All Interviews

What is it about butts, exactly, that has made them such a source of fascination throughout history? In her debut book, Butts: A Backstory, reporter Heather Radke seeks to answer that question with wit, empathy and verve. The author spoke with BookPage about what she learned when she looked at butts head-on.

Congratulations on your first book! Did you always want to be an author? What’s been the most exciting aspect so far?
Yes! I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl wearing bifocals, thumbing through the pages of Anne of Green Gables at Schuler Bookstore in Okemos, Michigan. It is incredibly difficult to write a book, and a true honor and thrill to have it published. For me, one of the most exciting parts was doing oral histories with different women about their bodies for the initial background research. I spoke with people who had very different bodies from mine and came from very different backgrounds, and it was always fascinating to hear how people feel about their bodies and what helped shape those feelings.

What made you decide that butts merited more than an interview or essay, but instead an entire book? Why were you moved to write about butts now?
I started this book as an essay about the connection between the bustle and the life of Sarah Baartman—a Khoe woman from rural South Africa who was taken to London in 1810 and put on exhibit so people could pay to view her butt—but I quickly realized that the questions I was asking had answers that were much larger than a single essay could contain. In order to understand the symbolic significance of womens’ butts, I would need to explore many historical moments, as well as the science of the butt and the recent explosion of interest in mainstream pop culture. It was this recent interest in the butt that made me think it might be a potent topic to write about now. One of the questions I had was about why and how mainstream beauty standards change, and the butt is such a powerful example of what that looks like.

Read our starred review of ‘Butts’ by Heather Radke.

It’s clear that you put a great deal of time, effort and care into learning about a dizzying variety of people, places, eras, fashions, cultures and more for Butts. Will you share a bit about what it was like to manage such a massive amount of information?
It was a lot of information! It felt like I was trying (and failing) to become an expert on everything, from Jane Fonda’s career to the gender politics of drag to the history of South Africa in the 18th century. I tried to read as widely and deeply as I could on each subject, talk to scholars in the various fields I was covering, and report on the people whose lives were touched by the topics in each chapter. In a lot of ways, it felt like what I used to do when I curated exhibits at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and I used some of the organizational and research tools I learned when I did that work. But there is always a bit of a feeling of drinking from a firehose when taking on such an enormous topic. I’ll never be able to learn as much as I want!

Was there anything you had to leave out of Butts that you wish you could’ve included?
The butt is a HUGE topic, because it’s as old as the human species and as varied. I wish I’d been able to research and include more about other parts of the world besides the United States and Europe, but I decided that it made sense to narrow the scope because of my own personal experience and the enormous influence the U.S. has had on beauty standards worldwide. I also did some research on art history, pornography and the midcentury pinup girl, each of which could have been its own chapter!

“The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them.”

Book jacket image for Butts by Heather Radke

In your Introduction to Butts, you reflect on your childhood view that your mother’s butt was “a body part like any other, something to love because I loved the human it was part of. It was not a problem or a blessing. It was only a fact.” Of course, as your book amply illustrates, “butts are not so simple.” Do you think we will ever be able to back off of butts enough to view them as fact, to see them as a body part rather than a symbol?
Honestly, no. We use bodies and body parts as symbols constantly—whether breasts, skin, hair or butts—and that feels very unlikely to change. I think the real problem isn’t actually using bodies symbolically but doing so unconsciously, or confusing the symbolism for reality. The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them. Maybe then we can find new kinds of symbolism, or new ways to make meaning that aren’t so hurtful to so many people. 

Considering race is vitally important when examining attitudes toward butts and the women they belong to. From Sarah Baartman and the racist so-called “scientific inquiry” that was used to exploit her, to the more modern-day obsession with Jennifer Lopez’s posterior—there is a seemingly endless mix of fascination, envy, desire and anger projected onto the butts of women of color. When you think about that aspect of your work in Butts, what has stayed with you the most? 
As a white woman, I was very interested in when and why white women become interested in the butts of women of color. Of course, there isn’t a single answer to that question, but something that twerk instructor Kelechi Okafor said really stuck with me. She talked about how many white women she encountered as a dance instructor were uncomfortable with their own sexuality and turned to twerk as a way to express themselves sexually. Obsession with butts is almost always adjacent to angst about sex and race. The more we can talk about that openly, the more likely it is that fewer people will be objectified and harmed by that obsession.

“Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products.”

“Baby Got Back” is a song that everyone knows, and your deep dive into its origins offers lots of interesting context in terms of how the song and its creator, Sir Mix-A-Lot, were received in 1992—and the ways in which its lyrics and video still affect our perceptions of butts today. But while the song and video are in many ways a celebration, you also note that one professor called it “empowered misogyny.” Can you share a bit more about that dichotomy?
I think that “Baby Got Back” is a very complicated text, largely because it is so popular. I believe that Sir Mix-A-Lot meant for it to be a celebration of a beauty standard that, at the time, was not mainstream. But when I watch it now, my conversation with Kyra Gaunt, the scholar who called the song “empowered misogyny,” is the one I think about the most. She talked about how it was part of a larger trend in hip-hop of objectifying women, but that because it’s about butts and therefore seems like a joke, it’s easier to give it a pass. It is one of the things that is truly fascinating about butts: Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products. 

You note that when you were around 10 or 11, suddenly exercise was “no longer a game. It was a necessity.” Aerobics were a rite of passage for women in the 1980s, especially “Buns of Steel” and Jane Fonda videos. Is there any form of exercise today that occupies the same sort of butt-obsessed space in our culture?
There were lots of classes in the mid-2010s that promised to help create butts that looked like Kim Karashian or Beyonce. Those classes, which likely used very similar exercises as “Buns of Steel,” promised to create a big butt, whereas “Buns of Steel” was much more invested in a small, tight butt. It’s in these promises that you can really see the ways that trends around body shape ebb and flow. 

“The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning.”

What were you most hoping to convey or accomplish with Butts? What’s been the most surprising reaction to the book so far?
I’ve definitely gotten the sense that some people are surprised that a book like this exists. When I posted the cover on social media, there were a few retweets where people said, essentially, “Is this some kind of joke?” But in a way, I suppose that is part of the bigger point I’m trying to make with this book: The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning. Butts contain multitudes, and it can be both meaningful and fun to discover just what those multitudes are. 

What’s next for you?
Great question! I just had a baby, so my hope is that a little more sleep lies in my immediate future. Beyond that, I’m working on a couple of projects that take up some of the themes of Butts—gender, identity, the importance of the small—and explore them from very different angles.

Author headshot of Heather Radke © by Andrew Semans

Butts examines our most infamous body part through the lenses of racism and sexism, science and pop culture, fitness and fashion.

Kennedy Ryan’s emotional new romance honors the work that a successful relationship requires with the story of Yasmen and Josiah, a divorced couple who fight their way back to each other after the loss of their child drives them apart.

This book explores weighty themes of mental health, second chances and redemption. Was there anything challenging about tackling material like this within the romance genre? What were the benefits?
I think over the years, my brand has become “explores weighty themes,” LOL. I lean into real and raw and believe that, sometimes, love shines brightest when it’s tested. In real life, we don’t fall in love in a bubble-wrapped dream. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good swoon and pure escape like the next girl. I do, but we also fall in love while losing jobs, facing health crises or even working through depression and grief. Love takes place in the context of real life.

Writing Yasmen, a character who is recovering from depression, was very challenging. Creating on-page resonance for those who’ve battled depression meant going to tough, dark places, but also reflecting the joy of healing. I consulted with several therapists and even employed a few as accuracy readers to ensure that this story felt real and true.

One of the benefits has been hearing from early readers that several of them are actually seeking therapy they’ve been delaying for, in some cases, years. Impact is a primary metric for success to me, so that feels like such a huge win and like the time and care it took to create this story was definitely worth it.

“I wanted to write a love story that on the surface, at first glance, feels a bit hopeless.”

How did it feel to work on a story about redemption and second chances during what has been such a difficult handful of years, both on a grand scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic and for you personally?
It was incredibly challenging. Before I Let Go was the third book I wrote during the pandemic. I had my annual checkup right before COVID hit, and my doctor expressed concern that I had several early indicators for depression. I’m a special needs mom and a writer who has deadlines through 2025, so I’m used to a low hum of stress running through my life and didn’t think much of it.

Pandemic conditions, though, exacerbated those early symptoms and made my home, like so many others, part prison, part pressure cooker. I remember finishing the second book I wrote during the pandemic, Reel, and just feeling “I can’t do that again. It will be a long time before I can write again.” And it was a long time before I was capable of writing again. You hear all the time about listening to your body because it will shut down if you don’t take care of it, but I never understood how debilitating depression and neglecting your mental health could be until I couldn’t get out of bed. Until I couldn’t make it through a day, sometimes through an hour, without crying. Until I was having panic attacks regularly. There was no room for creativity because I honestly was just trying to survive.

It took finding the right therapist (tried three!) and the right medication for me to start feeling better. Once I could even approach this story, I realized I had all this personal experience to draw from. There was this intersection of my life and Yasmen’s that—though I would have skipped that whole season of my life if I could have—I hope infused the story with a certain empathy, compassion and authenticity because so much of it came from my lived experience.

Before I Let Go jacket

How do you approach sensitive topics like the ones included in Before I Let Go, both in thinking about your readers’ experiences but also in how you take care of yourself as a writer?
I’m a lot better at taking care of the reader than I am at taking care of myself. My background is in journalism, so when people ask if I’m a plotter or pantser, I say neither. I kind of go out and find the story, usually through extensive interviews and research. I’m somewhat Hippocratic in my approach to sensitive topics: First, do no harm. That means accuracy readers, whom I compensate, and beta readers whom I trust to be ruthlessly honest with me. I’m pretty exacting and exhaustive when it comes to my sources and research when writing. I try to take just as much care with the experience the reader will have reading the story as I took while writing it.

My books can be tough, and I’ve gotten a lot better about content warnings than I used to be. When I first started self-publishing years ago, no one was really doing content warnings, but it has slowly risen to the forefront and I now understand why they are essential for readers.

As far as taking care of myself . . . I’m learning to do that better. My creative process is incredibly immersive, and when you deal with tough subjects the way I do, it can take its toll. I think my creative process is almost the equivalent of method acting. I often act out dialogue, which means I’m yelling at myself alone in my office when my characters are fighting. I find myself crying after interviews with subjects who’ve lived some of the tough experiences I write about. I’ve had bald spots by the time I finished books because of how invested I become and how anxious some of it makes me.

Many of my friends dive right into the next book once they finish one. I can’t do that. I try to build in a good amount of time between projects to recover. I used to feel guilty about that, but Becca Syme, an amazing writing coach, refers to the style I use to write and recover as the phoenix: these very concentrated bouts of intense energy and output, followed by extended periods of rest and recovery where you just don’t do it. I’ve stopped comparing my content, my process and what it takes for me to do it effectively to anyone else. Not comparing yourself to other people is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, in my experience. Iyanla Vanzant calls comparison an act of violence against the self. That’s a guiding thought for me, and it frees me up to do whatever works for me, not anyone else.

“This isn’t just a second-chance romance, it is a rebuilding . . .”

Yasmen and Josiah’s relationship buckles under grief, but the nature of their dual romantic and business partnership doesn’t allow them space to work through their shared trauma. What drew you to this topic as an author? What is it about “public grief” that can make it especially difficult to navigate? 
I wanted to write a love story that on the surface, at first glance, feels a bit hopeless. They’ve already divorced. They’re both in the process of moving on. They’ve settled into new rhythms for running their business and raising their children together. Yet, there is a lot left unsaid and unresolved between them. Their love is still so palpable, and other people see it. The first time, neither of them created space to work through their hurt and loss together. There were missed opportunities and mishandled issues that destroyed their relationship. This isn’t just a second-chance romance, it is a rebuilding; sorting through rubble to figure out what’s salvageable but also finding new materials, sturdier stuff discovered through therapy and transparency and renewed commitment. 

As far as public grief, at one point in the book when Yasmen is breaking down a bit in a drugstore, she refers to it as a “violent vulnerability.” I think that’s accurate for some of us when our control slips. It’s happened to me before; holding on by a thread that snaps at the worst possible time. And you feel assaulted by all these emotions against which there is suddenly no defense. I’ve had some people be very kind when that has happened. I think because we walk around with our public masks and our armor, no one wants those to fall away in front of others. So when you encounter someone falling apart, you recognize just how many layers of control those tears had to break through to surface for everyone to see. And hopefully, we empathize when it happens.

What were some of the impacts of mental health on a marriage that you wanted to depict through Yasmen and Josiah’s relationship? What was important to you to convey as you wrote?
I always resist the idea that love conquers all, that it fixes everything. That may sound funny coming from a romance writer, but the romance I write leans into the realities of life and really makes no attempt to escape them. This story, as much as anything I’ve ever written, embraces that. These two people, who loved each other so very much, had a lot to work through on their own. I’m not saying they or anyone else has to divorce to do that, but for this story and the decisions this couple made, time apart reformed them into people who could be happy and healthy together.

With Yasmen’s journey, I wanted to convey the importance of putting yourself first. Women—moms and wives especially—often put everyone before themselves. I wanted this to be about a woman who esteems her personal, emotional and mental well-being above all else. For her, choosing herself becomes a matter of survival. As she and her partner mature, heal and discover what they need as individuals, they come back together. I’m glad in my story, the love was still there waiting for them. 

Read our review of ‘Before I Let Go’ by Kennedy Ryan.

What was the original germ of this story for you, and did any parts of the finished product surprise you?
It depends on what provokes me to tell the story. The story often starts with indignation, feminine rage—ya know, the usual. 🙂 I was watching a pipeline protest while writing the All the King’s Men series, which is about two best friends, one Yavapai-Apache and one Black, who start a political consulting firm to elect leaders who will support their beliefs. And they fall in love with the most amazing guys along the way, who respect and cherish them for who they are.

Most of my books are story first: I start thinking about who is the most natural fit for a scenario, or maybe contrarily, who would be the worst fit for this scenario to make it even more interesting, and the character begins to form. The original germ of Before I Let Go was just a happily ever after gone wrong. We rarely see what happens after The End. This was an HEA that didn’t hold up, and I wanted to restore it against all odds.

What surprised me about the story was how very complex Josiah’s journey was. He’s a Black man who desperately needs a safe space to unpack grief and trauma from his past but has been culturally conditioned to not admit it. I wanted to address how stigmatized mental illness/difficulties are for everyone, but especially in the Black community and especially for Black men. I didn’t even realize how much depth was in his character at first. There is quite a bit of on-page therapy in this romance, and it felt like the therapist was uncovering things I didn’t know about Josiah before we got into each session. Almost like there were things the character was hiding from me until we were in a safe space. 

You started out as a traditionally published author, then self-published your last several titles and are now back in traditional publishing. What has that journey been like? What led you to start self-publishing your work, and why did you decide the time was right to return to traditional publishing?
I’m a control freak. I enjoy the process of creating not just the story but the whole experience: the cover, the marketing, the audiobook. I enjoy influencing it all. I started traditionally publishing years ago because I honestly didn’t know another way. Self-publishing was just taking off. Not that many were doing it at the time. I wrote a story and pitched my first finished novel to an agent and an editor at a writer’s conference “for practice.” Go figure, they both signed me. It happened really fast for me, and I don’t regret my path. I learned a lot about myself from those early releases.

I soon realized I wanted to stretch my wings, test my creativity, my judgment and my business instincts in a way that self-publishing afforded me. I’ve built my career primarily through self-publishing but want to expand it through diverse distribution. I released Queen Move, which became an instant USA Today bestseller and has been optioned for television, though a small press, and now I’m partnering with a large publisher to send Before I Let Go out into the world. I’m a hybrid author who is always looking for new pockets of readers. Some of those places I can reach on my own, and some I’ll reach partnering with someone else. I’ve embraced that as part of my business strategy. It’s all my brand. It’s all my name and my integrity as a storyteller. I want readers to know that no matter where they find my work, it will be consistently mine.

We are writing in a time when you never know what will happen for a story. If it resonates with the right people at the right time and in the right way, it may not matter who is distributing it; it can go further than you ever imagined. So I focus on writing great stories I’m proud of and seeing who finds them.

What’s your favorite trope to read? To write?
I love a good widow book. That sounds morbid, but I do love reading widows. And if the husband’s best friend was secretly pining for her all this time, even better. That sounds bad, huh?

To write . . . second chance, for sure. I think most of my books are second chance. I like love stories that stretch over time; to see how these people change and grow through the years. How they are “ready” for each other in a way that maybe they weren’t the first time around.

What are you reading and loving right now?
I recently read Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola, and all I want is to be a Black Brit on a college campus now. It was brilliant and modern and heartfelt and slow-burny. 10 out of 10 recommend. Already thirsty for the sequel. I also loved The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian and A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall. Half-Blown Rose by Leesa Cross-Smith is fantastic, but brace your heart for a bit of a nonconventional HEA. It puts you in the mind of Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You (which is essential reading to me), but it’s more of a love story, not a typical HEA romance.

Photo of Kennedy Ryan by Perrywinkle Photography.

The author shows the work required for a happily ever after in Before I Let Go, an emotional second-chance romance.
Kennedy Ryan

It’s difficult to have a conversation with Ross Gay and not think of a moniker he’s picked up over the years: “the happiest poet around.” Gay is relaxed, genial and clearly excited about his second essay collection (and sixth book overall), Inciting Joy. With its 14 chapters, or “incitements,” covering subjects as disparate as death and losing one’s phone, Gay hopes his new book is proof that he can write—and in fact has always written—about subjects other than delight. “I feel like this book could also be called The Book of Rage,” he explains over our Zoom call. “Connection and holding each other through each other’s sorrow, to me, feels like an inciting force.” This is the premise of Gay’s powerful book, which begins with an imagined party for people and their sorrows, then segues into an exploration of sites where joy and solidarity defiantly abound.

Read our starred review of ‘Inciting Joy’ by Ross Gay.

In many ways, Inciting Joy feels emblematic of Gay’s most pivotal works in both poetry and prose, highlighting the beauty of everyday experiences such as communal gardening and enjoying music and the arts. For instance, Luther Vandross’ cover of Dionne Warwick’s “A House Is Not a Home” gets some well-deserved space, as does the comedic genius of Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Gay’s late father, Gilbert, affectionately known as “Poochie.” Meanwhile, other chapters explore equally familiar subjects but in surprising ways. For example, in “Insurgent Hoop (Pickup Basketball: The Ninth Incitement),” Gay discusses the necessarily anti-capitalist nature of the neighborhood court, which can only be reserved for one game at a time and where you might find yourself on the same team as someone you beat only moments before. “There’s never a spot or a time or a reason to have a fixed enemy,” he tells me. “We’re just here together for now. How do we decide at this moment, this group of people, how we’re gonna be together?”

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay

This question serves as a throughline for the book, manifesting itself in some of the most inhospitable places, such as the author’s father’s hospital room as the elder Gay was dying from untreatable liver cancer; on the makeshift skating ramps of his youth, where skaters were expected to share tools and protect one another from the wrath of cops and property owners; and most surprisingly, in the football locker room, where off-color jokes were plentiful but so, too, was tenderness. Players often shaved and administered balms to broken (and broken-out) bodies, even as they hurled insults and sexually violent threats to their opponents and to one another. In the longest and perhaps most moving chapter, “Grief Suite (Falling Apart: The Thirteenth Incitement),” Gay explores both the brutality and the brotherhood made possible in such spaces, and he doesn’t shy away from his own complicity in toxic masculinity as a young man.

“How do we decide at this moment, this group of people, how we’re gonna be together?”

These transparencies, says Gay, are not only par for the course but sit at the heart of what he hopes to achieve in Inciting Joy. It was only a few years before the publication of his first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, that Gay realized prose writing could be pleasurable for him—as long as it wasn’t about showcasing some sort of absolute wisdom. “Instead, it could be about leaving an artifact of my thinking and making that as beautiful as possible,” he says. “But ultimately, [I wanted to see] if there was some way to make the residue of my thinking available . . . the residue of my thinking also being the evidence of my changing.”

As a poet, Gay has always been keen on taking the reader on an ever-evolving journey of thoughts and images, and this feat is prominently displayed in the footnotes that populate Inciting Joy. Some of them are so carefully written that Gay himself describes them as “discrete essays.” He says he understands if folks are reluctant to read them, but he insists that readers will miss quite a bit of information if they choose not to. In fact, he likens the footnotes to pauses in conversations between friends, where one person stops the other to ask for more information, or where the storyteller pauses to offer information they feel is crucial to understanding what’s being said. In other words, the marginalia of Inciting Joy share communal knowledge by offering the bounty of the backstory, much in the way gardeners might share seeds or skateboarders might share bolts from their personal buckets of spare parts. “The footnote is like, I’m serious about this,” says Gay. “I want us to know something about each other.”

“Books that I love make me feel regarded. If anyone feels that way, I would be very happy.”

Perhaps the highest praise I can offer for Inciting Joy is that, for Gay and for me, it sparked a delightful conversation about the wealth of stories, characters, memories and subjects the book undertakes, building upon one another to create such a rich biodiversity on the page that I often found myself reading passages multiple times just to make sure I’d absorbed every detail. We chatted about everything from my anxieties about teaching and house hunting in a new city to the generosity of Mr. Lau, the father of one of Gay’s childhood friends who is briefly mentioned in the book and whose donation of clippings from his backyard garden in Pennsylvania now live as fully grown fig trees in Bloomington, Indiana, where Gay lives and teaches. 

As we end our call, Gay admits that he’s curious about how Inciting Joy will be received, but his hope for it is a generous one. “Books that I love make me feel regarded,” he says with a grin. “If anyone feels that way, I would be very happy.”

Headshot of Ross Gay © Natasha Komoda

The bestselling poet says his second collection of essays could have just as easily been called The Book of Rage.
Ross Gay headshot

In Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things, Maya Prasad follows the four Singh sisters—big sister Nidhi, twins Avani and Rani, and Sirisha, the youngest—through a life-changing year as they find love, healing, adventure and more. Their story unfolds against the idyllic backdrop of the Songbird Inn, their family’s home and business on Orcas Island, nestled on the Pacific Northwest coast in Washington state. 

Can you give us a quick introduction to your debut novel and the four Singh sisters?
Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is the story of the four Singh sisters over four seasons as they navigate new passions, breathtaking kisses and the bustle of their father’s cozy cliffside inn. 

Fall begins with Nidhi, the eldest practical sister. She thinks she has her life planned out. Winter moves on to Avani, who can’t sit still. If she does, her grief for Pop, their dad’s late husband, will overwhelm her. In spring, we come to Sirisha, who has always felt more comfortable hiding behind the lens of her camera than actually speaking to people—especially pretty girls. Summer is when hopeless romantic Rani finds that her Bollywood fantasies might finally be coming true!

How did you decide which sister’s story would unfold in which season?
Each sister’s story has a thematic connection to the season: letting go like an autumn leaf, dealing with the bitter cold of loss, allowing new love to blossom like a springtime bud and celebrating dreams finally coming into fruition.

Like the Singhs, you are one of four siblings. Are any aspects of the Singh sisters’ relationships with one another drawn from your own family?
There isn’t a one-to-one correlation between the Singh sisters and my family, but I did draw from familiar sibling dynamics: Nidhi’s maternal practicality as the eldest; Sirisha’s feeling as if her sisters have everything figured out and wondering how she can speak among so many loud voices; the sibling mind melds as well as the clashes; and the chaos and laughter that come with a big family.

One of the things I really love about the novel is how your prose shifts during each sister’s section to reflect her perspective. How did you arrive at that approach?
It was both a pleasure and a challenge to be able to create four different voices. For each sister, I used a different device related to their personalities: Nidhi’s lists, Avani’s verse, Sirisha’s contrasts between what she wants to say and what she actually says, and the screenplay bits that represent Rani’s forays into Bollywood fantasies.

”I think that’s what we’re all truly searching for: to be celebrated for being ourselves.”

But creating unique voices involved more than that; I also differentiated each sister’s sentence structures and tics. Introspective Nidhi’s voice feels the most classic and traditional to me, with some lyrical descriptions to represent her dreamy side. Avani has a lot of parenthetical asides to represent how she often gets distracted. Short fragments in Sirisha’s section are like the snapshots she’s always taking; they also represent how she has trouble expressing herself verbally. Finally, Rani’s voice is imbued with a lot of humor and has a mix of colloquial language and hyperbolic grandeur.

In the end, voice is about creating a unique worldview. Since I was writing Indian American characters, I hoped to show that we are not a monolith, and that each sister is an individual with their own dreams and ambitions and relationship to their identity.

Which sister’s section was the most challenging to write and why? Whose was the most fun and why?
Avani’s verse sections were definitely a challenge! I hadn’t experimented with the medium much and I was a little nervous. But it was important for me to try, because I think that poetry can truly bring out the emotions of grief and loss in a way that feels visceral and resonant.

Nidhi’s midnight adventure was my favorite chapter to write. I loved playing with the language to evoke the feeling of escape and beauty in the darkness. I hope readers will find it swoony and breathtaking!

Each sister’s romance hits such individual emotional notes. How did you decide what kind of love story each sister would experience? 
Just as the seasons are related thematically, I developed each love story to correspond with the sisters’ character arcs. They each find someone who understands and appreciates their unique qualities, as well as someone who not only sees past their flaws but maybe even sees those flaws as strengths. I think that’s what we’re all truly searching for: to be celebrated for being ourselves.

”It’s vital for teens to know that while romantic love is wonderful, there are so many ways to find joy in this world.”

The sisters have really specific interests, from baking and mural art to photography to romance novels and Bollywood movies and more. Researching these different topics must have been so fun! What did you learn that surprised you? Were there any interests or hobbies that you didn’t have to research at all?
I did a fair amount of research for Sirisha’s photography because I didn’t know any of the lingo or techniques. It actually gave me good insights to improve my own Instagram photography! With the rest, it was more just small things: looking up recipes, rewatching Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, that sort of thing. 

I really wanted the setting to be solid though, so once we’d signed the deal, I had a wonderful excuse to visit Orcas Island. The San Juan Islands are a favorite weekend getaway for me, but it had been a few years since I’d been to Orcas. It was delightful to drive around and imagine where the Songbird Inn might actually be located.

Surprising tidbit: Orcas Island isn’t named after killer whales! The origin comes from the Spanish name Horcasitas, in honor of the Spanish explorer Juan Vicente de Guemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo.

What were your inspirations for the utterly delightful Songbird Inn, where much of the novel takes place?
The Songbird Inn is definitely fictional but it was inspired by gorgeous vacation rentals I’ve stayed in while visiting the San Juans and the Canadian Gulf Islands. I knew I wanted the inn to be set on a cliffside with panoramic views, and that it should be south facing to allow the sisters to enjoy both sunsets and sunrises over the water. The details were inspired by Pacific Northwest architecture: Craftsman-style elegance with bay windows and coffered ceilings and cozy fireplaces, and large decks where it feels like you’re peering off the edge of the world. 

What are some of your favorite fictional sisterhoods and why?
There should really be more sister stories, period! As the middle sister, I related a lot to Lara Jean in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, particularly the portrayal of the period when eldest sis is off to college and suddenly you’re supposed to be setting a good example for your cheeky younger sis—who may or may not have a better social life than you.

There’s also Little Women of course, and the nonbiological sisters of Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. We too had a pair of jeans that looked amazing on all of us—even though my younger sister is much taller than me. Magic!

The wonderful thrum of family hums in the background of your novel, and by the end of the book, you’ve widened the lens of what a love story can mean to encompass the Singh family’s love for each other. Why was that important for you to do here?
Thank you! I think it’s vital for teens to know that while romantic love is wonderful, there are so many ways to find joy in this world. This novel is a celebration of the love the sisters have for each other, for their father, for their community, for the home they’ve built and—most importantly—for themselves.

What’s something about this book that you’re wholly, unabashedly proud of?
I’m incredibly proud to have created a work of joyful representation for Indian American teens! I think we need escapism, we need those cozy warm hug vibes, and we need to see ourselves as beautiful and worthy of love.

Read our review of ’Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things.’


Author photo of Maya Prasad courtesy of Jamilah Newcomer.

Debut YA author Maya Prasad reveals how she created her season-by-season ode to romance, sisterhood and the Pacific Northwest.

Susan Dennard kicks off a darkly magical, action-packed new series with The Luminaries, which introduces a mysterious world filled with monsters. It’s the story of a teen girl named Winnie Wednesday and her quest to rejoin the secret organization of monster hunters who keep her town—and the world—safe. Dennard chatted with BookPage about her novel’s unusual origin story, the unexpected ways she still uses her marine biology degree and how she continues to grow as a writer after eight books and 10 years as a published author.

Can you introduce us to Winnie and what’s going on in her life when we meet her?
The book opens on Winnie’s 16th birthday in a town called Hemlock Falls, where nightmares rise in a nearby forest each night. Seven clans within the secret Luminaries society are charged with fighting those nightmares and protecting the world at large. There’s one clan for each night of the week, and Winnie is a Wednesday.

Four years ago, Winnie’s father was revealed to be a Diana—aka a witch, the sworn enemy of the Luminaries. Her dad ran off, but Winnie, her brother and her mom remained behind, still loyal to the cause. They were given a 10-year sentence to exist as outcasts within Hemlock Falls as punishment for not seeing what their dad really was.

Ever since that moment four years ago, Winnie has been secretly training to participate in the deadly Hunter trials. She is convinced if she can pass and become a Wednesday nightmare hunter, her family will be welcomed back into the Luminaries society.

The Luminaries has a pretty unique origin story. For readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, could you give us a quick rundown?
The Luminaries was an idea I first tried to sell in 2013 without any success, so my agent and I shelved it. Fast-forward six years to 2019: I was in a dark place after a miscarriage and didn’t like being alone with my thoughts, so while sitting at LaGuardia waiting for a flight, I thought, “Let’s do something fun on Twitter.”

I hastily typed off a tweet that began the story of The Luminaries, and at the end was a poll in which readers could choose what to do next. Little did I know that story would last six months, with thousands of people voting every single day on what Winnie Wednesday would do!

“You know, emotions are messy. The heart wants what it wants, even when the brain is like, ‘That is a very bad plan.’”

How did the story change in its transformation from interactive Twitter thread to novel? What was important to you to preserve in that transformation and why?
It changed a ton, actually. For two reasons: First, I am not someone who wants to rewrite a story she’s already written—the fun is in the discovery. Second, if I had tried to replicate our online tale, it would never have lived up! Ninety-five percent of the fun came from the communal elements, like the teams that cropped up (like #TeamThirst, who always voted toward romance, or #TeamPetty, who always voted for the worst option), the chitchat between readers, the roping-in of friends so they would vote too . . . I couldn’t match that!

So I ended up taking the world and characters and crafting a wholly new tale. But of course, I made sure to include the most iconic moments and some Easter eggs for the original LumiNerds.

Winnie’s family’s motto is “The cause above all else. Loyalty through and through.” What did you enjoy about creating her character?
It’s fun to write a character who very rarely questions the why of something and simply does because they believe so deeply in a cause. It makes knowing what Winnie will do in a scene easy: She will always work toward a singular goal. But then it’s especially fun to introduce cracks into that character’s loyalty, to have them start noticing and questioning and wondering if maybe they’ve got it all wrong.

You write so empathetically about Winnie’s emotions: She feels hurt by her family’s ostracism, but she also yearns to be included. She’s justifiably angry but uncertain about when and how to express it. What drew you to a protagonist who occupies this emotional landscape? 
You know, emotions are messy. The heart wants what it wants, even when the brain is like, “That is a very bad plan.” And I think every person out there has been caught in a conflict like that. Then you throw some external pressure onto the situation—particularly from relationships that matter to you—and there’s really no way to avoid a lot of feelings. I find that it’s in those messy emotional moments that we make the most difficult decisions and come out stronger for them.

There’s a scene in which Winnie collects corpses; later, she attends a fancy event. How do you get yourself in the right headspace to write such contrasting scenes—one so dark and gory, the other so glittery and celebratory?
Ha! I had no trouble moving from one end of the spectrum to the other. It’s the way the whole Luminaries world operates, and I think it’s how a lot of humans operate. There are so many truly tough jobs out there, but then we go home to our families and celebrate birthdays, and our brains toggle between the two lives pretty fluidly.

“Teens have all the smarts and ingenuity of adults but without the baggage or prejudices. They have a clarity of thought that lets them see ways forward that we adults just can’t seem to find.”

Of course, it’s not always easy—for the world at large or for Winnie—and we’ll really see that come into play in the sequel.

Scientific curiosity plays a big role in The Luminaries. How did your own background in marine biology influence this aspect of the novel?
Speaking of toggling between gore and fun, I have had the experience of cutting apart sharks on Arctic ice, then tucking into a cozy tent and playing cards all night. You can’t fully enjoy the latter without the first.

I love studying the creatures of the world and how evolution leads to such incredible adaptations. It’s what got me into marine ecology—so many amazing adaptations in our oceans! It was really fun to give Winnie the same fascination I have and to use my understanding of evolution and ecosystems to create the forest’s various nightmares.

Speaking of that forest, you write about it so vividly—the look and feel of the trees, the density of the mist, the sounds and smells of the landscape. Forests often hold a kind of archetypal power in fantasy stories. How did you go about crafting this particular forest? Was it influenced by any real forests you’ve encountered?
I was definitely influenced by nights out camping. If you’ve ever been in a dense forest when there is no moon or other light, then you know it is a feeling. You really cannot see, no matter how much your eyes adjust. And then the sounds! There are so many sounds, and each one easily takes on a sinister meaning (at least if you’re like me and have an overactive imagination). It wasn’t hard at all for me to tap into that feeling and turn it into an entire world.

There’s a moment when Winnie is talking about her family, and she says, “We deserve to dream again.” That’s such a heavy weight for anyone to bear. What would you say to a teenager who is feeling a pressure like that?
One of the main reasons I write YA is because I think teens have all the smarts and ingenuity of adults but without the baggage or prejudices. They have a clarity of thought that lets them see ways forward that we adults just can’t seem to find—or that we adults are convinced will never work.

I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to dream, but I do think hoping and finding solutions is something teens are uniquely adept at. So while Winnie’s mom would never want her daughter to be doing what she’s doing (secretly entering these deadly Hunter trials), Winnie also has that clarity of vision her mom lacks. She sees how this could save her family, and she’s willing to take that risk.

This year marks a decade since you published your first book, 2012’s Something Strange and Deadly. What are some ways you’ve changed as a writer? What makes you feel excited about the next decade of writing?
I’d like to think I’m a much better writer now than I was a decade ago—both on a prose level and on a more macro story level. And I certainly have a much more innate ability to write now than when I first began. It’s that difference between “unconscious competence” and “conscious competence.”

Of course, I’m also still learning—which is so exciting to consider. I can still get better. I love to study craft, and I hope my books only get stronger with each new title.

Read our review of ‘The Luminaries.’


Author photo of Susan Dennard courtesy of Susan Dennard.

The bestselling author reflects on how she continues to evolve creatively and why teens can see things adults can’t.

It’s 1952 in San Francisco, and homosexuality is illegal and largely frowned upon by society—except at Lavender House. The home of soap manufacturing magnate Irene Lamontaine has become a refuge for her extended queer family. But when Irene falls over a staircase railing to her death, her widow (in all but name) hires recently fired gay police detective Evander “Andy” Mills to discern if there is a killer in their midst.

The tone of this book is similar to the pulpy, hard-boiled style of your sci-fi mystery, Depth. Was there anything different about your approach this time around? Was there a particular author or series you drew upon to re-create that style of writing?
It’s funny. With Depth I was trying to bring the flavor of old-school noir to a futuristic world. With Lavender House, the old-school noir is easier because of the setting. But because we’re talking queer history, which is so often erased, there was a lot more research involved and, weirdly, an emphasis on making sure everything felt believable. With sci-fi, people are either going to buy it or they’re not, depending on what they like and read. When talking about a history that keeps being erased, it’s about proving it—proving we existed. 

As for the tone itself, the hard-boiled vibe, I always go back to Chandler. I have his complete works, and I’ve read them several times. There’s just something about the way he cuts a sentence. And, of course, the movies: I was raised on noir of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, so I saw most of the movies before I read the books. The vibe of those movies is what lives in my head when I’m writing, even more so than the books, because the movies sometimes had a bit of hope to them (Laura, The Big Sleep). They’re not happy endings exactly, but there’s a chance for a bright future at the end of them, and I knew I wanted that for this book. I wanted to show that not only did us queer folk exist before Stonewall, but that even though our lives were noir—in the sense that we were sort of trapped and stalked all the time—we still thrived in community. We found each other. We found love. And in that, we found a bit of hope. 

“. . . queer history is always hidden and rewritten . . .”

How much research did you have to do to re-create the feel and culture of 1950s San Francisco? Are Lavender House and its inhabitants based on any real locations or people? 
I owe a huge debt of thanks to Nan Alamilla Boyd and her book, Wide-Open Town, for this one. It’s a book entirely about the queer history of San Francisco. Originally, when I was coming up with this story, my instinct was to put it in NYC (or just outside) because that’s where I’m from. But as I did research on the queer histories of various cities, what I found was that in the ’50s, New York’s queer culture was much more stratified. There wasn’t nearly as much mingling of gay communities of different classes or races as there was in San Francisco. And knowing it was going to be a series, I wanted a community that was more fluid. Luckily, for this first book, so much of it takes place outside the city that I could make stuff up—Lavender House itself is pure fiction, as are the characters in it—but I owe a lot not just to Boyd but to several San Francisco historians, photographers and Facebook groups where older people share stories and pictures of their neighborhoods. I’m sure I still got things wrong, but I hope they’re not too distracting.

Lavender House jacket

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What was the biggest opportunity?
The research. So much research. And because queer history is always hidden and rewritten, the research often took me down many paths and led to several answers. There’s one sentence in Lavender House about a woman in a suit that’s changed so many times based on what I’ve learned about cross-dressing laws and ordinances at the time at the national, state and city levels—and I’m still not sure it’s accurate! Information is contradictory. California is so interesting in the early ’50s because of this state Supreme Court ruling in ’51 where a judge said it wasn’t illegal for gay people to congregate at a bar. It was a huge victory for the community, but it was also so small, because while being gay was suddenly legal (only in California), acting gay was not—and that could mean a lot of things. Same-sex dancing was still illegal, and so was touching the wrong way, if a cop decided it was the wrong way. So many cases and laws and the constant harassment of queer bars and people were about what the cop on duty was feeling and if he’d been bribed. So the small legal details were killer to figure out. 

The biggest opportunity I’m less sure of! There’s so much I got to do; making a big queer family was such a blessing once I let myself do it. Even those laws being so hard to look up, since they were pretty subjective depending on the police, meant I could have them be as strict or lenient as I wanted (within certain bounds, of course). Sometimes the research being blurry just gives you more room to play. But I think overall the biggest opportunity was to get to the heart of what it means to learn to love yourself in ’52 as a queer man. Because if Andy can do it, I think people today can, too. 

“You can be out and proud but still not quite know how to love your queerness and the queerness of others.”

Who is your first reader? What is most valuable or useful about that initial feedback for you?
It varies, depending on people’s time and schedules. I have a writing group, I have writer friends who will read for me, I have a librarian husband. And I think what feedback is most valuable varies book to book as well. What am I worried about? Should I be, or did I pull it off? With Lavender House, my worry was always that it wouldn’t coast that line between noir and camp noir: the noir that’s a bit bigger and, frankly, a bit more fun. Lauren Bacall asking if you know how to whistle in To Have and Have Not? That’s a little camp at this point, but it’s my favorite thing. Some people see that scene and roll their eyes, but I light up. So did I pull off that tone in a way that feels authentic to a modern reader? Did they get it? 

You’ve explored the idea of a sanctuary for members of the LGBTQ+ community before, in your young adult rom-com, Camp (written under the name L.C. Rosen). Why do you think you keep returning to this theme? How did Lavender House allow you to explore this idea further?
It’s funny, I hadn’t thought of it that way; the word I’ve always used is community. But sanctuary, yeah, I guess I do write about that a lot. And I write about the push and pull between queer community or sanctuary and the outside world, where we may not always be allowed to be ourselves safely. Part of that is just that I like writing about a bunch of queer people: I think just one or two feels unrealistic, because we tend to find one another. I think it’s interesting the way we can sort of form our own community and deal with our own problems when we don’t have to worry about the outside world. Camp was about figuring out what sort of internal prejudices we bring into that sanctuary, because we all come from a world that tells us to hate ourselves or to only be one kind of gay. But Lavender House is about dealing with the fear of the outside knowing about us at all. That’s partially because of the historical element, of course, but I think it’s something we still see today: How much do we let other people in? How dangerous is it?

Read our starred review of ‘Lavender House’ by Lev AC Rosen.

Do you see any parts of yourself in Andy?
Sure. I see parts of myself in every character I write. I think you have to. Even when you’re writing someone bad, you need to understand where they’re coming from—and I don’t mean they need to be sympathetic or understandable. I think we as a society have actually gone too far, as a whole, in that sense. Sometimes bad people are just bad, and they don’t need a tragic backstory to make you feel sorry for them. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. But as writers, you have to understand their outlook, even if you don’t need to justify it to yourself. So why would someone do this? What are their values? How do they see the world?

With Andy specifically, I think certainly there’s a coming-out element to his story. He’s out, but he doesn’t love his queerness much, and over the course of the novel, he learns to do that. He learns to reconcile with what it means to be queer in 1952, and while that might be very, very hard, there’s a lot of benefit to it, too. I think that’s something every queer person should figure out. You can be out and proud but still not quite know how to love your queerness and the queerness of others. I don’t mean you need to want to clack a fan and wear heels, but you have to love that other guys do in order to really love what queerness is. Once you’ve done that, the world just becomes so much brighter. 

What do you hope readers take away from this novel? 
The main thing I always hope a reader takes away is the feeling of having had a good time. I believe first and foremost my job is to entertain. If I can make people think or see things in a new light, that’s even better. And for Lavender House, I hope they take away a stronger understanding of queer history—not just the idea that we’ve always been here but also the idea that we’re still dealing with a lot of the same problems. Across the country, people are trying to ban books about queer teens—and often succeeding. They’re trying to prevent kids from coming out, and they’re firing queer teachers or making it illegal for them to talk about their queerness, even casually. They’re trying to make it now like it was in the ’50s, and I hope people see those parallels and understand that there’s still so much work to do if we want to say we’ve moved on.

What’s next for you? Will Andy Mills return at some point?
It was a two-book deal, so he’s coming back at least one more time, though I’m hoping he’ll be around for a while. The sequel is titled The Bell in the Fog, and it should be out sometime in the fall of 2023. Before that, though, I also have Tennessee Russo coming out in the spring, which is the start to a YA series about a queer teen archeologist digging up ancient queer history to make sure it’s not erased while avoiding traps and pitfalls. More queer history! Just older.

Photo of Lev AC Rosen by Rachael Shane.

In the 1950s-set Lavender House, the titular home is a haven for the queer Lamontaine family—until one of them is murdered.
Lev AC Rosen

You only think you know the story of the three billy goats who wanted to cross the bridge and the troll who tried to stop them. In The Three Billy Goats Gruff, acclaimed author Mac Barnett and Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen create a wickedly funny retelling that breathes new life into the classic story. The author and illustrator chatted with BookPage about transforming oral tales into picture books, their many years of collaboration and the interior decorating habits of trolls. 

This is your seventh picture book together. Typically, picture book authors and illustrators don’t work directly with each other. What are your collaborations like? Has the process changed?
Author Mac Barnett: Jon and I have been friends for 13 years now, and we still talk about picture books more than anything else. Like, it’s not even close. When we’re making a book together, it feels like an opportunity to continue that conversation, and in that way our books are documents of friendship and expressions of our mutual love for this art form. 

Illustrator Jon Klassen: I don’t know if it’s changed much in terms of how we talk. We’ve always had this kind of creepy shorthand where we start sentences and the rest is understood. 

Our collaboration does change a fair bit from book to book because we mix up how they come about pretty often. Sometimes we beat out a story together, then Mac writes it and then I draw it, and I go back to him for changes in the text to solve problems we hadn’t thought of initially. For this one, he’d written the text without me specifically in mind, so it was much more about treating the text as almost unchangeable. I think maybe there were one or two tweaks, but it wasn’t as much of a hands-on collaboration. But that’s very enjoyable too. I like constraints, and that’s a big one.

This is the first volume in what will be at least a trilogy of picture books that retell fairy tales. Why did you begin with “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”? 
Barnett: Foremost on my mind was ensuring that the stories work as picture books. I wanted to create entertaining read-alouds that make good use of page turns and set up dynamic relationships between text and image. 

It was a delicate but significant act of adaptation: Fairy tales began as an oral tradition and then were set down as straight prose (sometimes with decorative illustrations, which function way differently from the images in a picture book). Fairy tales are such crowd pleasers. Over countless retellings, these stories evolved to maximize reactions from groups of children sitting and listening. 

“I hope the adults who read this book to kids feel plugged into a centurieslong tradition of getting big laughs, huge groans and all sorts of yelps, squeals and ewws.”

Picture books work differently than any other form of storytelling. And “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” just made so much sense as a picture book—it’s such a visual story, and all about scale. I hope the adults who read this book to kids feel plugged into a centurieslong tradition of getting big laughs, huge groans and all sorts of yelps, squeals and ewws. 

Klassen: This story is a tricky one to tell because a lot of times it’s included in some kind of anthology and it only gets one page and one illustration or something. But Mac understood that the pleasure in the story is in the page-turn reveals, and in drawing it all out and then doubling down over and over again when it gets to the part where the troll gets punished. The pacing of it is perfectly suited to a picture book, and Mac divided it up that way and got maximum impact out of the beats. It was a real pleasure to work over.

Mac, what well-known elements of the story did you want to preserve? Which ones did you want to play around with?
Barnett: In this story, I leave the original plot pretty much intact. I love revisionist storytelling and fractured fairy tales (The Stinky Cheese Man made me want to write picture books), but that’s not really what we’re up to here. This book feels more like how Jon and I would tell this story about a troll and some goats that we remember hearing as kids. That said, every telling of a fairy tale is a retelling, and I think this version feels very much our own. 

In “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” the good guys don’t get much stage time. The goats file by, one by one, but we spend most of our time with the villain. So I wanted to give a little more sense of who this troll was and what he wanted, and I probably inevitably ended up sympathizing with him a bit. 

I changed the ending too. Here’s the original text, as set down in the middle of the 19th century (translated from the Norwegian by D.L. Ashliman): “And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the cascade.”

For me, that doesn’t work in a picture book. It’s too violent. Mind you, I’d have no problem telling the story that way—out loud, without pictures—to a group of young kids. It works great without pictures! You can feel the storyteller stoking the crowd, getting squeals and screams, upping the ante. But as soon as you add pictures, it gets too gross. It breaks the spell. A famous Jon Klassen eyeball flying from its socket, a little optic nerve wiggling behind it? No thank you. We wanted to preserve the spirit of the ending—gratuitous, escalating, funny—and I like where we landed very much. 

“Jon and I like to see what’s on the other side of a running gag. What do you find when you exhaust the joke, but still keep telling the story?”

Jon, as you set out to illustrate this book, what scene were you most excited to bring to life?
Klassen: I really liked the beginning spread, where we first meet the troll. The illustration only takes up like a fifth of the page space and you barely see him. Book illustrations, for me, aren’t about single spreads and how great they can be; they are about consecutive storytelling and setting something up and hopefully paying it off. Even though, on its own, that first spread doesn’t show very much, it’s got a lot of tension and promise, and I like that a lot. 

What was challenging about illustrating the goats and the troll? What was enjoyable?
Klassen: The goats were very fun because they are the straight men in this story. Their job is to play it cool and look at the troll like he’s ridiculous. From the start they’ve got a solid, coordinated plan to deal with him, and they’re never scared, so they get to be almost like statues of goats that move on- and offstage when the story tells them to, and that’s about it.

The troll took a minute to figure out. My first few stabs were a little too human. The main thing I wanted to keep about him was my impression, from illustrations of trolls when I was growing up, that they almost look like they’re part of the ground they inhabit. It’s not as much about the details or a specific anatomy as it is about them almost being hidden, and then you see their eyes in there somewhere.

Mac, the troll speaks mostly in rhyme, a technique you haven’t often employed. How did you arrive at this? 
Barnett: I love poetry and poetic forms. I studied poetry and for a long time, well into college, I thought I might become a poet. Fairy tales often move from poetry to prose, so I thought it’d be fun to do that here. Jon’s staging of this story is very theatrical, and I think the troll’s poetry feels similarly performative: He’s chewing the scenery and really inhabiting his trollness . . . until it all breaks down.

We spend most of the book in one location: the bridge beneath which the troll lives. Jon, how did you decide what this would look like?
Klassen: When I first took on the book, I bought an old book on bridge design. I was all excited about doing it in this historical way, but then the more I sat with the story, the more it seemed like the right answer was actually a very, very simple bridge that was probably made by hand and maybe wasn’t even used by people anymore. The troll had claimed it long ago, and he’s not much on upkeep. Like the troll, the planks of the bridge almost merge with the ground, and they’ve got grass and vines growing on them. I wanted the wood to feel soft. 

“Book illustrations, for me, aren’t about single spreads and how great they can be; they are about consecutive storytelling and setting something up and hopefully paying it off.”

The troll’s decor started with the skull hanging from the bridge, and then I added some bones around him. The team at Scholastic liked this direction and kept embellishing on what else he’d have down there, so now we have some playing cards and a boot and an old can—just stuff that might’ve floated downriver at some point. I think there’s a lot of downtime under there between potential meals crossing the bridge.

What are your favorite illustrations in the book? 
Klassen: My favorite is the page where all three goats are eating in the meadow near the end. They look safe and satisfied, and it’s just a really strong moment. The story is mainly about justice against this antagonistic force, which is simple enough, but the result ended up hitting me harder than I expected it to. I think it’s one of the better spreads Mac and I have done together in any of our books. 

Barnett: He texted [that spread] to me as soon as he’d finished it, which he only does when he’s really excited about something, and it totally knocked me over. 

One thing we do in this book is make the third goat ridiculously large. Most of the time, the progression of goats in this story goes small, medium, large. Sometimes you get an extra-large goat at the end. But we go small, medium, enormous—absolutely gargantuan, bigger than any goat in the history of picture books. We thought it would be funny. 

Our version, like the original tale, ends with all the goats together, eating on the grassy ridge. And this picture is of three goats, one of whom is just ridiculously huge, enjoying a nice meal at sunset, completely at peace. And while the visual joke is still present, the image is so sweet and peaceful and moving. I cried when I saw it. 

In a lot of our books together, Jon and I like to see what’s on the other side of a running gag. What do you find when you exhaust the joke, but still keep telling the story? The answer, often, is the sublime. 

This book contains a litany of ways in which the troll dreams of preparing and eating goat. If you were a troll, what would be your favorite way to eat goat?
Klassen: I don’t think it’s a secret that neither Mac or I give too much thought to the overt lessons our books might teach, but if there is a lesson in here anywhere, it’s that we should probably lay off the goat-eating. 

If you encountered a troll beneath a bridge you needed to cross, what would you do? 
Klassen: I’d probably deliberate on the edge for a little while, then suddenly make a run for it across the bridge, be caught three steps in and eaten immediately.

Barnett: I’d try to sneak across while the troll is eating Jon.

Read our review of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff.’


Photo of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen courtesy of Carson Ellis.

Two award-winning children’s book creators reveal how they told their story about some goats and a troll under a bridge.

Peyote Trip is an office drone on the Fifth Floor of Hell, which resembles a particularly soul-crushing corporation. But a promotion is within Peyote’s grasp, and all he has to do is snag a fifth soul from the wealthy Harrison family. Peyote sets out with Calamity, his potential new workplace bestie, to snare his final Harrison and escape the doldrums of the Fifth Floor, but complications both logistic and ethical soon arise. We talked to author Claudia Lux about finding humanity in an infernal bureaucracy.

Have you ever worked in a corporate environment? If so, are there any specific memories that inspired the idiosyncrasies of Hell’s office spaces? What were some of your other inspirations for Hell-as-bureaucracy?
I’ve worked in the social work version of a corporate environment, which is like a normal corporate environment with less money and loftier aspirations. But the initial scene in the Fifth Floor’s kitchen before the morning meeting was based largely on the kitchen in that office, in which the coffee machine never worked and people hoarded plastic silverware like we were preparing (poorly) for the apocalypse. 

The first kernel of the idea started when I was streaming TV shows on a work trip and the same insurance commercial started for the millionth time. Without thinking, I yelled, “THIS IS HELL.” Of course, it was not. It was a nice hotel room. But I started noticing it more: How quick we are to compare our momentary discomfort to eternal damnation; how low the colloquial bar has gone for suffering. I began asking people for their most recent “Hell” moments, and, unsurprisingly, a lot of them took place at work. The conversations were so fun and unifying, and soon I had a world to explore and a character to explore it.

Sign Here is told from several different perspectives. How did you decide how much time each character would spend narrating the story? Did any of them take over the plot more than you initially expected?
I wish that I had an answer to this that made me sound like a put-together writing mastermind, but honestly, I didn’t really decide, I wrote it as it came, switching perspectives when it felt like the previous section was complete. Besides the broad strokes, I was in the dark about what would happen until I got there. That being said, the character who took over the plot more than I could’ve possibly anticipated was Calamity. 

One night, after a long bout of writing, I got this kind of cheeky, mischievous feeling, like right before you challenge someone to eat a pepper you know is super hot, and I typed: “Calamity Gannon, human name redacted, got her taste for blood the first time one of her brothers beat another to death in front of her.” Before that moment, I didn’t have any plans to go into Cal’s background. And I certainly had no idea how I would explain that sentence the next day. But I found myself really excited to get back to it, to rise to the challenge. Now Cal and her background are some of my favorite content. 

“Realistically uncomfortable is my whole jam.”

Your characters have such realistic (and realistically uncomfortable) tendencies and thoughts. Were any of them based on real people?
Thank you! Realistically uncomfortable is my whole jam. As far as the characters being based on real people, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I mine my daily life for character traits. For example, Silas Harrison’s childhood bedroom in New Hampshire is verbatim my high school friend’s bedroom, down to the Playboy poster and the hidden pot. (Sorry, Mom!) But that’s all. The rest of Silas, and everyone else—as scary as it is to admit—is just me and my wacky, disturbingly curious imagination. 

What excites you about digging into a character’s psyche?
Part of my work as a therapist, my profession before transitioning to writing full time, was designing and facilitating group therapy programs. At first, I was super intimidated by the concept. One-on-one therapy was already intense; why add in nine more people? But I wound up completely won over by its therapeutic power: the realization that we’re not alone in our thoughts or feelings, especially the darkest ones; that there is nothing we’ve experienced that no one else could understand, even if no one else lived it exactly. If a writer makes a character real enough, reading can provide the same realization. So that’s what excites me the most about developing a character’s psyche—the catalyst for empathy. The possibility that someone who didn’t yet know that feeling seen was possible might feel seen by a character I write. 

Book jacket image for Sign Here by Claudia Lux

What’s your favorite way to work? Do you have any drafting or editing rituals?
Up until recently, I have always worked full time while writing, whether as a social worker or in the gig economy, cobbling five wages into something livable. So out of necessity, I developed the ritual of only writing at night, which has continued even though it’s no longer required. I write for long chunks, five hours at least at a time, and I love the stolen quiet of the night. I also have a specific candle from Paddywax Candles that I used the whole time I was writing/editing Sign Here. Not cheap, but whether placebo or genuine sensory memory tool, it really helped get me in the zone. I need a new one for the next book (it’s a one-scent-per-book kind of deal), so I’m currently on the hunt for that, if anyone has any suggestions!

I also love setting up a specific writing space wherever I live, and I always include a framed copy of “Berryman” by W.S. Merwin on my desk. It is a brilliant take on the writing process that never fails to give me goosebumps and makes me feel so insanely lucky that I get to do this. 

What is your favorite piece of media (book, movie, TV show, anything) from the last year, and why?
Oh man, what a big question! Off the top of my head:

I just finished Before Everything by Victoria Redel, and it completely rocked my world. I studied with Victoria at Sarah Lawrence when I was in college, and I have always been in awe of her and her work, but Before Everything had me full on ugly-crying in the middle seat of a transatlantic flight and also cackle-laughing like a maniac. (The people next to me were thrilled!) She writes about grief and friendship with equal parts humor and raw sadness, and that makes every single character feel so real that I keep finding myself missing them. She’s got that writing-as-empathy-catalyst thing down pat. 

I’ve also been totally captivated by “Reservation Dogs” on FX. The writing and the acting are incredible, and it’s one of those rare shows that provides both escape and nourishment. It’s hilarious and completely captivating, and at the same time, watching it makes me feel like I am being fed only the best ingredients. Like its quality is improving my own. 

Finally, anything Phoebe Robinson does blows me away. I just read her third book of essays, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, and I am devouring her new show, “Everything’s Trash.” She’s my Bono. 

If you could pick one author from the past or present to have tea with, who would it be?
Honestly, my dad, Thomas Lux. I would give anything to have tea (well, not tea. Coffee? Screwdrivers?) with him again. 

Read our starred review of ‘Sign Here’ by Claudia Lux.

What was the biggest thing you learned from this experience? What’s next for you? 
I’m just so amazed and grateful; I still can’t quite believe it. I first started writing novels in 2014. Sign Here is my third but the first to get picked up. So it’s been a long process, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. Most profoundly, I’ve learned to listen to myself. Not to the trolls who live in my head and tell me how terrible I am but to the me underneath their noise. The consistent beacon in the chaos, that steady blink. My whole life, no matter where I took my career or how much I loved social work, which was a lot, that beacon was there, telling me to write. But it terrified and intimidated and exhausted the hell out of me. Following it would require complete faith, against all odds, with little to no external validation, likely ever. So I tried to ignore it. I set the trolls loose to berate and mock and admonish it. Until eventually, I started to follow it. Nearly a decade later, I am grateful every single day that I did. Not only because of the publication, which is an absolute dream come true, but because now that I know I can hold the faith through the hard parts, listening to myself—in any area of my life—doesn’t scare me anymore. Now, it excites me. 

I am currently working on my second book with Berkley, which will be out in a couple of years. It’s not a sequel, but it will have the same combination of humor, sincerity, darkness and nutty thought experiment! 

Photo of Claudia Lux © Sarah Moore.

The debut author explains how she found humanity in an infernal bureaucracy.
Claudia Lux

Twelve-year-old Millie is thrilled to work her first babysitting job, but her world turns upside down the morning after, when she learns that her four-month-old charge, Lola, has died of SIDS. In her second middle grade novel, Liz Garton Scanlon beautifully depicts a middle schooler navigating an unspeakable tragedy.

Let’s start with this book’s striking cover. In the book’s acknowledgments, you write that one of your best friends created the embroidery that serves as the cover image. How did this come about? 
I can’t get over that art, honestly. Jill Turney, Amelia Mack and Angie Kang (the book’s designers and design fellow) conceived of the image—a mashup of stitchery and sorcery. And then—it’s true!—they partnered with my friend Kathie Sever, founder of Fort Lonesome, a chain-stitch embroidery studio in Austin, Texas, where we both live. The art was made on a weighty piece of black linen, and I think it speaks to the heart and soul of this project, piercing darkness straight through with the abiding possibilities of love and light.

How did Lolo’s Light start for you? 
The first scene I imagined was the one in Chapter 3, where Millie finds herself in the gorgeous airiness of the Acostas’ house, babysitting for the very first time and enraptured by the importance of her circumstances. It all seems almost too good to be true, which is a very good place to start a story, on the cusp between the before and after. I teetered there for a while with Millie, and then we fell headlong into the story.

Tell us more about Millie, who she is and where she’s at as the novel opens.
I think Millie is like many of us at 12 years old—happy and also restless. She has friends and smarts and good dogs and confidence, but what she really wants is to be grown up. That yearning to be on the other side of the invisible line between childhood and whatever-happens-next—it’s so palpable and so universal. But, of course, it’s also inevitably more complicated than we think it will be.

“Not every adult can walk alongside kids as they struggle and crack and grow, but I wanted Millie to have some of the good ones—the brave ones.”

After Lolo dies, Millie must confront all kinds of emotions. As you created her journey through grief, what was most important to you to get right about her experience? 
I wanted to look at grief honestly—especially this first, great grief—and to allow all the nuances of it to play out for Millie. I wanted to show, for example, that while it’s unbelievably hard to feel responsible, it’s also heartbreaking when you realize you’re not, that nobody is, that there was nothing anyone could have done to change what happened. 

It was also really important to me to depict grief as a journey, as something shifting over time, as something Millie navigated and grew within and maybe even eventually understood. I just aimed to see her through it, and there were so many layers and facets and stages to illuminate along the way.

Let’s talk about the adults in this novel, because there are a bunch of really great ones. Why was it important to you to surround Millie with so many adults, particularly when children’s literature often goes out of its way to eliminate adults from narratives? 
I wanted to make sure Millie was not alone as she walked through grief. It’s as simple as that. Even when she felt alone, I wanted her surrounded by wisdom and experience and kindness and love. Not every adult in the real world is good at this. Not every adult can walk alongside kids as they struggle and crack and grow, but I wanted Millie to have some of the good ones—the brave ones. She needed them. Every kid does.

Millie’s class’s egg-hatching project works so beautifully within the story. Based on your acknowledgments, it sounds like you have experienced similar activities as both an elementary school student and as a parent. Did you by any chance attempt to re-create this project for research? 
Ha—I did not re-create the project but just you asking makes me wish that I had! I did hatch eggs in science class as a kid and I did win the chance to take one of the resulting chicks home. It wasn’t until I was on the school bus with a big box on my lap that I realized the chick was already becoming a rooster who would not do well with my dogs or upon the top of my dresser. That poor bird was rapidly rehomed!

”When adults suggest that kids shouldn’t read or know or think about those things, kids feel shame and confusion and loneliness and fear. Let’s not do that to them.”

What are some things you think novelists could learn from reading or writing picture books?
Picture books center the child and the child’s perspective in a most remarkable way. There is something about having to consider the very youngest humans—the pre- and early readers— having to witness and reflect what they love and fear and want and need that can help us in the practice of writing through and of kids rather than to or for them.

Although this is not your first novel, you have written many picture books. What do you find challenging about novels? 
I’m a short-form writer at heart, so writing a novel is a very real effort in opening up, in giving each moment and every character a little more breathing room. It’s a matter of trying to evoke meaning and emotions with the same potency I might in a picture book, but holding the reader’s gaze while I do.

You addressed a note that accompanied advance editions of this book to “adult readers.” In it, you wrote, “The grown-up world has not, historically, done a great job of acknowledging or attending to young people’s feelings.” What would you say to an adult who thinks that children’s books shouldn’t include the kinds of subjects and emotions depicted in Lolo’s Light? 
I would say, “I understand your worry and your love, but kids are simply young human beings who wonder about and reckon with things like loss and grief and heartache just like we do! When adults suggest that kids shouldn’t read or know or think about those things, kids feel shame and confusion and loneliness and fear. Let’s not do that to them. Let’s not make things worse. Let’s, instead, keep them company.”

What do you hope a kid who finds themselves in a similar situation to Millie’s might take away from Lolo’s Light? 
Honestly, I hope all kids everywhere grow to know that there’s a light they can count on, a light that can be seen through cracks and curtains, in friendships and in family and in themselves. Even on the darkest days with the sharpest edges there is still a living, humming, human light—a bioluminescent beacon—there to see them through.

Lolo’s Light contains some egg-cellent puns. I’m curious: If you had the opportunity to name a flock of chickens, what do you think would make some egg-ceptional chicken names? 
Oh now THIS is a fun prompt. I’m going to go for a girl group—we’ll call them The Chicks— made up of Eggetha, Yolko and Henifer. They’ll be a power trio.

Read our starred review of ‘Lolo’s Light.’


Author photo of Liz Garton Scanlon courtesy of Elizabeth McGuire.

In Lolo’s Light, Liz Garton Scanlon captures the hard work of healing from an unspeakable tragedy.
Author photo of Liz Garton Scanlon

Colleen Hoover writes romances that are emotional roller coasters and thrillers that keep readers up into the wee hours of the night, and they’ve made her one of BookTok’s biggest success stories. Her novels (Verity, It Ends with Us and many more) are among the app’s most recommended reads, racing up the bestseller list years after their initial releases. It Starts With Us, the eagerly awaited sequel to It Ends With Us, arrives October 18, and to mark its release, we asked Hoover a few questions about her bookstore bucket list and most cherished library memories.

What are your bookstore rituals? For example, where do you go first in a store? Where do you go last before checking out?
I always check out the new releases first to see what I might not have. Then I check sections that might contain my own books so I can secretly sign them. I browse for a while and then love looking at all the nonbook-related stuff near checkout. I’m a sucker for journals and pens. 

Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child.
My school library was my favorite. We were only allowed to go as a class once a week, but I’d have my books read hours after visiting. I’m pretty sure I read every book in that library multiple times. 

While writing your books, has there ever been a librarian or bookseller who was especially helpful?
When I first started writing, I’d write in the coffee shop of our local Hastings. The staff there were always so encouraging when I would come in to work. Unfortunately they closed a few years ago, but I did a lot of my early writing in that store and remember it so fondly. 

Do you have a favorite library from literature?
The Midnight Library! 😉

Do you have a “bucket list” of bookstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet?
I’ve been lucky enough to visit or sign at my dream stores on tour. The Strand in NYC was a big bucket list place to sign, so when it finally happened, it felt very surreal. 

How is your own personal library organized?
It used to be organized alphabetically, but now it’s by color. 

What’s the last thing you bought at your local bookstore?
I actually founded our local bookstore, The Bookworm Box, which is a charity bookstore where all the books are donated and signed by the author, and all the proceeds go to charity (usually a different one every month). The last thing I bought was a set of my books for a girl who came by after hours when I happened to be there. 

Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs?
Cats!

What is your ideal bookstore-browsing snack?
You don’t eat food while touching new books! That’s a no-no.

Picture of Colleen Hoover © Chad Griffith.

The reigning queen of BookTok reflects on her life among the stacks.
Colleen Hoover

The Interprovincial Medical Institute is the sole provider of medicine in a post-apocalyptic world. But unbeknownst to anyone, the Institute is a hive mind, a parasite living within, controlling and training the world’s doctors. When one of the Institute’s bodies dies, it sends a new doctor to investigate—and discovers it isn’t the only parasite interested in the human race. We talked to Ennes about fusing gothic literature with sci-fi and the terrifying scientific theory that keeps them up at night.

Parasites aren’t new to speculative fiction and horror, but your choice to tell this story from the perspective of the Institute, a hive mind that is both a medical professional and a parasite, is extremely original. What did writing from that point of view allow you to do  as an author?
Building a narrator out of a many-minded parasite was not easy, but it let me take advantage of a sort of pseudo-omniscience, which was such a boon for world building. Writing from the Institute’s point of view was also an opportunity to delve into the threat a microscopic antagonist might pose. We all get it, parasites are spooky. That isn’t saying much at all. Where the true intrigue lies, I think, is in the mechanism of infection and the cellular changes that take place in a host. A protagonist needs to be proficient in microscopy to see the terrifying devil in those details. 

“Is that DNA truly mine? Am I being parasitized by my own genome?”

The Institute harks back to classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Were there any particular stories that informed your creation of the doctor?
At the moment I can’t think of any fiction that influenced me as much as the stories science can tell us about our own cells. I was particularly taken by the theory of endosymbiosis: Deep in our mitochondria lives a strand of DNA separate from our nuclear chromosomes, an essential piece of our cellular network without which we would die. This strand is circular, like a bacterium’s, leading scientists to propose it is the genome of a foreign organism that hitched a ride inside us back when we were single-celled. It’s been sitting there ever since, perpetuating itself through the maternal line and providing the basis of a fun mind game I like to call “Am I even me?” Is that DNA truly mine? Am I being parasitized by my own genome? Does it care about me, or does it only care about my reproductive success? Is everything I do and think at the behest of a little self-interested string of nucleotides living inside me? You stay awake so many nights thinking about stuff like that, and eventually you write Leech.

Bodily autonomy is always going to be a ripe subject for horror, but it is something particularly terrifying for many people right now. What drew you to writing a book that delved so deeply into body horror and questions of bodily and mental autonomy?
I knew autonomy would end up being one of several themes, as a consequence of writing about parasitism, but the narrative quickly shoved autonomy to the forefront seemingly of its own volition. Leech was a demanding animal. It wouldn’t let me stop at the microscopic ecosystems parasites use to commandeer behavior but demanded I touch on the equally parasitic structures of hierarchy, power, abuse and some of the ways these structures rob us of our own bodies.

Leech by Hiron Ennes jacket

Despite the fact that Leech epitomizes a gothic novel, it’s also set in a post-apocalyptic world. What led you to marry these two genres?
To put it simply, I think they work well together. Gothic literature is usually predicated on the exploration of some sordid past, whether of an individual, a family, an old house or an isolated township—often all of the above. If a single dead child can make for a terrifying poltergeist, what hauntings might manifest from the cruel impulses of a dead society? In what ways will human cycles of exploitation, bigotry and imperialism haunt the future? What monstrous forms might their resurrections take?

There’s a definite shift in the language the doctor uses to talk about humans throughout the book, moving from a clinical analysis, to becoming more familiar, to a sort of horror. Can you talk about this shift in language? Was this a conscious decision, or did it develop organically?
The shift in language was a conscious development, and an excruciating one. I can’t count the hours I spent going back and forth, micromanaging colloquialisms, contractions, turns of phrase and intrusive thoughts. At the extreme ends of the story, the narration styles are pretty distinct, but it gets muddy enough in the middle that I’m fairly sure I underwent some sort of ego death while writing it.

There are hints as to what happened to society that caused everything to go wrong. Can you tell us what plunged your world into this dark age and how humanity survived?
I don’t think there is any one thing that plunged this world into ruin. The collapse of a society is a slow, mundane and brutal process (a process we are currently witnessing in real time). I don’t know how the world ended, or how many times it ended, but I do know humanity survived by virtue of resilience, ingenuity, mutual aid and cooperation. And trains. I suspect the resurgence of the locomotive was vital to the resurgence of human society. I don’t know why. I just feel it in my heart.

How did your background in medicine inform the writing of Leech? Is there anything that you’ve learned in your studies that you wish you could have included that didn’t quite fit?
To be honest, my background when I started Leech was in physics. My background when I finished it was in medicine, which definitely informed some of the details but not the core of the story. There are a few aspects of doctoring I might’ve incorporated if I’d had a more solid grasp of the realities of clinical practice—namely, a deeper exploration of the unique and sometimes mystifying relationships people have to their own bodies. I think I touched on this with Hélene’s (perceived) hypochondria, but I have seen some truly fascinating disconnects between internal and external experiences of disease: Munchausen’s syndrome, functional disorders and one case of a lovely, cheerful patient whose stated history painted a picture of health and who, almost as an afterthought, lifted her sweater to show me a massive open wound she had been nursing for nearly a year.

“I’m a utopian at heart . . . “

In gothic literature, deformity and physical differences are often cast as physical manifestations of sin, which is a theme now understood to be ableist at best. You manage to incorporate these bodily differences without that baggage. What drew you to including these elements of the gothic, and how did you navigate including them while avoiding the negative connotations that they usually hold?
I won’t claim that Leech is free of ableist baggage; after all, ableism is one of the many flavors in that soup of oppression in which we all grow up swimming. That said, I did consciously set out to subvert traditional, moralistic depictions of deformity. I wanted pretty much every “normal” patient to have some unconventional physical attribute. In a world where everyone has a mechanical limb or a migratory birthmark or a literal doppelganger, it’s hard to view these things as anything but variations of the norm. This allowed the narrative to focus more on the unique roles these attributes play in the characters’ lives and how they might be admired, celebrated, exploited or fetishized on an interpersonal, rather than societal, level. 

A few characters speculate about where they think the monstrous, mysterious ventigeaux that stalk the woods near Verdira came from.Do you have an answer, or are they mysterious to you as well?
The ventigeaux are a mystery even to me. In the future, if there is an opportunity to dissect them, I might uncover their origins. For now, I share the Institute’s suspicions that they are orphans of biotechnology, but I can’t guess what sort of misguided endeavors led to their creation.  

Read our starred review of ‘Leech’ by Hiron Ennes.

One of your characters tries to make sure that humans don’t regain the ability to make flying machines, believing that they are what caused the apocalypse in the first place. If the denizens of this world recovered lost technologies, do you think they would be doomed to the same self-destruction as their forebears?
I’m a utopian at heart, so I genuinely hope not. But I believe that without significantly, consciously dismantling institutions of power, people will end up re-creating the oppressive structures that haunt our past. Not as any function of “human nature” or some such evolutionary psychology nonsense, but by dint of centuries of vicious cultural selection. People tend to emulate their forebears, and the world of Leech is no exception. Fortunately, in that world, as in ours, there are those working to demolish monopolies of power, technology and capital. And in that world, as in ours, there will be monumental successes and devastating failures. Let us hope the former is more frequent than the latter.

Picture of Hiron Ennes courtesy of the author.

We talked to Ennes about fusing gothic literature with post-apocalyptic sci-fi and the terrifying scientific theory that keeps them up at night.
Hiron Ennes

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