Interview with Saundra Mitchell

Hi Saundra! Can you you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi! Thank you for having me! My name is Saundra Mitchell, and I live in Indiana– there’s more than corn in Indiana! I’ve been publishing for teens and tweens since 2009, and OUT NOW is my third anthology!

If you were to describe Out Now: Queer We Go Again in three words, what would they be?

Fun, fun, fun! When I set out to put together an anthology, I ask my authors to write the story they wish they had when they were sixteen. And so I think the antho ends up fat and happy and exciting, because everybody’s getting to play to their own strengths. Everything is really genuine and heartfelt and honest.

What first inspired you to bring together All Out, and when did you decide you wanted to work on this follow up? 

ALL OUT was originally Jim McCarthy, my agent’s idea. We were brainstorming a new anthology– my first, DEFY THE DARK, had been out for a couple of years and I really wanted to do another one. Jim came up with the idea for an all queer collection– both authors and stories. I was like, yes yes yes, I want this! Jim and I are both queer, and we were both really hungry for more, more diverse queer stories in YA. We love the ones that exist, but we explicitly wanted a collection where people could write whatever they wanted– without focusing on pain or coming out or homophobia or hate crimes, which were often very, very central to the stories available at the time. We wanted more. So we made it! And TS Ferguson (also queer) at Inkyard bought it! And we had a gay old time!

Both All Out and Out Now feature a wide range of awesome contributors – how did you select who to include?

For a lot of authors, I just asked people I already love to read. You know, I love Anna-Marie McLemore, I love Fox Benwell, I love Malinda Lo, I love Shaun David Hutchinson. That’s one of the great things about doing an anthology: you get to ask your favorite authors to write something just for you!

But a lot of authors, I explicitly set out to find. I wanted to make sure I had ace voices in these anthologies, and the ace authors I knew personally weren’t all available. So I participated in #acelitchat on Twitter. #translitchat too. (I found the WONDERFUL Nilah Magruder in #acelitchat!)

Basically, when I put my anthologies together, I have two rules. One, the antho has to be AT LEAST 50% BIPoc, and of each representation, I try to have at least two. Because there is no single trans experience, there is no single pan experience, there is no single lesbian experience. So I try very hard to have at least two of each orientation and gender, so that more readers get an opportunity to see themselves reflected.

What are your favourite books featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists?

OMG, I am such a sucker for Shaun David Hutchinson. He’s an author that I can trust: I know that I’m not going to get to halfway and the book is suddenly going to come down with a bad case of message-itis or shamery. He’s also raw and honest, and the nihilism and hope in his books appeals to me. He doesn’t chicken out on hard endings. I just… yeah. I love Shaun’s books.

I’m also dead-gone-stupid over Anna-Marie McLemore. She is so hecking talented, it makes me want to bite my own face. Her books are beautiful, lyrical, they’re like sugar season on the page. They make me wonder why I bother to write at all. She’s just that good. She makes me want to be a better writer.

You’ve written multiple bestselling books – which has been your favourite to write?

I have to say, I have had a strange and varied and wonderful career, and I have enjoyed writing (almost) everything in my list. But getting an opportunity to adapt a Broadway music into a novel with THE PROM… that was like a dream come true. And writing MISTWALKER was one of those books that contained every single thing that I ever loved in a book: tragedy, mystery, magic… But honestly, it was painful and hard to write ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, but I feel like it’s the most important thing I have ever written– and maybe will ever write. That book came from my soul.

Throughout your writing career, what has been your biggest obstacle?

I write thinky books in a move-y category. I have tried and tried and tried to be more plot-oriented, to write faster-moving, more urgent books. But I just… I write a book because I have a question I want to try to answer, and all those characters are asking and answering that question from different points of view. So I end up with quiet books. But you know, I wouldn’t change it. I may not be a big flashy star, but I think we need quiet books too.

What has been your favourite part of editing All Out and Out Now? And what has been the most difficult? 

My favorite part is actively working with each author. I love seeing how they draft, how they revise. I feel like I  learn so much from them as we work together to make their stories as wonderful as they can possibly be. I’m trying to think of what the hard part is, and there really isn’t one. I mean, it’s a LOT of moving parts, and a lot of organization, so sometimes it’s stressful. But I truly love doing anthologies, so any stress there is, is absolutely worth it.

What’s some advice you’d give to any aspiring authors who might be reading this interview?

I didn’t go to college, I don’t have an MFA, and I live in the middle of Indiana– only been to New York twice! I didn’t have any connections, I couldn’t afford any conferences or workshops. And yet, I still get to write books (and edit anthologies!) for a living. No matter where you are in life, if you can scratch down words on something, if you can get to a library somehow, you can do this. And we need you to do it, because we have tons and tons of nice middle class people telling their stories, but we need more voices– more and more and more. If you love it, if you want it, you can do it. And we will be here ready and excited to welcome you.

All Out has inspired and helped LGBTQ+ teens across the world – tell us something or someone that has always inspired and helped you. 

When I was a teen, around 1987, we tried to put together a Pride parade in Indianapolis, and nobody was having it. We couldn’t get permits, the police refused to protect us, nothing. In the 90s, I joined the military and then got kicked out for being queer. Last year, I went to Indianapolis Pride, and cried as I watched the out servicepeople marching IN UNIFORM with our flag, in our parade. It inspires me that our great queer family doesn’t give up. We keep striving for our rights, and we keep moving forward, no matter how hard it gets. And the more we smooth the path, the easier it gets for the people who come after us. We are a family, and we take care of our own.

With Out Now coming out really soon, what do you hope readers take away from it? 

I hope readers take away joy. Happiness. Pleasure. Delight. Surprise. We make these anthologies to reach out and say, we see you, we love you, you are valid. So I hope that’s what readers take. And for all our glorious allies reading too, I hope they get the same: joy. Happiness. Pleasure. Delight. Surprise. We’re not here to learn a lesson. We’re here to have fun. That’s why our tagline is Queer We Go Again! It’s an invitation to a party and we hope to see you there!

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Saundra! It’s been a pleasure. Out Now: Queer We Go Again is out 26 May, and you really shouldn’t miss this exciting and inspiring anthology featuring seventeen short stories that span all genres, all starring LGBTQ+ protagonists!

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