On this episode of The Desk Set, we're talking about books by queer authors. First, we talk to Seattle writer Katrina Carrasco about her novel The Best Bad Things, a historical crime novel set in Port Townsend's seedy underbelly. Then, we chat with artist and author Keezy Young about Taproot, her sweet and creepy graphic novel. Finally, we're joined by two KCLS staff members to talk about more great books byLGBTQIA+ authors and the Library's programming for Pride Month.
A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.
In addition to the books below, listeners can find more titles by LGBTQ+ authors on these lists: Emily's Picks, Britta's Picks, Sci-fi and Fantasy by LGBTQ+ Authors, Books by Queer Authors of Color, and Memoirs by Queer Men.
If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.
Emily Calkins: You're listening to the Desk Set.
Britta Barrett: A bookish podcast for reading broadly.
Emily Calkins: We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.
Britta Barrett: And Britta Barrett.
Emily Calkins: On this episode, we talked to Katrina Carrasco about The Best Bad Things, her queer historical novel set in Port Townsend's seedy underbelly.
Britta Barrett: Then we talked to Keezy Young about Taproot, a cute and creepy graphic novel.
Emily Calkins: Finally, we'll have a conversation with KCLS staff about their favorite queer titles and the system's work with LGBTQ+ youth.
Britta Barrett: Before we get started, we just wanted to make a note that we experience some sound issues while recording this episode.
Emily Calkins: At the beginning of the interview with our first guest, you'll hear some background voices. And in our third segment, there's a chirping sound that occurs throughout the segment. We're sorry about that. It's us, not you so don't pull your car over to the side of the road and we promise we'll fix it for next time.
Britta Barrett: It's just one of those fun things about recording in a public space. Thanks for understanding.
Katrina Carrasco: My name is Katrina Carrasco. I'm a writer and I lived here in Seattle and The Best Bad Things is my debut novel. It came out last November, in November 2018. And I'm working on a new project now and it's also going to be set in the Pacific Northwest.
Britta Barrett: And the Pacific Northwest is kind of a character in your story. I read somewhere that you actually wrote some great passages while on the ferry. Did you spend a lot of time going to Port Townsend to research it?
Katrina Carrasco: I did. I love Port Townsend. It was kind of my running joke that I hope they'll let me go back and visit after writing this book about their town, as a character that sometimes is a little scruffy around the edges. I did write some great scenes on the ferry. I did quite a bit of traveling to Port Townsend. I also go to Whidbey Island a lot just to write and kind of get away from the city. And it was on one of the ferries back from Whidbey that I actually wrote the last scene of the book, but very early on. So obviously, no spoilers, but I had a Post-It note on my desk the entire drafting process that said like, "It has to end this way." Because I kept wanting to change my mind.
Emily Calkins: We were talking about the book before you came in and I was saying like, "I love the ending so much." It's hard to talk ... I don't want to spoil it, but you sort of give it away at the very beginning and yet ... it both felt inevitable and I was like, "What?" Can you talk a little bit about how you structure the book?
Katrina Carrasco: Sure. Right. So the beginning is kind of tied to the ending, which you'll kind of know when you get there. I really wanted to play with form. I think in a lot of ways the book is playing with different tropes and genres, but in its heart, I really feel like it's a literary fiction character study of Alma, the main character. And when I decided like, "Okay. I'm going to play with crime fiction and mystery fiction, historical fiction." I also thought, "Well, let's get really messy and play with form." And the transcript chapters are kind of the direct descendant of that choice. But at the start, in the first draft that was completed, there was also an entire thread that's told in first person in Alma's voice. And the little snippet at the beginning of the book is the only piece of it that remains, but originally there was kind of a third red herring strand and my editor, bless her, was like, "Calm down. That's a lot for people to follow."
Katrina Carrasco: At first, I didn't agree with her, but in retrospect, I think she had a very good point where there's a lot going on, there's a lot of stuff to track. And I think we pared it down enough to where there's still lots of cool stuff happening like content-wise, form-wise, but it's not you know the kitchen sink where I could have done everything but it would have been even more for the reader to sort of keep track of.
Emily Calkins: For our listeners who haven't read the book, can you tell us more about Alma?
Katrina Carrasco: Sure. I'll just do a little blurb of the book because that includes her. It's a story that takes place in Port Townsend in 1887 when it was part of Washington territory and Alma Rosales is a former Pinkerton detective who goes undercover to investigate opium smuggling in the town. And while she's there, she takes on various different disguises, and sort of early, in the first third, the mystery becomes who is she and who is she working for and what is she really up to.
Britta Barrett: And you mentioned that this is sort of genre-blending or defying piece of work. Do you think there's something inherently queer about not being able to fit in a tidy little box?
Katrina Carrasco: I love that question so much. I think that's a wonderful way of putting it. Kind of resisting categorization, doing things differently, doing things in ways that might surprise or even upset people, if they expect things to be a certain way. I think in a lot of ways ... And I know I'm not supposed to read Goodreads and all those things and like those are for readers, not for me and I understand. But from some of the feedback I've gotten or read about the book, people seem very confused by it because I guess in some ways it's packaged as a mystery and people maybe expect something else when they take a mystery off the shelf. And as a writer, I'm trying to communicate something. Like I wrote this so people would read it and be like, "Oh, this is something new, something that's expanding my ideas of what fiction can do, of queer people in fiction."
Katrina Carrasco: And so in a way when the book kind of gets misread that way, I almost take it personally like Alma's getting misread. And I think that directly correlates to kind of queerness. When you push boundaries and you do things in weird unexpected ways, it's amazing, but not everyone's going to be picking up what you're putting down, basically. So I do think that it's exactly what I want it to be, but the flip side of that is sometimes when people read it, they're a little bit unsure and I think there's a lot of parallels to queerness with that. Thank you for that question.
Emily Calkins: Speaking of that sort of expectations. Port Townsend in the 1880s doesn't seem necessarily like the most natural setting for a biracial queer protagonist. How did you decide to bring those things together?
Katrina Carrasco: Sure. So the queer part was always super important and her ethnicity was very important. I'm Latinx. My mom is Ecuadorian American. And I always wanted to read more books where the main characters were Latinx people. And I came out later in life, but sort of was always wondering and questioning my own identity as a younger person and always reading books about queer people and sort of like took a long time to put two and two together. And then I did and it was great. But also I was always gravitating towards those stories and I wanted to create a story where that main character kind of encapsulated everything that I had always wanted in a book and while Port Townsend might seem not the most natural choice for that, I decided to have Alma be Mexican-American because there was such a large population of folks in Southern California which is sort of where she is from. And then ends up being in place in that area to get called up to San Francisco and then to Port Townsend and sort of make her way north that way.
Katrina Carrasco: So while she's a little bit of an anomaly, she's certainly historically plausible. Just with Delphine, one of the other main characters. She is a black woman and there weren't large black communities in Washington and Oregon, you couldn't stay if you were African-American, but there was a large black community in Vancouver. So Delphine, having people and being able to fit in also is historically plausible. But I didn't want to write a book with a bunch of straight white folks and so I didn't do that.
Emily Calkins: Well, I think you made a good point that part of what happens is people are erased from historical records. And so then when writers are using those historical records to create the background for their story, it's not there, but it doesn't mean that it's not historically plausible and if you do just a little digging, it is there. You mentioned that you read a lot of stories with queer characters in them. Can you talk about some of things that you read where you were looking for your own identity and your own experience?
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah. I think as a younger person a lot of the books I found had queer men in them more than queer women. I think that's an issue that I've sort of been grappling with since coming out, is the question of would I have been able to come out sooner - I'm lesbian - if I see more lesbians in pop culture, in books, in movies. I don't feel like I grew up super sheltered, but I honestly don't think I ever saw a lesbian until I was in college. I mean I don't even mean in person, I mean in a movie, in a book. And I just wonder what would have happened for me personally differently if I'd been able to access more stories and there had been more visibility for me into queer community is.
Katrina Carrasco: So once I got into my 20s and started exploring more purposely for queer content with female-identified people, I really found Sarah Waters and her books are important to me. Jeanette Winterson is important to me as a writer. I really love Ali Smith who ... How to Be Both was probably my favorite book from last year. I found it just last year and I just loved everything about it. It was like a checklist of everything I love in a book in one place. But probably I think Sarah Waters, many people owe a great debt to her being the first book that we read. I read Tipping the Velvet partly on buses. And some of those scenes you know you have to just sort of be like, "No one else around me to see what I'm doing because this is a lot." But it was fun.
Katrina Carrasco: To go back to sort of the erasure question and the research, it reminded me of an anecdote I found because I also tried to research queer people in history. Queer examples that I could based Alma on, especially if she were wearing men's clothing and presenting as a man, looking for any kind of historical materials for that. And I found some examples of people who now there's questions about whether or not they might have been trans individuals, so that's unclear, but a couple of people lived in the San Francisco area in the late 1800s time frame that I sort of used to inform Alma. But the piece I'm thinking of was in this great compendium of Port Townsend history they have sort of like a running list of coroner's records to make the point that there were quite a lot of deaths and murders when it was sort of boom town.
Katrina Carrasco: And there was this one entry where it was - a woman's body was found drowned. They thought maybe she fell off a steamboat, but she was wearing men's clothing and had cards in her pockets with addresses in Seattle, but no information on the body as to who the person was, what their name was. And that was just really ... illustrative to me about how there were so many queer people of course and we don't get visibility into that, and often times all we get are these tiny pieces. It really broke my heart. That was such a sad anecdote, but also people were there. People were living their lives.
Britta Barrett: And because your character is not only bisexual but also biracial, there's this tension between the privilege of passing through various situations or you know, just sort of this like a necessary survival instinct. But then also that like erasure of not feeling very seen. Could you talk to the ways that Alma uses that to her advantage?
Katrina Carrasco: So she definitely capitalizes upon being able to pass as white. I had more, in the story originally, more opportunities for her to be speaking Spanish to sort of like flag more of her Latinx identity, and those kind of got simplified out a little bit. There's pieces in there. I would have liked there to be more for that specific aspect of her character, but she's a chameleon. I think she really performs to survive and especially with passing as white and being able to, you know, pass as Scottish governess and go to a fancy restaurant with her mark, basically. It's a form of disguise for her, it's a way of doing her job, but I think it's also pretty easy for her to pass in that way. And yeah, I'm looking forward to exploring her backstory more. I'm not supposed to talk too much about it, but I'm working on a project where I'm getting more into her history.
Katrina Carrasco: I think this book is so focused intentionally so on the present moment. I didn't go into backstory. I wanted to keep it very ... It's in present tense like very immediate, very close third. I wanted to feel like it was all happening at once, so I resisted giving a lot of information about backstory. But there's a lot more about Alma that I'm still learning and I'm excited to find out kind of how that will play into a different story to come.
Emily Calkins: I loved her. I mean I think when you say it's a character study, that definitely rings true with my experience. Like I read it super fast, I love the whole thing, but she's just like so captivating. And I wonder if you think of her as an antihero because she does a lot of not-so-nice things, but she's also very sympathetic in some ways.
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah.
Britta Barrett: The best bad things.
Emily Calkins: You might say.
Katrina Carrasco: I'm so glad that you liked her so much. I love her. I do think she's kind of an antihero. The way I've described her before that makes sense to me is she's pure id. She doesn't stop and be like, "This isn't a great idea." She'll just be like, "This is going to get me what I want so I'm going to do it." And for that reason, she does a lot of stuff that isn't great. This came up with a reading I did where I was explaining her behavior and my friend in the audience raised her hand and is like, "You're making a lot of apologies for her." And I was like, "Oh no." Because I don't want to do that. And I was. I was like, "Well, she's not the greatest but I really like her." And I was explaining this away in a way that I didn't realize I was doing. I intentionally made her a woman who does bad stuff and does not get punished for it because I feel like so many narratives about women in particular are: women does something bad, learns her lesson in a terrible way; woman does nothing bad, learns a lesson in a really awful way anyways.
Katrina Carrasco: I didn't want to have a story where she was being punished for doing whatever she wanted. And to me, that was a very important part of writing it where I kind of let her do whatever. It was fun to draft her because she's kind of picked up speed and I'd be like, "Okay. Here's a fight." And she'll be like, "Yeah!" In that great way that characters kind of gather to themselves when you've spent enough pages with them and they sort of have a sensible way of acting to you, not like it's smart but that you know the thing that they're likely to do as a character.
Katrina Carrasco: So when she hit that point and I would put her in these dangerous situations and just watch her do her thing, it was really refreshing to me as the author, as the person who controlled that story to be like, "Oh, this scene is not going to end with her like getting unmasked and assaulted." That was never going to happen to her because that's not what I wanted from this story. And while I do think she is a version of an antihero, I think she's also a woman who's doing whatever she wants and I, as an author, am refusing to punish her for that. So that's the very important part of the story for me.
Emily Calkins: So you mentioned that there are several scenes where there's a fight.
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah.
Emily Calkins: And the whole book is full of physicality. There's lots of sex, there's lots of fighting. And I wonder like are you a boxer, or did you just do a ton of research on what it feels like to get beat up and beat people up? Because it's so physical.
Katrina Carrasco: I did take boxing lessons to learn about it. I want to be able to write the fight scenes and not be like, "And then she threw a right hook." And not understand what I was doing. I ended up loving boxing. It was really fun. I have always been an athlete. I used to play basketball, I did rowing, now I do powerlifting, I do boxing just for ... I don't fight. I don't spar, but I enjoy doing different bag work and network. And that was an important part of Alma's character too. It's a very physical character because I think a lot of times again, with female characters typically, it's the whole line, "Oh, women don't do that. Women couldn't do that." And I wanted a character who can.
Katrina Carrasco: I also was able to find historical precedent for that. Because in the late 1800s is when the strongman kind of sideshows things started happening, and there were women who were in the weightlifting worlds. And they were eating their high protein diets, and lifting men over their heads. These are Victorian era women. So there was precedent there too for someone who is female-bodied to be strong and active and physical. Again, not expected, but the historical precedent is there so she could be real.
Emily Calkins: So the book opens with a character getting shot and it's kind of all downhill from there in terms of the personal safety and security of everyone involved.
Katrina Carrasco: Yes.
Emily Calkins: But it's also really fun. Like the book is fun and I think that goes back to sort of what you're saying about Alma just doing what she wants and basically kind of getting away with it. In a way, that feels new I think because she is a woman. How do you balance that constant violence and those other dark elements of the plot with making something that feels fun still?
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah. I think part of that is for me including a little bit of my brand of dark humor. That mostly comes out in the relationship between Alma and Wheeler. That's kind of a foundational relationship in the book. They're a classic odd couple and I think they're bantering and the way that they sort of joke with each other, even when you think they might be going to kill each other, that was a really useful channel for me to bring in, I don't know if I'd call levity, but I think some of their exchanges are hilarious. And of course, sort of like the rotating cast of Wheeler's henchman, all have their own funny moments. That was a conscious decision on my part to not bog down the narrative. I didn't want to get caught in the violence. Part of that is Alma enjoys violence and so I didn't want the readers' experience to be so far from hers.
Katrina Carrasco: I think part of the book is really harnessed to her point of view. It's really harnessed to her perspective and her energy. So she's out there enjoying all these brawls. I think getting that humor in there, getting these exchanges kind of enables the reader to have that experience of what's happening with some of the fighting. That being said, I am not really into consuming violent media. Like I don't watch a lot of violent TV shows, I don't watch a lot of violent movies. I'm kind of a wimp, honestly, in terms of that. I also feel like I used violence in a way where I was trying to be very precise about it.
Katrina Carrasco: There's some scenes where it's pretty violent and it's supposed to feel scary, it's supposed to feel gross. I think a lot of times in media, violence is very cartoonish. Like, "Oh, just shot 12 people. LOL." I find that personally kind of upsetting. So I think with the violence in this book, I didn't want to shy away from how much it would hurt if someone punched you in the ribs, or what would it feel like to be in that body, in that fighting. And again, I think that closeness to especially a female-bodied person experiencing and sometimes enjoying violence has been very upsetting to some readers because we don't see it very often.
Katrina Carrasco: Again, getting back to female narratives and what's allowed for women in terms of learning a lesson or what not. I feel like there's very specific times when women are allowed to enjoy violence. And it's usually after they've been assaulted. That's kind of the narrow path for women to be like, "Now, I'm taking revenge and I'm going to enjoy it." And I think that's problematic in so many ways and really limits our ability to imagine women as complex full humans who have ranges of experiences. And it's something that I've been thinking about a lot lately because I'm trying to write an essay about that and sort of our expectations of violence in this culture, and how it's become almost another way to constrain women and what we're able to do.
Katrina Carrasco: So all those things went into both the seriousness of some of the scene, but also keeping the book from being a slog. I want it to behave like that energy and have some of Alma's sort of careless, spitfire kind of energy in the fight scenes to make them read a little bit more palatable, I guess. And then the boxing scene, which is one of favorites. That's the epitome to me of its violence, but it's violence everyone's agreed to. Just like a boxing match that you'd pay to go watch at Emerald Queen. Careful if you do that, I've done it before. It's fun, but you know ...
Emily Calkins: Well, and there's a lot of character stuff happening in that scene in particular. You mentioned, the relationship between her and Wheeler, which I think is fascinating and there's a lot of character relation stuff happening there. And I think it's interesting to hear you talk about wanting to view the violence, both acknowledge sort of the energy of it and also that it is serious, because there are moments where it is really kind of devastating. I don't want to spoil anything.
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah. It's hard.
Emily Calkins: There are so many specifics I want to talk about here. Anyway, I guess I don't have a question there. That was a really interesting answer and sort of is making me think about the book a little bit differently.
Britta Barrett: And when you were building the world, were there any details from the real world of Port Townsend you wanted to sneak in and anything that was fun just to like completely make up?
Katrina Carrasco: Yeah. So I did a ton of research and the reason I chose Port Townsend because it actually was an amazingly rich setting for this book. Because of where it was located and because it housed the Puget Sound Custom House in the 1880s. It was a smuggling hub. And the custom house was totally corrupt so a lot of the custom house stuff in the book is drawn from historical fact. It was very close to Victoria, where there were a lot of opium refineries. Opium was legal, but you had to pay a tax. So basically the smugglers were tax evaders. So there is a lot of opium coming through a lot of the ways that the ring smuggles are based off of actual documented smuggling cases. It would come on steamboats, it would come on private boats. A few women were arrested with it on their purses under their clothes.
Katrina Carrasco: There was one anecdote of this woman who had something like 45 pounds of opium on under her dress. These women had those big skirts and she had like this case around her hips that was just ... Because opium cans were about 5 pounds and about that big and she had them just like arrayed around herself. And then of course she went to trial and was like, "These men made me do it." And the judge is like, "You're a woman." And they let her go. It was like, "This is ridiculous." But that all really happened. So Sloan talking about like, "Oh, I want to use girls." All of that is really based on stuff that went on.
Katrina Carrasco: But where I wanted to make a clean break with the historical record was with having real people in the book. I don't have any information about what the actual residents of Port Townsend were up to at that time that I could or that I cared to do the digging to kind of corroborate. So I just invented the cast. And some of the people were inspired by a few notable townspeople, but I didn't use the same names because I think it was fun getting that really firm historical foundation and then just making everything up.
Britta Barrett: And what are you reading now?
Katrina Carrasco: I'm reading The Great Believers, which is very sad. So I'm reading it a little bit slowly. And I'm also reading Dopesick and a couple other books on the opioids crisis. They're research material for my new project. It's not going to be set in the current day, but I want to understand what's happening right now with the opioids crisis because there was a very similar thing in the late 1800s, where people were using a lot of opium-based products and it was politicized in a very specific way. The government taxed smokable opium very heavily, which is primarily used by Chinese folks. And then the products that were mostly used by white people had almost no taxes. Like correlating to that, there were all sorts caricatures and racist cartoons and propaganda that kind of cast Chinese men in particular who used smokable opium in this very awful, negative, racist light and then women who use laudanum to quiet their babies were tired mothers.
Katrina Carrasco: I think there's so many parallels to the opioids crisis, just the drugs in this country today that I'm very interested in really understanding what's happening now, so that I can use that to inform how I portray what was going on in the late 1800s.
Emily Calkins: Thank you so much for coming in
Katrina Carrasco: That was super fun. Thank you both for reading the book. I'm really glad that you liked it so much.
Keezy Young: My name is Keezy Young and I'm a comic artist and writer. I do both. And my first graphic novel came out in September of 2017. It's called Taproot and it's about a gardener and a ghost.
Britta Barrett: And I love that your artist bio at the end of Taproot says that you draw and wrote the stories that you wanted to see when you were growing up. Stories starring queer characters with brightness, a little creepiness, and a lot of heart. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Keezy Young: Yeah. When I was a kid, I grew up in a small town and it was a pretty liberal Washington like west coast of Washington, but we didn't have like a huge library or anything like that. And I remember just hanging out every day after school in the YA children's section kind of area and reading every single queer book that I can get my hands on. It was just like a little corner of our local library. I found that so many of them didn't really represent me or represent what I wanted to see in the story. A lot of them were tragic. A lot of sort of very, very realistic stories I guess, really long on you know two girls grow up in the '50s and then their parents find out and split them up, and short on things like fantasy and sci-fi.
Keezy Young: So when I started doing comics, I went back and thought about what would I have loved to see back then what, would have made me really happy and maybe feel more fulfilled. And that was the biggest one.
Emily Calkins: You touched on this a little bit, but queer characters don't often get happy endings in pop culture. We're seeing more that now, more diversity of stories, but there's actually a TV show called Dead Lesbians that comes from the fact that lesbian characters are significantly more likely to die than their straight counterparts. And Taproot kind of turn that on its head by starting out with a romance between a living character and a dead character. Were you aware of that trope as you were putting the story together?
Keezy Young: You know, I actually can't remember if I was aware of that trope by name at that point. The first version of the story was in 2015. So it was a while back. I don't know if people had put the name to it in quite as extreme a way as we have now, but I was obviously very familiar with the trope in a general sense. I grew up with Buffy and that kind of thing and was very aware that that's not how I wanted my story to go.
Britta Barrett: And graphic novel and comics are kind of a unique medium for storytelling. I feel like compared to other mediums, I see more queer representation in them. And I'm wondering if that has to do with the opportunity to show rather than tell, this ability to make visible the kinds of things that maybe our existing language hasn't really caught up to or that we're still trying to find the words for. And also the fact that the world that you draw on the page doesn't have to behave in the same way it does in a medium like film. I'm curious, what attracts you to creating queer comics or what do you think it's uniquely capable of doing?
Keezy Young: Yeah. I think that's probably a big part of it. I can maybe get away with more, in certain ways, but not in all ways. My book has often been marked as 16+ or even 18+. I think most of it, people who haven't read it. And it does have adult characters so I understand on that level. But because it is a visual medium, there is no doubt about the fact that these are queer characters. But I do think that when you can show instead of telling, there's a lot more room for just sort of having the representation there without bringing attention to it necessarily. And I think that's both for queer characters and maybe also for other marginalization.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. I certainly see that in Taproot. Like there's all kinds of skin tones represented and it's never sort of explicit where the story is set. And there's not even really like a lot of cultural markers, but the setting feels very specific. Can you talk about places that inspire you visually?
Keezy Young: Yeah. It's actually something that I think I would change maybe if I were given another chance to go back and do it. I would like to add more of those cultural markers because I think that's an important part of representation. But the setting was based on my small town a little bit. It's a seaside town on the Western Washington coast and it was sort of looking back and remembering all of my favorite times there. Times in the summer when I was hanging out with friends on the cemetery, on top of the hill and that kind of thing. Obviously, there's some differences between that small town and mine, but just sort of pulling from all of my most treasured memories.
Keezy Young: A big one was the garden shop that I used to go with my mom because she is a huge gardener. It was actually one of the things that started the story was wanting to pull those memories and make something from them. So the garden shop was a really important marker.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, there's so many beautiful gardens and greenery in Taproot that it kind of feels like another character in the story. Curious, are you a plant parent yourself?
Keezy Young: I have a bunch of plants and I don't know if I'm a good plant parent. My brother actually works for a garden shop and he had to come over and help save my sugar vine the other day. It got aphids and I didn't know what to do with it. So I do my best, but yeah, I don't know if I have a green thumb exactly.
Emily Calkins: Can you talk about the supernatural elements of Taproot? What inspired those?
Keezy Young: That's a good question. And I'm not really sure where it does come from. I think I've just always loved urban fantasy and traditional fantasy and also sci-fi. That whole genre of using, I guess, supernatural elements to tell a story that might not be available to you with just realism. Obviously, I also like to draw that kind of thing. It's sort of fun to draw ghosts instead of living people or whatever.
Emily Calkins: I'm wondering if there's a sequel planned. It feels kind of open-ended, like Blue and Hamal could have many more adventures. Do you have more stories in mind for them?
Keezy Young: I do actually. I can't promise that they'll ever come to fruition, but I do have a second book kind of in the works, maybe in the background a little bit.
Emily Calkins: Yay!
Britta Barrett: And we always like to ask what are you reading now?
Keezy Young: I'm actually reading a book called Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. I just picked it up yesterday by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell. It's so good.
Britta Barrett: Are there any other queer comics that you would suggest to our listeners?
Keezy Young: Yeah. Let's see. So some of my favorite ones are The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag that I've read recently. I also really like Katie O'Neill, there it is, Katie O'Neill's Tea Dragon story. It's really, really good for middle grade, especially I think. Yeah. And then some others that I really enjoy, both Beyond anthologies and I'm actually in the second one so I guess that's maybe a little self-serving, but the other stories that are ... And those are kind of a really good really diverse sort of scattering of stories that you may not see in other places. And those are also both queer sci-fi and fantasy comics.
Emily Calkins: Can you tell us what you're working on now? I know you have a webcomic that's ongoing.
Keezy Young: Yeah. My webcomic is called Never Heroes, and it's published by Sparkler Monthly. That's in partnership with Hiveworks, if you've heard of them. And that launched in, I want to say March of last year. So it's been going on for a little over a year. And I have plans to keep it going for as long as I can. That one is a little bit more for older readers. I'd put it at 16+ for sure. It has a little bit more mature content in it, but it's about three kids make an accidental deal with a demon one day in the woods, and have to deal with the consequences of that once they're older and they run into each other again.
Britta Barrett: Well, this has been great.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. Thank you for chatting with us. We really appreciate it.
Keezy Young: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.
Emily Calkins: All right. So we are excited to have Stephanie Zero and Christen Lowrey with us today to talk about books by LGBTQ+ authors. Can you guys introduce yourselves?
Christen Lowrey: Yes, my name is Christen Lowrey and I'm a program assistant at KCLS. I use the pronouns they and she and I am a queer-identified person as well as a parent to a queer-identified kid.
Stephanie Zero: My name is Stephanie Zero. I am a Teen Services Librarian at Redmond Library. I go by she/her pronouns, and I host a teen advisory board called the Rainbow Teen Advisory Board for LGBTQ+ teens and allies on the east side.
Britta Barrett: And is there any exciting program coming up for Pride that you'd like to tell us about?
Stephanie Zero: Yes! So our next event is called Lost In Wonderland. It's a dance. It's going to be held at the Old Firehouse Teen Center in Redmond, June 14th, which is a Friday from 7 to 10 PM. It's free. Snacks will be provided.
Christen Lowrey: So along those same lines, KCLS will be part of the Seattle Pride Parade this year. And we will also have a table at Trans Pride Seattle.
Britta Barrett: And does that involve like bring out the bookmobile? Like what can folks do?
Stephanie Zero: For the parade, it'll just be the bookmobile, but people won't be checking out books or anything like that. For the table event, we'll have access to the internet and we'll bring books for people to check out as well as library card applications for them to fill out.
Britta Barrett: So one of KCLS's values is diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it's really reflected in our collection. There's so many different stories to choose from. And you guys have something to share this, right?
Stephanie Zero: Totally! The first one Dreadnought was brought to me by a Rainbow TAB member. That's Rainbow Teen Advisory Board. And Dreadnought is the world's greatest superhero. And Danny is a transgender girl and the only safe way she has to express herself is by painting her toenails. So she's in the mall parking lot, painting her toenails when she sees this superhero fight in the near distance and Dreadnought, the world's greatest superhero, falls down basically in front of her and dies. And he's like, "Take the orb." And she takes this orb and she becomes Dreadnought, but she is also transformed into the body of a girl, the body that she has always known should be her body. Then she goes home and her parents are like, "Who are you?" So it's this really great you know finding out your superpowers and like coming out to your friends and family and that's Dreadnought by transgender author April Daniels.
Stephanie Zero: And another one I had a lot of fun reading. I actually listen to a lot of my books. So The Disasters by M.K. England is about these students who have been kicked out of the Space Academy and right as they're getting on the show back to Earth, terrorists hijacked the academy, but they escape into outer space! And they're going to tell everybody what happened, but then they turn on the news and they're being blamed for the attack! They're on the run and everybody's after them. The author describes it as a queer Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Breakfast Club with the diverse cast of characters. So it's got a bisexual pilot and a transgender med student and a hijabi hacker. Just fun, fast-paced ...
Britta Barrett: Are there jocks in space?
Stephanie Zero: Yes, one of them is a jock, yes. And so M.K. England is queer. Can I just say what's super interesting about this 10 to Try category is how do you find out if the author is queer?
Britta Barrett: It's a really good question because you can't search in the catalog; you can know about the content of the story, but that doesn't tell you about the author themselves. And so it really takes like some investigative work.
Emily Calkins: It does. And we've made some list on the website to kind of help people, but there's more than we can make lisst of. And it serves as interesting line, right? Like we're wanting people to read broadly and we're wanting to hear, not only different stories, but wanting to hear from other kinds of voices. And that's why the category is by an LGBTQ author instead of an LGBTQ character. But it is sort of this balance of like you don't want to force people, obviously, to be out or to be public with their identities. So it's been interesting to kind of try and navigate that.
Britta Barrett: When people are trying to find books in this category, I feel like, "Do your best."
Emily Calkins: Yeah. Absolutely. And that's sort of the spirit of the whole challenge is like do your best, stretch yourself and if something ... If you read a book that you genuinely thought was going to fit in the category and you later discover that it doesn't, it's okay. All is forgiven. We just want you to read.
Stephanie Zero: Hopefully it was a really good book.
Christen Lowrey: You're not going to come after us.
Emily Calkins: No, yeah.
Britta Barrett: And for people who are looking for books that are written from the perspective of an author who shares the identity of the characters in their book, there's something called #Ownvoices. Emily, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Emily Calkins: Sure. So it's exactly what it sounds like. It's a story about someone from a marginalized population that's written by an author who is from that same population. So if you're reading a story about an LGBTQ character or like for example, in Dreadnought, it's a story about a transgender character. The author is also transgender so we will call that an own voices story. And there are lots of stories about characters that are not own voices stories and there are also lots of books by queer authors that are about straight characters that would also not be own voices story. It's not necessarily better, it's just the way of thinking about what kinds of stories are we hearing and who are we hearing them from?
Britta Barrett: Like Emily mentioned, we do have some list online on our website that we'll link to in the show notes that highlight some of our favorites when it comes to YA LGBTQ authors and books for adults and also children.
Emily Calkins: Yup. So speaking of ones we like, I want to hear more from Christen.
Christen Lowrey: Okay. I'm ready. Because Emily and I sit next to each other, we often talked about books. And I have a specific type of book that I tend to listen to depending on what's happening in my life. And those are cheesy, feel good, romantic books. And so I've got a couple here that I wanted to talk about. One is a graphic novel that I think technically is for youth, but made me squeal.
Emily Calkins: No judgments.
Christen Lowrey: And also my 13-year-old read it and also squealed. So it started out as a webcomic like so many other queer graphic novels do. And then got published and it was part of someone's art school final project. Something along those lines, but we have it on our shelves and it's called Rock and Riot. I don't know if any of you have read it.
Stephanie Zero: I've seen it. Yeah.
Christen Lowrey: I've read it more than once although I don't own it, I probably should. It's basically like - without the smut, if John Waters' Cry-Baby era was turned into a queer graphic novel. So I grew up really ... Once again, probably not appropriate for me as a child, but loving John Waters films and Cry-Baby was a huge influence on me and probably one of the reasons why I'm queer. But those were highly sexualized movies, and this is not that. This is about a 1950s gang rival, but let's pretend like you're not having to deal with racism and everyone is sort of on even footing, but there are queer characters in both of these gangs. And so when you're talking about crushes that you have and maybe you have a crush on a rival gang member-
Emily Calkins: This sounds great.
Christen Lowrey: Yes, it is or maybe you're questioning your own gender identity and you're not sure whether your gang members are going to accept you. And so it's about vulnerability and also the hair, and jean jackets, and something that I can really get into is the whole butch/femme identity. And so they have that there with the amazing wardrobe. And then they have like non-binary characters who take your idea of what is butch and what is femme and turns it on its head. It has all the things that I love, including visual representations of queer characters, which is one of the reasons why I love graphic novels is because instead of describing what a person looks like, I get to see the artist's visual representation of my community. So that's one of my feel-good ones.
Emily Calkins: I just put it on hold because it sounds fantastic.
Christen Lowrey: Rock and Riot by Chelsey Furedi.
Britta Barrett: Does anyone say, "Beat it, creep," at any moment?
Christen Lowrey: Oh, I'm sure. They have to.
Britta Barrett: Is there snapping?
Christen Lowrey: I don't know if there are any dance battles, but there might be.
Emily Calkins: I'll survive.
Britta Barrett: Maybe in a sequel.
Christen Lowrey: One of the complaints I have about graphic novels, I have nothing but compliments except for the complaints are that they're too short. You read them and then they're over before you know it because a lot of it is you looking at pictures, and you go back and look at them. You won't have that complaint with On a Sunbeam because I think it's somewhere around 600-ish pages.
Britta Barrett: I think 500 - substantial.
Christen Lowrey: Yes, substantial and it's about a late teens girl that travels through the universe with a team of construction workers, and we go back in time to see her in high school, and we follow a couple of other characters who have sort of a parallel narrative to her. And it's gay. But that's not necessarily, even though love is a driving force behind it, I don't think I would call it a love story. Would you call it a love story?
Britta Barrett: I love the love story, but I feel like its ending isn't one that we're used to seeing, which is very much full of possibility. Part of the way these two different timelines reconnect are to reconnect these two characters who never really got to say goodbye, and I feel like in the movie version of this, they're still in love and they're together. And I'm not going to say what does or doesn't happen in the end, but I feel like just the approach this person who's going on this pretty incredible mission to find this person again, that she's doing it in a spirit of like, "We were children then. So much time has passed. I don't know where you are or if you even want to be rescued, but like I'm going to come there and find out."
Christen Lowrey: Yeah. I think it's also about family and finding the people that you have as your chosen family and the things that you'll do for one another based out of that chosen family. Like going on an adventure to have closure or to rescue or connect with someone from your past.
Britta Barrett: And I think it's so lovely how the first part of the book is very quiet and is sort of like hanging out in bunk beds and playing this like D&D style game and goofing off at work, like climbing on stuff. Just spending a lot of time like letting the characters get to know each other and open up and be vulnerable so that when it does eventually arrive in this kind of high-stakes action adventure, it feels so real and consequential.
Christen Lowrey: I think, yeah, the first 100 to 150 pages I thought, "Okay. I'm enjoying this, but this feels like a teen story." And while I can connect with the teen who I used to be with this, I don't know if it's going to go to a place that I'm going to find satisfying. That changed. There was some plot twists. Tillie Walden is the author, and I think that they are an example of someone who started a webcomic that was wildly popular and then got published. Also a baby, 22-23, amazing but there's so much content out there that is being put out by people who are actively experiencing whatever they're writing about at that time and they might be 19 or 18 or younger.
Christen Lowrey: I would recommend this book to anyone who likes graphic novels not just for the story that it shows, but also because you don't have to say goodbye so quickly. And I think you can go back and really delve into different dialogue. I took pictures of like a handful of pages because I connected so strongly with comments about society or queerness or family. And yeah, I think it's really worth studying, be a good book club choice.
Christen Lowrey: The other one, I guess this is also in the 1950s, so maybe set in the 1950s. So maybe I have a type. It was written in the '90s by a lesbian named Mabel Maney and it's called The Case of the Good-for-Nothing Girlfriend. And it's part of a trilogy, although we only have this one in our catalog. It's a parody of Nancy Drew. It's called Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys. And so every character is queer, but they still follow the same sort of tropes. So there's a lot of like butch/femme identities. the Hardly Boys are obviously effeminate gay men, but even though it's a parody, it pays homage to these books.
Christen Lowrey: I know when I was a kid my dad still had the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries that I read and I really loved them. I haven't read them as an adult by the way so I'm sure they're incredibly problematic.
Stephanie Zero: I just read them two weeks ago.
Christen Lowrey: Did you?
Stephanie Zero: I mean one. I read a Nancy Drew two weeks ago. I was like, "This has to be adapted as a queer novel."
Christen Lowrey: [crosstalk 00:55:32].
Stephanie Zero: Yeah, so I'm putting that on hold. Yes.
Britta Barrett: P.S. there's a book, I think it's called Girl Sleuth, which looks at all of the ghostwriters of Nancy Drew over the years and how Nancy changed to sort of reflect our idea of what a young woman could or should be at the time. And it's super fascinating to see that sort of evolution, but also you're very correct, that if you go back with modern lenses, there's some stuff in there that like-
Christen Lowrey: Oh, sure.
Britta Barrett: It's worth examining.
Christen Lowrey: Yes, and I would hope that yeah, that future adaptations would make accommodation for that. The particular storyline is about ... For this one, I think Nancy Clue is blamed for her father's murder. And so she and Cherry Aimless, which is her girlfriend, go back to their home town and have to defend her and antics ensue and also a lot of gayness. But it's sweet gayness it's not once again the smuttiness that I, in other venues, might want from some novels. So both of these are super cheesy and full of love and I have read them both multiple times.
Christen Lowrey: Well, I have a couple other books, but there is one in particular that falls sort of under Pride month, but it's not written by a person who I know to be queer. But for me as a person who has a trans kiddo, this book was exactly what I needed. I've read every single book there is about how to raise a kid who is queer or trans or has ADHD or any other sort of diagnosis, and it's called Where's MY Book?: A Guide for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth, Their Parents, & Everyone Else by Dr. Linda Gronko.
Christen Lowrey: So she's a local Seattle author and doctor, who also happens to be my kid's GP. And she sees a lot of trans patients here. And she saw this lack of content for people. Parents were coming to her saying, "Okay. How do I navigate this? I don't know." And there have been a lot of books out there about what it's like to experience being trans growing up or what it's like to have feelings about being a trans parent, but not the practical like, "Here's how you get your name change. Here are some of the side effects of hormones. Here's how you can talk to your kid's teacher about how to respect their pronouns."
Christen Lowrey: It's this giant book that you can flip through that really has practical hands-on guide of what it's like to be a parent or the things that you need to know so that you don't traumatize your kid basically. And I would want everyone to read it ever.
Christen Lowrey: This is not a specific novel recommendation however, Radclyffe is this very prolific lesbian romance writer and we have several of her books in our collection. Some are audiobooks, some are eBooks, some are actually in print. And she does a lot of the uniformed, first responder lesbian romance. So if that's a thing, you like romance, and you identify with one of those or if you don't identify, they're just straight-up romances. If you like romances, check this out.
Britta Barrett: All right.
Christen Lowrey: Well, not straight up I guess, but yeah.
Britta Barrett: I feel like you should mention, no matter what your thing is we have this wonderful service called BookMatch that will help you find it. Can you tell us a little bit about that, Emily?
Emily Calkins: You tell us what you're interested in and a KCLS librarian will create a list of books just for you. So there's a little form you can fill out on the website. You just go to kcls.org/bookmatch which is exactly how it sounds B-O-O-K-M-A-T-C-H.
Britta Barrett: And feel free to get as specific as you'd like.
Emily Calkins: Yes. If you want nothing but lesbian romances featuring women in uniform, we will create a list for you. We're on it.
Stephanie Zero: Awesome.
Britta Barrett: All right. Thank you guys.
Christen Lowrey: Thank you. [crosstalk 00:59:57].
Britta Barrett: Thanks for listening. You can find all the books mentioned in today's episodes in our show notes.
Emily Calkins: The Desk Set is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, produced by Britta Barrett and brought to you by the King County Library System.
Britta Barrett: If you like the show, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review us on Apple Podcasts.