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  • Writer's pictureTelênia Albuquerque

August and Barbara Perez Marquez's interview

Hello! Finally Soft is back!!! Read ahead on Patreon or every Sunday on Tapas.

I’m also now on Bluesky, seems ok enough so far but still not that active. Guess it’s the case for all the new apps popping around. Anyway, we have this space separated from all these shenanigans, which is the whole point. =)

Meanwhile, I’ve made this mock cover (that you can buy here!) and it’s giving me ideas… Will these ideas materialize into something concrete? I still don’t know, for now look at these butches of the night~ (I’ve also posted a couple extra sketches on Insta).

 

Interview

August’s guest is writer Barbara Perez Marquez, whose chapbook, Por La Sombrita, I just reviewed last month. I’ve known her work in comics for many years and it’s a pleasure to have her as our guest this month!

Starting with one of our recurring questions. Was there something or someone queer you felt pulled to before you even understood why?

Not really, unfortunately. Queerness was really taboo when I was growing up (and still is back at home, unfortunately), so I didn’t even have much language to associate with it until my teen years, let alone media that showcased queerness openly. I grew up watching a lot of cartoons and anime though, which allowed some exploration of seeing queer characters that weren’t a joke or a stereotype to some extent. I remember gravitating towards titles like Daria, Ranma ½, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and even a few CLAMP titles. While many weren’t actually queer, they felt queer in the sense of seeing aspects of myself not being ridiculed and I think that still helped a lot in the long run.

For our generation, growing up it wasn’t that easy to find queerness in media, unless it was subtext or maybe manga and anime. How did you find your first sapphic novel and comics?

Honestly, the very first one was probably accidental through fan fiction and from there, the occasional manga or anime like you mentioned. Growing up in the Caribbean wasn’t much help either, since it didn’t offer much opportunity to find sapphic content all that openly. I think things took a shift as I grew more into my teens and the internet was more broadly available to me. I could read fan fiction and found my way into reading webcomics. That was a whole new world! At the time Rosalarian’s Yu + Me Dream was being posted and then from there, it was the rabbit hole of finding more webcomics through link pages and so on.

This year you have a considerable number of works out. More recently you released Por La Sombrita, a chapbook of personal memories that I just reviewed here last month. What pushed you to write it? Do you have plans to write more prose work in the future?

My work on Por La Sombrita started during graduate school, around then I was trying to find my voice as a writer and most of my curriculum was centered around prose. During a particularly pivotal semester, I started exploring memoir writing and landed in the creative non-fiction style that you see in the chapbook pieces. I’d always thought I’d be a prose writer, but I re-found comics around 2014-2015 under this new writer light, if that makes sense? Up to that point I’d read them plenty, but never actually considered I could write them too? Whatever it was that clicked, it’s stayed as an active back and forth since. Right now my next few releases are all comics, but I think there’ll definitely be more prose in the future.

Another recently released work of yours is Paulina and the Disaster at Pompeii: A Mount Vesuvius Eruption (art by Markia Jenai). A GN part of a series called Girls Survive, where girls literally survive historical events. It’s an interesting angle to focus on those settings for young readers, especially when we just went through especially globally traumatic events. What did you particularly intend to channel in this story?

I worked in reverse when it came to Paulina, I usually create a cast first and then the surrounding plot for a given story. However, when I was approached with the opportunity, I got to take my pick of the historical event I wanted to write about. The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is something that we all recognize in some way, but I wanted to showcase some of the things we know happened around the time of the eruption and afterwards, which are often left aside in lieu of talking about the eruption itself and the ruins it created. The professions, the escape route, and even the graffito featured in the book are all from recorded information from the time. I think these really “normal” elements about life are particularly important when extraordinary events are happening, since they afford us a moment to breathe amidst the chaos of life. Due to the format of the series, it’s a really contained story, but I hope readers can take away some of the more broad elements at play in the story: Community, resilience, and finding support even at the end of the world.

I first met your work through The Order of Belfry, which was an adult story. Now you seem to be writing mostly for middle grade. Was there a particular reason for that change?

That’s mostly been ruled by the current opportunities I’ve been fortunate to be part of. Publishing has this ebb and flow to it, where if you go into one side then you get a few gigs all in the same range, and then you work yourself out of that, so you get a few gigs in a new range, and so on and so forth. There’s also of course the format, The Order of Belfry having been a webcomic allowed MJ and I a freedom that isn’t always the first thing that’s considered when it comes to writing for a “traditional” publisher. Sometimes it’s about what the market needs, sometimes the publisher is looking for a specific type of story. Nevertheless, I like the continued opportunity to deliver diverse or queer-forward stories on all different age ranges.

You have a GN schedule for 2025, called The Library of Memories (art by Lissy Marlin). Can you tell us more about it or any of your future original projects?

It’ll be a little bit before I can talk more fully about The Library of Memories, but I can say I’m really excited about how we are challenging the middle grade genre with the themes of the book, as well as the ways in which we’ve included some very near and dear elements into the story. As per future projects, beyond some short term ones, the next book I’m working on got announced this month, which will be a return to an older YA reading audience and romance themes for me, it’s called To Dance the Moon and Stars (art by Tasia M S).

Despite the internet being a well of info, the practical details and dynamics of writing as a business still are hazy for those outside. How has been your learning journey? And what do you find most important for newbie writers?

Tell me about it! I think it’s both a blessing and curse, there’s so many resources but they can be really overwhelming when looking for a sense of direction in a field that thrives from everyone following the beat of their own drum. For myself, I pursued a degree program (which culminated in an MFA) which I think allowed me that sense of structure that I was looking towards as I made my way in the field. However, I think the most important thing is really finding a few other people that are in your same wavelength as you start out. Those same connections you make early on will be the people you share resources and opportunities with and it not only makes the path less lonely, but also builds a stronger base to find your footing.

Networking at conventions was sort of the way to do all that, but there’s so many ways to achieve the same thing through online groups on different platforms these days. I’d encourage new writers (particularly in comics) to check out Creator Resource and The Cartoonist Cooperative. For prose writers, I’d challenge to find local writing organizations in your area and connecting with open mics or writing groups, those are invaluable in building a community around yourself.

In the era of burn out, rising anxiety and social media, we have been forced to rethink routines and our relationships to working on our previous hobbies. A long trial and error process. How have you been navigating that? Do you keep any specific habits?

The best thing I ever did for my writing practice was understanding what times work and don’t work for me to write. From there, I was able to build my days around that. There’s a lot of “you have to write every day” and other “writerly” expectations and habits to be considered a writer, but the truth is that whatever gets the writing done IS what you should make a habit, whatever that looks like for you.

Social media helped many of our generation to start a career but it also has costed us plenty. In the last few years many have readjusted their habits and the very platforms are changing plenty. What are your thoughts on this dynamic and how have you been dealing with it?

I try not to resent it, for the most part, since it feels a lot like just yelling at the sky most times. We are doing the best we can with the tools (imperfect as they are) that we have access to. For myself, I’ve been trying to just separate myself from the necessary evil (which is easier said than done most days): I do my part, I post the thing, I share it, and then I do my best to not hold it against myself if it works or not. The way that social media has become tied to this general popular understanding of “success” is a losing battle for most of us anyways.

When it comes to the “use social media to promote things” part it’s been helpful to also go beyond those “live feed” social networks, whether that be in asynchronous social groups or even at a local level. For the release of the chapbook I sent out emails to outlets and retailers, which I usually don’t do because there’s this unspoken idea that “if you post it on social media, everyone will see it” and I’m trying to break away from that. It feels weird to advise “just do it the old fashioned way” but it really feels like that’s the next natural step to me in the advent of social media not delivering on its original “purpose” to connect whatever one has to say to a room full of people.

As per the connection with colleagues part, I’m trying to stay on top of it as best as possible. Whether that be ensuring I do have some sort of contact for them beyond a fleeting social media profile or just collecting as many profiles across the board as I can. They can’t shut down EVERY site all at once, right? Haha

Communication is a tricky thing no matter what, but being a writer working in English instead of your mother tongue can be even harder. What do you find most important to understand about these challenges and opportunities?

Probably the fact that we can use it to our advantage. When I started writing, it served a double purpose: I liked writing AND I got to practice English (which I was learning at the time). As I’ve grown in my career, it’s been more of a challenge to RETURN to Spanish, so I’m having to be more purposeful about it. The majority of the publishing market revolves around the English language, but there are plenty Spanish-speaking readers that are left in this limbo ruled by the (very arbitrary) translation of works. It’s all a lot of rights and corporations talk, but at the end of the day as a writer, the best I can do is find opportunities to bridge those gaps. For the chapbook for example, I offered to translate it myself and the press was more than willing to include the language options. For The Library of Memories, we’ve expressed early interest in wanting to see a Spanish edition of the book. However, it is highly unlikely we’ll be involved in that translation, but making sure our editor hears our interest is already a great step in the right direction.

What are the queer stories (in any medium) that have your attention right now?

It’s been a Summer of queer romance novels for me, which I’ve been really enjoying. I’ve worked through the Bright Falls Series by Ashley Herring Blake (looking forward to the third book), Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner, and I’m finishing up Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly.

What would you like to see more in sapphic/queer stories?

I’m always looking for more domestic stories. Even in contemporary romances, often the central plot is “how do these two characters fall in love” and I can never get enough of those, but I also enjoy seeing established relationships presented at length (and at ease) in an otherwise unrelated plot.

Please, share where people can find more of your work.

I’m @mustachebabs on any social media platform I’m in, primarily Instagram these days, and I keep my bio site updated with any other platforms I’m on: https://www.bio.site/mustachebabs

I also have a Patreon where I share updates, process blogs, and other writer adjacent content: https://www.patreon.com/MustacheBabs

 

Stuff I read

Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko

Yes, that one MV from eight years ago. And back then I was already tired of the formula “girl falls for friend who has a shitty (ex)boyfriend”, so I didn’t go into the novel expecting much. I actually only read it because I recently joined a book club XD But it surprised me! Hayley managed to make it fresh and about a lot more than just teen romantic angst. It also doesn’t fall into the common problem of expending more time with the infuriating (ex)boyfriend than the girls. The fact that it happens in 2006 also helped a lot.

Now, it is Hayley’s first novel and a lot could be better developed, especially the resolution. But to me it was a good read and actually left me wanting to know what happens after. In any case, I hope Hayley will keep writing.

Feminine Pursuits by Olivia Waite

This series is far from new, but it took me years to gather courage to read. And I’ll say, the covers were what kept me from it… Every time someone told me it was good I kept doubting it, which was silly of me maybe, but was what happened.

By far my favourite was the second, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows. I loved its characters (40+!)(I really should draw them sometime), the particular period chosen, and all the rich historical details the author is so good at weaving into the story. In the first one, the overall historical and scientific plot was so engaging, not so much the romance. I felt that class and some other interpersonal dynamics were a bit ignored. Which I could even overlook, but when paired with how much work Waite put into other historical details, it was hard to do. Only the last book didn’t capture me much (I couldn’t stop asking why going through the risks of a heist when you had someone super rich right there???), while the historical side still had its moments.

Well, to me it was a mostly cozy read and I really could use more of it.

 

Stuff I watched

Heartstopper

I had to at least mention these babies! My favourite by far this season was Tao, he and Elle are perfect. Of course Tori was an icon and Isaac’s story… (I hope we’ll have a Loveless adaptation at some point!). Can’t wait for season 3!

 

Fun Facts

I brought back fun facts to share a bit of a project I’ve been taking part in, as the huge nerd I am. It’s called Get to Know Medieval Londoners and it’s a volunteer project to transcribe deeds, wills and other documents for digitalization and upload to this site.

Of course, we mostly study the History of nobility and the image we have of the Middle Ages is very molded by movies and fiction in general, but lots still surprised me. Maybe because these documents are linked to property in the city, meant owned mostly by people part of guilds, so not limited either by aristocratic land rules or the hardships of people too poor to own anything. Which usually are the two extremes being explored.

Plenty of family drama and petty disputes all around, but the best part is I’ve worked in several wills from women. With their own seals independent women. More than that, court disputes between a woman and some dude over a building or a woman disputing clauses from her husband’s will, with apparently reasonable resolutions. Besides plenty of women being mentioned as the owner, instead of the owner along with her husband. Women leaving their own daughters property, not only goods.

Obviously not to say the Middle Ages were actually a paradise of women’s liberties, for example many husbands only left their wives anything under the condition they don’t remarry. Most women with money and influence of their own were living in “pure widowhood”. And most people who own anything in these documents are men.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting pastime and in such works there are always plenty of funny little bits, such as “Robert fitz Robert, son of Robert fitz Robert” (but besides that of course everyone is called John or Joan). People starting their will leaving their soul to God (yeah, sure that’s not how it works…). And I swear someone left his 2nd best bed, and no, it was not Shakespeare.

 

See you next month!

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