It’s time for a little…Authors Interviewing Authors here on Binge on Books! April’s interview features Queer New Adult author, Sam Schooler, chatting with brand spanking new author, Wes Kennedy. With Wes’ quirky and diverse debut out April 27th, we wanted to learn more more more(!) about her and what else she has in the works. So here’s Sam Schooler and Wes Kennedy talking debut novellas, grammar and editing, and a love of all things Kung Fu!
Sam: Hey Wes! So let me start by buttering you up. Your debut novella To Terminator, With Love is a geeky romp through the “uh-oh, the apocalypse is right on top of us and we need to prevent it, like, yesterday” black comedy genre. Your hero Dexter Wu is a sweetheart, and I adore his stoic, Agent K-esque love interest Andre. I know I asked you a question about the publishing process and editing in our interview on J.C. Lillis’s blog, but here’s a more specific one: What was the most challenging part of editing TTWL?
Wes: When I first submitted TTWL the only experience I had with editing was research papers and beta reading buddy fics, so my idea of what “editing” a novella entailed was very limited. Things like dev edits and line edits were foreign to me at the time, so when my editor first plopped them into my lap it was a bit of an overload.
When you’re just used to beta readers and proofreaders telling you things about grammar and sentence structure, it can be a bit jarring to be told “Okay, remove this line and scene completely.” I was like “Wha??”
I very quickly fell in love with the editing process, though, and I took to it really fast. There is such a good feeling of taking something you’ve made and, with the help of someone who knows their stuff, polishing it to make it the best it can be.
Sam: You also talked about TTWL’s geeky influences in our first interview. What about you? When did you find yourself drawn to “geeky” TV shows and movies? Do you think those things will continue to shape your books, or was TTWL your one-and-done geeky book?
Wes: I was always really into fantasy and sci-fi books as a kid, and I loved sci-fi and karate movies. My brother nicknamed me ‘Grasshopper’ because I super into the TV show Kung Fu and Jackie Chan movies.
When I was about 14 I first discovered Yu-Gi-Oh!, and it was all downhill from there. I was sucked in immediately. I had three themed decks and a duel disk by the time I attended my first con, and then I was cosplaying as much as I could.
Being the ‘weird black girl’ in my tiny Texas town of less than 1600, my geeky shows and movies were my lifeline. They’re always going to be part of me. Even now, I’m getting ready for another anime convention me and my group of friends are featured guests at! In August I’ll be attending AnimeFest as Bandit King Bakura from Yu-Gi-Oh! and, yes, you should ALL be jealous.
Because these things are such a big part of my identify, their influences will definitely be showing up in my work as I continue publishing. TTWL is, like, 75% gratuitous 80s movies references, and those were actually story-appropriate, so you know I won’t be able to stop myself with other manuscripts. While the majority of my future projects aren’t as geeky-focused as TTWL, I can guarantee you’ll find geeky influences in just about all of them.
Sam: Dexter and Andre are both people of color, and I know a commitment to diversity is important to you. The push for diversity is sometimes like going uphill both ways, in the snow, carrying a few dozen Daleks on your back. What made you decide to infuse your SFF with diversity?
Wes: First off, let me just say that analogy is amazing.
To answer the question: When I first decided to make the leap and try indie publishing, the project I had, which was totally different from TTWL, had all white characters. That was the painstaking research I did combing through titles on LGBTQIAP+ indie publishing sites told me white M/M sells. I thought, implicitly, that the best way of getting my work published and positively received was to go with what I saw represented the most. At the time, I had no idea there was this whole revolution to promote diversity in all areas of publishing.
Unfortunately—or fortunately—that particular project went nowhere, but what made me go for characters of color in TTWL was the fact that I was writing it for myself. I was in undergrad, clawing my way through finals, and when I needed to take a break from it all before I snapped, I wrote. I didn’t consciously make Dexter Asian and Andre Black, they just turned out that way. Because I was writing for me I wasn’t thinking that white had to be the default. I wasn’t thinking about marketability or whether it would be accepted, I just wanted a bit of escapism.
I think that’s what’s so important about diversity, not just in SFF but in all of publishing. People write the stories they need and want to see, and that doesn’t always mean cis white boys falling in love. It’s just that now people are recognizing how important those stories really are, and isn’t that just awesome?
Sam: Okay, these have all been intense questions, so here’s a fun one! Say the apocalypse were to happen tomorrow—Skynet takes over, a World War Z pandemic sweeps the world, or maybe Dexter’s HAL goes haywire. What’s your game plan?
Wes: Honestly, I’d say roughly 45% of my life is dedicated to working out all the scenarios in which the earth will reach its demise, and I survive in literally none of them. What can I say? I’m a realist.
I am simply not prepared or knowledgeable enough to survive any sort of doomsday plot, which is probably why I like writing from the POV of the villain so much. I mean, sure, I can think of a 1000 ways to destroy the world, but surviving said destroying is not at all in my job description.
(P.S. NSA, please don’t contact me. I’m just a lowly writer is all.)
Sam: Adding to the last question. Who’s the number one fictional character you’d want to have your back during the apocalypse? Mine is Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect, because, yeah. Even if I died fast, I’d get to bask in his voice for a while.
Wes: Practically speaking, I’d probably pick someone like Luke Cage. Indestructible, superhuman strength, bald—bald guys always have a higher chance of surviving things when the shit hits the fan, you ever notice that? Plus, I’d get to look at Luke Cage for however long my feebly human body holds out against a swarm of radioactive bees (bees?), so it’s a win-win. Y’know, except for my inevitable death.
My self-indulgent answers are Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, and Agent Washington of Red vs Blue. I pick Jennifer Walters because She-Hulk is my all-time favorite Marvel character (sorry Thor!), and if I’m going to die in a post-apocalyptic wasteland I would at least like the last thing I see to be my gigantic green lawyer wife smashing bees right out of the sky.
I pick Agent Washington because he’s the character I identify with most out of every fandom I’ve ever been in, minus maybe Tsukimi from Kuragehime. I’d love a chance to pick his brain and just talk to him, even if it’s in whatever ruin that used to be the U.S. Plus, he comes equipped with a Battle Rifle and a nifty Magnum, so that’s a plus.
Let me just reiterate that in all of these situations I do not survive. Again, I’m being a realist here.
Sam: TTWL is sci-fi, but your WIP is contemporary. Do you see yourself sticking with one particular genre as you continue your career? Or do you plan to see where your ideas take you?
Wes: I definitely would like to expand my horizons. While my current WIP and pet project is contemporary, I’ve got a couple future projects lined up spanning genres. I have a supervillain sci-fi YA I put on hold at about 10k to focus on my current WIP, a self-indulgent college basketball erotica novel, a historical romance about two Tuskegee airmen trainees, and an A/B/O drama that flirts on the side of paranormal romance.
All of these ideas came from me thinking “What if?” and then just going for it. When I first started out I envisioned myself being a New Adult SFF writer exclusively, but I get inspiration from so many places that putting myself into that box was more stifling than anything. The last two projects I mentioned are also more on the serious side, which is different for me as a person never misses a chance to make a joke or reference about anything.
I’m debuting a new pen name, Brooklyn Wallace, and expanding my horizons as I continue on this exciting journey. Even though it’s only been a little over a year, I feel as if I’ve evolved so much regarding my identity and who I want to be as a writer.
Sam: Let’s give everyone something to look forward to. I know a bit about your next book (and get to be a beta reader, yay!), which I am very excited about. Want to share a few details, or even a quick and dirty blurb?
I’m excited (and nervous) for you to read it! You may be seeing a WYWH-shaped email in your inbox in the upcoming weeks *WINK WINK, NUDGE NUDGE*
The WIP is called WISH YOU WERE HERE:
Damien Moss is an aimless 16-year-old junior-turned-senior who can’t take anything seriously, including himself. At the beginning of the story his longtime girlfriend dumps him, and his half-formed plans about following her to college and starting a family leave with her. He’s then whisked off to his grandmother’s in Louisiana for the summer where he works at a family friend’s pet hotel to “help build his character,” whatever that means. There he meets a tall, quiet boy with shit taste in Starburst and the kind of smile that makes him want to do stupid things.
Anthony Harrison is an overworked 17-year-old who looks after his younger brother and sister while working two jobs for a boss that hates him. Like Damien, he’s nursing a broken heart he doesn’t know what to do with and is more than a little reluctant to fall in love again, especially with the loud Texas boy who seems to make it his mission to get a smile out of him.
Where Damien is loud, irresponsible, and playful, Anthony is quiet, hardworking, and serious. Somehow, they find what they’re looking for in each other.
WISH YOU WERE HERE is unapologetically steeped in black culture. There’s a scene at the beginning where Damien is attending his family cookout, and I swear I smiled all through writing it because the inspiration was my own family cookouts. There’s no greater feeling than writing something and feeling a connection to it. You hope someone else reads it and feels the same way, too.
Damien and Anthony also deal with problems unique to queer black boys, like toxic black masculinity and the always delightful hoteps. While these problems are by no means the focus of the story, I felt it was important to show the issues surrounding being young, queer, and black.
All that said, ultimately WISH YOU WERE HERE is just a love story between two boys. It isn’t an “issues” book, it’s a clumsy boy-meets-boy romance/coming of age story set in America’s favorite armpit (sorry, Florida). Damien and Anthony grow as characters, deal with loss and family, find their sense of identity and the will to stand up for themselves, and fall in love. It’s the story I would have loved to have in high school, basically.
Sorry to ramble on there! I just really love working on this project. I’m almost finished with it, and I’m so excited about it.
Sam Schooler grew up in conservative southwestern Ohio suburbia. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Scripps, they became a full-time author, occasional editor, and round-the-clock consumer of Kinder Eggs. They write trope-subverting new adult books about people of all genders and orientations—and all the ways they can love each other. Their first novel, DEAD RINGER, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly as well as praise from Booklist and the Manhattan Book Review. They are currently working on a four-book new adult romance series, which will begin releasing in November 2016 from Riptide Publishing. Their literary debut, a new adult cyberpunk adventure novel, will be published in late 2017 by Brain Mill Press.
They live with their wife and their two cats in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Wes Kennedy (aka Brooklyn Wallace) is an author of LGBTQ+ fiction and starving graduate student from the great state of Texas. An anxious perpetual sleeper with a penchant for self-deprecating humor, Wes has a soft spot for writing comedies and forbidden love. When not writing, she enjoys touring various anime and sci-fi conventions across Texas, reading and writing fanfiction, yelling about sports, and watching TV shows religiously.
Her debut novella, To Terminator, With Love, will be released with Less Than Three Press on April 27th.
Authors Interviewing Authors is a monthly series on Binge on Books featuring your favorite authors interviewing their favorite authors!