instance, I take great care in making use of my time outside of working hours to get all my writing deliverables done, so that I’m not distracted when I’m in the office or working with clients. This includes not just my actual writing, but also all the creative assets that come with promo. Many of my tweets are drafted/planned out the night/weekend before (I flinch at calling these ‘creative assets’ but I guess they technically are, given my origin story?). The images and gifs I put together are designed and edited while I’m dawdling at the gym. If I’m stuck on the train, I’ll write up email responses in my notepad and send them during lunch. Even right now, I’m on a train on my way home from a client visit, making the most of a few minutes to respond to interview J I’m chronically behind on writing stuff, but I do eventually get everything done.

Reverie features a drag queen sorceress. Can you tell us the story behind how that came to be?

Growing up, I spent many summers as a little kid running around Provincetown, a popular performance spot for queens, and I was enamored with every queen I saw. Drag queens are incredibly powerful, just by the nature of their ability to create an entire fiction around themselves. They are the collision between fantasy, power, and self-possession, and I admire the raw individuality it takes to create yourself every single day.

So much of REVERIE has to do with having the guts to manifest the things you believe in, and for me there is no one more prepared to do that than a drag queen. Anyone else could command the forces Poesy commands, but as the book shows, no one is quite as willing, or anywhere near as determined.

While Reverie is fantasy, it’s a very grounded fantasy and takes place in Connecticut. Are any of the places in your book inspired by real life places?

Actually, yes. While Easy Amity, the town in the book, is fictional, it may or may not be based on the real places of West Hartford (where I grew up), and Middletown, where my sister attended college. The Cobalt Complex is drawn from my childhood exploration of the factories that line the many rivers in CT, most of which are abandoned and in a state of thorough decay.

When I first sold REVERIE, I took a few days to go and re-explore the places that had inspired the book. I visited libraries, a jail, high schools, and more abandoned factories than I’d like the police to know about. It’s all real stuff, even the stuff you probably think I made up.

What is your biggest hope for the first year that your book is available to readers?

In the first year of REVERIE’s life, I would really love to see it inspire readers to create their own art. Fan art is cool, and of course adored by me, but the best response I have gotten to this book is the growing contingent of readers who have reported that after finishing the epilogue, they felt the wild urge to create something. I love that. I want that. And I want that especially for the creators out there who are maybe shy of their imagination, because they’ve been othered by media, society, or their family. If this book gets people to really sit down and explore their inner worlds, I will consider my job done well.

When not at your day job or writing, what do you do for fun or to relax?

I live with two dogs, and I love to annoy them with improvised songs about what I think they’re dreaming about. I also occasionally haunt a gym, where I’ve been known to lift a weight or two every few hours. I also love to go to the movies by myself, and binge anime (not by myself, but it’s very very very hard to convince any of my friends to sit through really any anime with me).

Thank you so much to Ryan for the time and effort put into this interview.

Reverie releases December 3, and I’ve included important links below:

Add Reverie to Goodreads

Pre-order Reverie

Follow Ryan La Sala on Twitter

Author Interview with Adib Khorram

Today, I have the great honor of doing an interview with Adib Khorram, author of the award-winning (and life-changing) Darius the Great is Not Okay.

First, here’s a bit about Adib (from his website)

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY. If he’s not writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his 100-yard Freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz Jump, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at

And here’s a bit of Darius the Great is Not Okay (again from his website):

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. 

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home in Portland, and he just knows things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Sohrab introduces Darius to all of his favorite things–mint syrup and the soccer field and a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, friends don’t have to talk. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

And now for the interview!
Darius the Great is Not Okay is frequently included on lists for LGBT+ books, but in the book itself, Darius’ sexuality is never overtly stated. Was this an intentional decision/what drove that decision?

It was quite intentional. For me Darius’s story was always, always about friendship; I didn’t even realize he was queer until I was deep in revisions. I think it’s important to show pre-coming out queer narratives, and I think it’s important to show that queer identity is only one small part of people.

Darius has won quite a few literary awards which is incredible. What has been your most personally rewarding moment in the year since the book first released? (Doesn’t have to be literary award related!) 

It’s hard to pick a rewarding moment—there have been so many—but I will share a trend that’s stuck with me. I do a lot of school visits and I talk about my own growing up as a queer kid, and a diaspora kid, and I love the conversations that spurs. Sometimes it’ll be a big discussion and the students will get to see their friends and classmates with greater empathy than before. And sometimes it’s a quiet moment of connection where a student is struggling with something and asks me for advice. Making life better for young readers is why I do this.

Darius portrays the quiet struggles of mental illness so well. After I made my mom read it, she told me, “now I understand you and your dad a little better.” Why was it important to you to include this mental health representation?  

When I first started writing Darius back in 2015, it felt like there was a huge crop of books about mental illness that all dealt with suicide. While that’s certainly a possible outcome of living with depression, it’s not the only one, and I wanted to push back on that narrative.

You work a job outside of writing. Because of that, what does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t know that I really have a typical writing day! Sometimes my dayjob will be kind of slow and I’ll take time off to write. Sometimes it’ll be busy and get no writing in. Sometimes I’ll be on a job site but waiting for someone else to finish before I can do my work, and then I might squeeze in some writing there. My favorite writing days are when I can gather with some other local YA authors and we write, talk, and get lunch!

Your next sold book is a picture book. How has this process been different than the process for Darius?

With a novel, I’m in charge of describing everything in words. But with a picture book, I have to leave room for the illustrator. So much gets to go unsaid. It’s been so cool to work on something and know it’s going to be transformed into something even more amazing.

If you had the opportunity to co-write a YA novel with any author (living or dead), who would you pick and why? (And if you wouldn’t want to do a co-write, explain why.)

I met Lana Wood Johnson back in 2014 when we were both querying bad novels. We posted our queries for critique, ripped each others’ to shreds, and have been friends ever since. Her debut, TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT came out this year, and it shares a lot of themes with Darius: nerds, queerness, mental health, parent relationships. I think we’d have a blast working on something fun and nerdy together!

Thank you so much to Adib for doing this interview with me! I’m still in shock that so many authors said yes, and I’m still shocked that Adib said yes.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is such an incredible book. You can read what I had to say about it here, and I included links below to check out.

Add Darius the Great is Not Okay on Goodreads

Buy Darius the Great is Not Okay

Add Seven Special Somethings (the forthcoming picture book) to Goodreads

Author Interview with Adam Sass

Today, I have the honor of hosting an interview with Adam Sass who is the author of the forthcoming book Surrender Your Sons which is slated for a fall 2020 release.

Here’s a bit about Adam from his website:

Adam began writing books in Sharpie on the backs of Starbucks pastry bags. He’s sorry it distracted him from making your latte. Raised in an Illinois farm town, his desire for a creative career took him to Chicago, New York, and currently, Los Angeles.

He is a Creative Producer for ATTN:, an issues-driven social media video creator. He interviewed conversion therapy survivors for a video promoting Focus Features’Boy Erasedit has garnered over 1.6 million views.

Along with authors Patrick Ness and L.C. Rosen, he spoke to U.K.’s iNews about the taboo of gay sex in YA fiction.

He is a frequent co-host for the monthly YA Book Club at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, alongside Not Your Sidekick author C.B. Lee.

His short story “98% Graves”was nominated by Writer’s Digest for Best Science Fiction Story of 2015.

A gay geek, he is also a recurring co-host on the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast Slayerfest98, alongside special guests like Last Seen Leaving author Caleb Roehrig and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Trixie Mattel.

His debut YA novel SURRENDER YOUR SONS is slated for release Fall 2020 by Flux. He is represented by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary.

And here’s a bit about Surrender Your Sons

Pitched as a queer LOST, SURRENDER YOUR SONS is about Connor Major, a gay teen whose summer vacation turns into a nightmare when his religious zealot family has him kidnapped and taken to a conversion camp on a forgotten island. There, he teams up with the other kidnapped LGBTQ+ teens to uncover the camp’s dark secrets.

And now for the interview!

Can you briefly explain your road to publishing so far?

I first started writing books when I was a barista at my local Barnes & Noble Café. I’d scribble ideas on the backs of pastry bags as I was looking out on the bookshelves, imagining my books in there one day. Flash forward many years, and I finally had something that was both finished AND worth somebody’s time. It took exactly 4 years to the day to go from my very first query letter on Surrender Your Sons to the call from my agent Eric Smith offering to represent me. Eric had even turned down Surrender (gently, and with good reason!!!) a few years before. I was so new to the business and the craft (I’d gotten my start writing screenplays, which are a very different beast) that it took a while for the revisions to finally stick. Then almost another year exactly from Eric putting my book on submission to editors, we got picked up by Flux. All in all, a 5-year journey of 110 combined agent and editor rejections on a single project. Many close calls, but we got there. Surrender will live!

From the summary of Surrender Your Sons, the book deals a bit with conversion therapy. I would imagine that this was a very difficult book emotionally to write at times. How do you protect your mental health while writing about such intense things?

What protected my mental health the most during writing was the reason I wanted to tell this story in the first place: escapism. Surrender Your Sons is intensely emotional and well-researched about the topic, but this story is a thrilling adventure first and foremost. Please go read Boy Erased for a hyper-realistic portrait of what it’s like going through this torture. Or Orpheus Girl or The Miseducation of Cameron Post for searing, sensitive dramas. What Surrender Your Sons provides is the kind of catharsis that’s difficult to get with non-fiction or straightforward dramas. It might be wish fulfillment, but I wanted a story that put queer kids front and center in the driver’s seat of their own thriller. Conversion therapy is an insidious horror that is almost impossible to pluck out of our society, root and stem, and I made sure to honor the weight of what this does to people. However, as a queer person who has seen so many horrors attacking my community go unavenged, I wanted to write a story where the right people got their asses kicked. So, to answer your question, whenever Surrender got into the dark-and-difficult stuff, I felt protected with the knowledge that I could have my kids give it back as hard as they were getting it.

What are you looking forward to the most for your debut year?

I mean, I’m going to faint when I finally see my cover. But honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing people hold the book in IG stories and blogposts. People who don’t know me IRL, total strangers, who find the book and think it’s as cool as I do. That’s the magic.

You have another job outside of writing. How do you attempt to find balance between your “day job,” writing, and downtime? 

I don’t! I really need help! Actually, what helps me is the old taking things day-by-day. I break up writing, my job, and downtime into achievable action items, then keep a really detailed calendar to keep it all straight so I don’t HAVE to keep everything in my head. I just look down at the paper and know that for this day, in this hour, this is the only thing I have to focus on. Of course, life is unpredictable and some things take longer, so I try to take an organic POV to my calendar and I adjust on the fly. This way won’t work for everyone, but for me, a mixture of planning and staying flexible helps keep me on the right path.

Further down the line, if you had the opportunity to co-write with another YA author, would you take that opportunity/which authors would you like to co-write with?

Co-writing books sounds like such a lovely thing, and I would jump at the right opportunity with the right person. Although, my hectic schedule and “let’s change this plot element because I got a whim” energy would probably make them see red. I would want to co-write something where it felt like the story really needs two different voices, more than just having a dual POV. I would say Caleb Roehrig because I’m such a fan, but I wouldn’t want to do that to our friendship! I think I’d like to write with someone who has a totally different perspective on life than myself, but embraces work in the same way–like Claribel Ortega or Camryn Garrett.

We have the quite the wait for Surrender Your Sons to be released. What books do you recommend for us to read to tide us over while we wait for your YA debut to explode on to the scene?

Why does it have to be a year away?! Believe me, I suffer with you. In the meantime, please check out Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan, a scary and nasty-in-the-good-way thriller. Keep your eye out for Reverie by Ryan La Sala in December–a totally inventive take on YA fantasy. Then, Surrender Your Sons will be here before we know it!

Thank you so much to Adam for agreeing to do this interview with me!!

And here’s some links to check out:

Adam’s Info

Add Surrender Your Sons to Goodreads
Follow Adam Sass on Twitter

Adam’s Suggestions of What to Read While Waiting

Add Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan to Goodreads
Add Reverie by Ryan La Sala to Goodreads

Adam’s Suggestions of Heartbreaking Conversion Therapy Reads

Add Boy Erased to Goodreads
Add Orpheus Girl to Goodreads
Add The Miseducation of Cameron Post to Goodreads

ARC Review of All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

While boarding a plane to visit Dallas, Allie’s father begins to be harassed for speaking Arabic on the phone. Allie, Muslim herself but white-passing, calms down the situation, something that she’s used to doing. But that incident along with visiting her family in Dallas sparks a change in Allie. She’s never really explored her own religion, and for the first time, she wants to.

But at the same time, none of her friends at her newest school know that she’s Muslim. As she begins to see the world through a different lens, she begins confronting what it means to be a Muslim in America, to be white-passing, and to stay silent or speak up in the face of oppression. Add to the mix a boyfriend whose father has made a career out of hating Muslims, and Allie’s life becomes even more complicated.

This is an #ownvoices novel that explores deeply the idea of being Muslim in America and what it means to take ownership over who you really are. While this is a bit on the lengthier side, it’s a pretty fast-paced read, and it’s extremely high quality.

It’s one that so many people need to read.

All-American Muslim Girl releases November 12.

ARC Review of Stargazing by Jen Wang

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Moon moves into the guest house in Christine’s backyard, the two quickly become friends. Moon challenges Christine to see more to life than studying and striving for perfection, and for a while, Christine enjoys that new life. But when a bad grade on a math test happens, Christine starts pulling away from Moon.

Stargazing is a delightful middle grade graphic novel that also packs a powerful emotional punch. The art is gorgeous throughout, and the story is extremely compelling. This is the perfect addition to the excellent contemporary MG novels that are out there.

Stargazing releases September 10.

Author Interview with Phil Stamper

Up next in the author interview series is an interview Phil Stamper, author of the forthcoming The Gravity of Us. I read this as an ARC (read the review here), and I loved it so much.

Here’s a bit about Phil Stamper (from his website):

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. THE GRAVITY OF US is his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing. His self-insert Legend of Zelda fanfiction came with a
disclaimer from the 14-year old author: “Please if you write a review don’t criticize my work.” He has since become more open to critique… sort of.
And here’s a bit about The Gravity of Us which releases February 4, 2020.

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

And now for the interview!

In the book, you take the world that was built in the 1960s for the first era of human space flight modernize it. Why did you specifically decide to do this?

This is a great question, and I think it was actually a bit of trial and error that got me to this point. I started drafting the novel as a YA historical fiction novel, actually. In the plan for this novel, I was going to build a teen m/m love story into the actual Apollo program. But I had a hard time making it work. Among the issues, it didn’t feel very relevant or exciting as a story. I wasn’t feeling that “spark” you get when a piece is really coming together.

And then I had the idea to make it a contemporary, and I started to find so many parallels between the issues the astronaut families would face today and what they really did face 50 years ago. I replotted the book, adding the social media and reality show elements, the “Orpheus” missions to Mars, and I found a way to reference the drama of the 60s while not getting too caught up in nostalgia. I decided to go for it during NaNoWriMo 2016, and ended up drafting the full book in three weeks. It just worked so well.

In the book, both Cal’s mother and Leon struggle with mental health issues. However, Cal does not explicitly struggle with mental health. Why was it important to you to include mental health issues from the perspective of a perceived outsider (i.e. Cal)?

This really came from my own personal experiences—I’ve spent a lot of time (over the last half-decade especially) learning how to manage my own mental health, and for me, part of the challenge of that is in how to communicate it to others. Too often, it can feel like it’s “me against the world” when mental health is concerned, and I found it almost therapeutic to write from the perspective of a character who may or may not have the same experience, but who still takes the time to listen and understand.

Given the right circumstances, would you consider a sequel?

Absolutely! I loved spending so much time in this world, and I could definitely see the potential for more stories within it. Keep your fingers crossed. 🙂

Thank you so much to Phil for his time and thoughtful answers!!

I’ve linked some important links below:

Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads

Pre-order The Gravity of Us

Info about Phil Stamper’s awesome pre-order gift (a bookplate that’s been flown into space!) 

Follow Phil on Twitter

Author Interview with Stephanie Kate Strohm

Continuing the interview series, I have an interview today with Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of eight books, the most recent being That’s Not What I Heard. I have read every single one of her books, and I have freaking loved all of them.

Here’s a bit about Stephanie:

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of It’s Not Me, It’s You; The Taming of the DrewPilgrims Don’t Wear PinkConfederates Don’t Wear Couture; The Date to SavePrince in Disguise, Love a la Mode,and That’s Not What I Heard. She grew up on the Connecticut coast, where a steady diet of Little House on the Prairie turned her into a history nerd at an early age. After graduating with a joint major in theater and history from Middlebury College, she acted her way around the country, performing in more than 25 states.

Although she was born in New York, she currently lives in Chicago, and doesn’t discriminate against any type of pizza. When she’s not writing, she loves baking, walking her dog Lorelei, taking dance cardio classes too seriously, and playing board games with her husband.

And here’s a bit about Stephanie’s most recent book:

What did you hear?

Kimberly Landis-Lilley and Teddy Lin are over. Yes, the Kim and Teddy broke up.

At least that’s what Phil Spooner thinks he overheard and then told Jess Howard, Kim’s best friend. Something about Teddy not liking Kim’s Instas? Or was it that Teddy is moving to Italy and didn’t want to do long distance? Or that Kim slid into someone else’s DMs?

Jess told her boyfriend, Elvis, that he needs to be on Kim’s side. Especially if he wants to keep her as his girlfriend. But Elvis is also Teddy’s best friend.

Now, Kim’s run out of school for the day. Jess is furious. Elvis is confused. And half the lunch period won’t talk to Teddy. Even the teachers have taken sides.

William Henry Harrison High will never be the same again!

And now for the interview!

That’s Not What I Heard is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. I know that you briefly worked as a teacher. Did any of your experiences impact how you crafted this book?

My year and a half working at a high school informed EVERYTHING about the teacher scenes – even down to the PE teachers eating a whole rotisserie chicken every lunch. I started midway through the year, and I was shocked by how much being in the teachers lounge reminded me of being back in high school – and even more shocked by how much the teachers knew about all the students’ social lives! (And also, by how many teachers fell in love and got married!) I’d wanted to write a YA that included some of high school from the teachers’ perspective ever since I started teaching, so I’m so glad I finally got the chance to. Ms. Somers’ POV was my favorite one to write.

You have an (adorable) one year old. How has his presence impacted your writing career? 

My son has changed everything about my life, including my writing. I used to only write when I felt like it, and then when I did feel like it, I’d write in giant, uninterrupted chunks. Now, my process is completely different. I write every single day (thanks, nap time!) and I usually only write 500 words – before baby, I thought that 500 words was nothing. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it added up more quickly that I would have guessed! Writing has become a slow and steady process, but I’m making it work. The other big change is that I find it harder to find the time to dedicate to social media – and that I need to make sure events will at least cover the cost of a babysitter before I commit! I love doing festivals and panels and school visits, but it’s a little more challenging to schedule everything now.

If you could choose exactly one of your books to become a movie/tv series, which one would it be and why?

This is tough, but if I could only choose one, it would be Prince in Disguise, because i LOVE Christmas movies!! White Christmas is my all-time favorite, but I spend most of December glued to the Hallmark Channel. Name a made for TV Christmas movie, and I’ve probably seen it!

It’s Not Me, It’s You and The Date to Save both are told through an oral history type of style. What were the main challenges of this and your favorite parts of utilizing that style?

The biggest challenge was being able to move the plot along without exposition – I definitely got the hang of it eventually, but it was a process! My favorite part was not having to write any exposition, hahahaha – the oral history style is basically all dialogue, which is my favorite thing to write!

You have some extensive history working as an actress. How would say that this has impacted you as a writer?

And back to dialogue, I think the reason I love writing it so much is because of my background as an actor. I really like getting into characters’ voices, and I think it helped give me a sense of what dialogue sounds natural and what sounds stilted. Plus, I like to think it helped develop my sense of comic timing and how to pace a joke.

If you could co-write a book with another author, living or dead, who would you pick and why? 

Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights, now with LOLZ!

Thank you so much to Stephanie for her time!!

And here’s some links to check out her works!!

Add Stephanie Kate Strohm’s books on Goodreads

ARC Review of Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ellie is tired of people looking at her and thinking that she’s not capable of being independent. In some ways, she’s used to it. After all, she does have cerebral palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair. But that doesn’t mean she’s happy about it.

Her life suddenly goes through upheaval when her grandpa in Oklahoma finds the keys that her grandmother hid and accidentally drives a truck through the front of the local grocery store. Her mom makes the decision that they are going to help whatever way they can in order to prevent Grandpa from going into an assisted living home.

Unfortunately for Ellie, that means that they are moving to Oklahoma for six months.

However, as Ellie gets situated, she unexpectedly finds herself truly making friends for the first time while dealing with her grandpa’s dementia. But when something happens, Ellie has to try to convince her mom that Oklahoma is where she is meant to be.

Roll With It was written by a parent of someone who has CP.  What this means is that while obviously CP plays a roll in Ellie’s life, it’s not the whole story by any means. It’s sensitively done, and it makes clear that the author wanted to a write a story where having CP was NOT the story. That’s what makes this refreshing among other middle grade novels I’ve read where the main character has a disability.

Roll With It will be a great addition to any upper elementary and lower middle school library. It releases October 1.