Can you walk me through your writing process?
Most often I think of the title first and work from there. Gingerbread for Yule Land started as Yule Land, a vague idea about a holiday-themed amusement park I gleamed from a dream many years ago. A lot of my ideas come from elements in my dreams of half-remembered books, movies, and TV shows. In this case, I moved the focus from the festival itself to preparations for the festival, turning it from an amusement park into a sort of holiday marketplace.
As for constructing the story, it’s easiest to dive in. I’ll spend a few days forming ideas in my head before putting them down on paper. Sometimes I’ll start a draft at the beginning, other times I’ll begin in the middle and work backwards or forwards. I’ve tried in the past to outline my works, but the flow comes more naturally when I jump into the draft and plot it as I go.
Can you discuss your experience with writing fiction?
I’ve only really been writing professionally for two years, but I’ve been writing overall since 2008. After graduating high school I got into writing fan fiction once I had more free time. 2008-2009 became an unofficial break year for me when my high school screwed up my college admission papers. I focused a lot on fan fiction for the Legion of Super-Heroes animated series, which led me to engage with other fans on the fanfiction.net forums and later Legion World. Then starting in 2010 I started creating a lot of fan content about DC’s Roy Harper and his daughter Lian to the point I gained a reputation as THE fan writer about them. Writing those stories helped me connect with the overall comic book community and I’ve made friends with people whom I can’t imagine life without.
Admittedly, I had trouble focusing on my own original fiction for years. During the 2010s, it was rare for me to complete anything for submission. It wasn’t until 2021 I’d gotten my first official acceptance. I’d written a short prose story called To Do Good and submitted it to What’s Left, an anthology about the COVID-19 Pandemic released by Arledge Comics. It was my look at how superheroes might be dealing with life in the middle of a global pandemic.
For the rest of 2021, I did try to get more original writing out there. Unfortunately, my mother received a cancer diagnosis that same year. I was working two jobs and acting as her primary caregiver. There wasn’t much I could do for her beyond making her comfortable, and I doubt I even did that properly. What little writing I managed to complete was being rejected.
In 2022, I received my first unofficial comic book writing credit. Author Devin Grayson reached out to me for consultation regarding the story she was writing for DC Pride 2022. She’d read an article I’d written discussing the lack of focus of DC’s oldest queer characters in their first Pride anthology and wanted to include some of them in her story. I discussed with Devin in detail about bringing back some members from older versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes to have them finally acknowledged as queer on panel for the first time in 40 years. I had help from my friends Kat and Emma Singer in this regard. While editorial decided to use the current versions of the characters made by Brian Bendis, it was still a major development having these characters be openly recognized as queer superheroes. I also suggested using the opportunity to bring back Dorothy Spinner and Kate Godwin (Coagula) from the Doom Patrol, after the two were killed off back in 2003. Kate was DC’s first transgender superheroine, created by the late Rachel Pollack during her run on Doom Patrol in the early 90s. It turned out Jadzia Axelrod also featured Kate in her story in the same anthology. You’ve no idea the joy I felt in getting to show Rachel via Facebook DM that Kate and Dorothy were back, and that I had a hand in making it happen to properly thank her for the work she did on the series. I simply got tired of waiting for someone else to bring these characters back and tried to do what I could with the opportunity Devin gave me as a writer. It felt like I had made a difference in the world, reading comments from people who were genuinely happy seeing these characters back after so long.
Starting in late 2022, I began building up my writing credits and steadily worked on submitting more original fiction. By the end of the year I had two more to my name. The Revolution of Fair Katrinelje in The Dark Side of Purity E-Zine published by Band of Bards, and The Mermaid Mystery of Bulk-Up Beach in Michael McAdams’s Twilight Detective Agency web comic series.
I’ve spent most of 2023 pouring my heart and soul into my writing. As of right now, Gingerbread for Yule Land is my 28th accepted work for publication. I’m now at 29. I need to be honest that what lit the fire underneath me was the writer on DC’s Unstoppable Doom Patrol announcing in April that they were disregarding Dorothy and Kate’s inclusion in DC Pride 2022 for the sake of keeping them dead. To make matters worse, Rachel Pollack, who had been sick for well over a year (which was well known in the comic community), passed away a few days after the announcement of Kate and Dorothy’s revivals being ignored. I felt disgusted and ashamed on top of the deep sense of loss I still feel when remembering Rachel has passed on. The whole reason I pushed for Kate Godwin’s return was because of what she meant to me and a lot of other people, and because I specifically wanted Rachel to see Kate was back and could be used again in future stories. Her work on Doom Patrol had been ignored for too long (they’d only just reprinted the full run in a $100 omnibus), and I was angry at how Kate herself was deliberately ignored in current Doom Patrol comics for over 20 years. It made me feel like I lied to Rachel when I showed her the panels from DC Pride. And the only reason Kate and Dorothy were kept deceased was so another character would continue to feel depressed about them, which is why they were originally killed off back in 2003. I finally realized no one else is going to write the stories I want to read or talk about the things I feel we need to talk about, so I needed to make more of an effort to do just that.
Who are some writers that have influenced your work?
Many of the writers who worked on Legion of Super-Heroes titles. Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Roger Stern. Jim Shooter. Geoff Johns. Gail Simone. Devin Grayson for her Arsenal miniseries she worked on with artist Rick Mays, and her work on Titans, as the one writer who truly understood the characters Roy Harper and his daughter Lian, contributing to their growth in a way no other writer has ever matched. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, Peter David’s Supergirl, Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave & The Bold, Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers. A lot of comic writers, specifically for the character work they do.
Beyond comics, I’m a big fan of young adult horror fiction. I’ve spent most of my life reading R.L. Stine’s works like Goosebumps and Fear Street, but I’m even more fond of Nola Thacker for her Graveyard School series alongside Marty Engels and Johnny Ray Barnes Jr.’s Strange Matter series. I could go on like this forever.
Incorporating Christmas into a sci-fi setting is unique. How did you use the holiday theme to enhance or subvert traditional sci-fi elements in your story?
As a Christmas baby, I love holiday specials and Christmas-themed episodes. I’m aware of the trend where sci-fi and futuristic stories might either present Christmas as is or create some alien pastiche of it that’s Christmas in everything but name. I think it’s important to focus on the core aspects of the holiday first and then work on the trappings later. I didn’t want to go too wild for my story because I was trying to keep it a bit grounded for speculative fiction, hence why it’s about the “Yule festival” and features stuff like gingerbread men, tree decorating, and fir and pine and holly. It would’ve been easy to get too lost in discussing the holiday, so I made a conscious effort to keep it on the characters. This isn’t just about a holiday, it’s about people celebrating a holiday.
Can you discuss how the Christmas theme influenced the tone and atmosphere of your sci-fi narrative, especially considering the isolation of the planet?
Call me sappy, but I do believe Christmas should be about togetherness and comfort in the face of all the hardships people face throughout the year. Yes I know that’s a generalization because a lot of people don’t celebrate Christmas. I really hope I’m not sounding insensitive. Here we have an entire planet of people, and while they’re together, they’ve still been cut off from the greater universe. Many families are lucky to still be together, while some have been split apart. It can be especially difficult during the holidays when we’re separated from the people we love and care about. I put focus on this one family who are together and can celebrate the winter season, but there are still people they love and care for that they worry about, separated by the universe. How would you live with those emotions?
Were there specific sci-fi or Christmas stories that served as inspirations for your work? How did they influence your approach to this project?
Surprise surprise, I’m about to discuss the Legion of Super-Heroes again. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote a storyline in the late 90s where travel between planets was brought to a near standstill and the central government of planets practically collapsed. A miniseries called Legion Worlds had an issue focusing on Ayla Ranzz, a.k.a. Spark, who was returning to her home planet Winath (pronounced Win-athe) following the Legion’s dissolution and her twin brother Garth’s (Live Wire) apparent death. There’s Ayla dealing with this separation from her twin and her reunion with her ex-criminal older brother Mekt on their parents’ farmstead. Ayla’s separation from Garth and her hope she might be reunited with him was one of the inspirations behind showing how the adult Sunny is handling being cut off from his sister Rain, while raising his own children along with his wife Rhea.
Isolation is a central theme in your story. How did you explore the psychological and emotional effects of isolation on both individuals and the society depicted on the distant planet?
With main character Sunny, I focused on how determined he is to be there for his immediate family. He misses his sister dearly, but he can’t wallow in despair when he’s got his wife Rhea, their twin sons Pine and Palmer, and the newborns Apple and Arisia. He’s aware that it’s going to be difficult helping his older children adjust to their new way of life being cut off from the greater universe, while the newborns may not ever know anything besides the current status quo. He’s openly aware of the isolation his family may be facing, but it’s an isolation they’re facing together and he’s doing his part to get them through it as best to his ability. Just because we become isolated from one person we care about, it doesn’t mean we’re isolated from EVERYONE we care about.
In regards to society, I didn’t want to create something too tragic for this story so I thought it was important to emphasize the planet Pomona is self-reliant. They’re not an isolationist society, but a people who ensured that joining the greater universe beyond their planet didn’t make them too dependent on others. That way, their society didn’t come to a crashing halt if something catastrophic happened. Which isn’t to say they don’t have problems. Many families have been cut off from relatives, friends and lovers have lost contact, and it’s tough because of that uncertainty. This year looks especially dark, which is why many are looking forward to the Yule festival to give them some much needed cheer. That the holiday season should be a time of relief and happiness hasn’t changed regardless of the planet.
What motivated you to use isolation as a backdrop for your sci-fi narrative, and how did it contribute to the overall message or atmosphere of the story?
I admit I drew a bit from personal experience in this. I’m not the most sociable person outside the internet. When I’m not at home or my two jobs, there are only a couple of places I’ve felt comfortable enough to spend a duration of time in interacting with other people. Comic conventions, mainly. I used to visit my best friend at her apartment in the city, before she passed away in 2016. And there was a hotel bar another friend worked in. I’d stop by on weekends and sit and chat with him while he worked during the afternoon. Then the pandemic hit, and the hotel shut their bar down.
In what ways does the theme of isolation on the distant planet mirror or contrast with the sense of community and connection often associated with Christmas?
The holidays can be a difficult time for some people. We’re reminded of people who are no longer with us that we wish were here. God knows I’ve done a good job of alienating a few people on my own. I still cringe thinking about the people who’ve blocked me thanks to my own blockheadedness. Even when we’re still with people, that doesn’t necessarily stop us from thinking of the people who aren’t here for whatever reason. It’s okay to feel sad about who’s not present, but it’s equally important to cherish the ones we have with us now. Again, I don’t mean to make generalizations for those stuck in abusive households or toxic relationships. Not everyone has a problem with being alone on holidays. But I realize there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. The people of Pomona both are and aren’t alone and they’re reconciling that. The holidays are a time that manage to magnify our sense of community and our isolation, so I wanted to capture that.
What do you hope readers take away from the intersection of Christmas and isolation in your sci-fi short story?
The main thing I hope people will take from this is that, I get it. I get how tough it is. How tough and scary the last several years have been. Whether it’s a pandemic, or an election, or a war, it’s terrifying out there. We’ve all been going through traumatic changes, and some of the people we love and care about aren’t here anymore. At the end of the day, all we can do is… the best we can. For ourselves and those still here. Maybe we’ll see those people again some day, and maybe not. That hope shouldn’t be the only thing to focus on, because it’ll make you ignore who’s still here.
I wrote this story specifically as a gift for a bunch of people whom I love dearly. I may not always be present in their lives, and I haven’t always been a good friend, but I think about what they’ve given me and I struggle to find the proper way to give back. Even if we’re apart and we may never actually see each other face to face, I want them to know they are loved.