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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya on Writing a Lesbian Horror Protagonist Who Has Been to Therapy

When Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya announced her horror novelette, a lesbian ghost story, would be published by Burrow Press, I immediately pre-ordered the special edition hardcover version. Kayla is many things. She’s our Managing Editor, but she’s also our leading Yellowjackets expert, our personal essay champion, a writer of fiction across various literary magazines — in addition to all of her writing at Autostraddle — a known cannibalism-obsessed queer, all around spooky enthusiast and currently, editor of our Horror Is So Gay series. If Kayla had written a horror story that I could hold in my gay hands, I had to have it in all its pink-covered, illustrated glory.

When Kayla asked me to interview her about her book, I was over the moon. I read the book, which is a quick but meaty read — a long short story or a novelette — twice through and found that the second reading sunk in deeper than the first, like hacking into a piece of wood with an axe, each swing through cuts deeper. This is a book that holds up to multiple sessions as you follow the lesbian protagonist as she engages in a ritual that holds a special kind of terror for us as queer people — journeying to meet her girlfriend’s parents.

There were so many times in this interview where I just waved my arms around and begged Kayla to just tell me more about that, to spill her thinking behind her various choices like I was an eager kid hanging on every word, waiting for her to finish telling a ghost story at a sleepover party. If you’re an A+ member, Kayla’s going to be our featured A+ Read a Fucking Book Club author in December, so you’ll get to ask her all about this work, then, but for now, and until you can get your gay hands on this book, I hope this interview will satisfy.

This interview is edited for clarity and length.

Nico: I wanted to start kind of broad and in the book, the narrator, the protagonist describes this childhood connection to really gruesome ghost stories and to horror from a young age, and I was wondering — what are your first connections to horror or specifically to ghost stories?

Kayla: I was scared of everything when I was a kid! I was a total scaredy-cat and truly, I was the one at a sleepover where, when people would start telling scary stories or playing Bloody Mary, I was like, no. I would leave the room. It was too much for me. It was way too scary. The only way I actually enjoyed it is if I was the one telling the story. I needed that semblance of control. I needed to know how the story ended and be the one to be telling it, otherwise I would freak out.

The only times I feel like I was actually engaging with scary stories as a kid was when I was with my sister and my cousin, and I would tell the two of them scary stories. I would read to them from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and other compilations like that. We just had those. I think they belonged to my brother. I have a much older brother, and I remember those books just being there. I don’t remember anyone actually buying them or giving them to me. They were just already in our house.

Nico: I feel like for everyone in the 90s, there was just somehow a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in your home.

Kayla: What is up with that? I love this idea of them just magically appearing in homes in the 90s, because they were just there. I would read them aloud to my cousin and my sister. I don’t think I would’ve been able to just read those myself then. It would’ve scared me too much. I read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but when things got scary, I kind of peaced out, but telling stories out loud, if I was the one telling them, that is what I liked.

Nico: Okay. Well, that makes a lot of sense. That’s really interesting. Now, as an adult, how do you feel horror and your relationship to horror interacts with your relationship to queerness?

Kayla: It’s actually very linked in my mind. The turning point for me when it came to horror was also a turning point in my queerness. I really was so scared of everything when I was younger. I really avoided scary movies. A lot of movies that I have been told are not scary, like the movie E.T., scared me.

Nico: E.T. is your nemesis, right?

Kayla: Yeah! I had a nightmare about E.T. shortly after seeing it, and I have created a false memory that the movie ends with mass murder.

Nico: Oh my God.

Kayla: Which I know is not the case, but it’s how I remember the movie ending in my mind. I was so scared of things that even things that weren’t horror scared me, and I really did try to avoid a lot of scary movies — but also kind of secretly liked the thrill of it. And I was the same way about roller coasters, too. I would totally protest my friends. No, I’m not going on. You got to drag me. But I kind of liked that whole production of them dragging me on, and then I ultimately had fun. And I would just repeat that same thing all over again.

There was something about it that felt very alluring even as it was scary and dangerous. There’re obviously connections there to be made with queerness, too, and truthfully, I can draw a very clear line between when I didn’t watch horror movies and when I did watch horror movies, and it was after I came out. When I came out and was — my coming out process, as with anybody, was kind of long, drawn out, not-super-straightforward — but when I was truly moving through the world as a queer person, all of a sudden I was like: I love scary shit. I love horror. I probably did all along.

There is something that was weirdly suppressed there, too. I know this is not the case for all horror fans, but I genuinely get very scared. I like the sensation and the feeling, but I get scared about everything from monster movies to more psychological stuff. I actually have a pretty intense reaction to fear. I will scream in a movie theater or whatever or sometimes have to do the thing of not really making direct eye contact with the screen. I know a lot of horror fans where that’s not the case. They like horror and it’s like, they don’t get scared, but for me that is part of the appeal, the fear itself.

Nico: That’s really interesting. Yeah, because I think that sometimes there’s this culture, and it’s a very macho approach to consuming horror, where you’re not supposed to be scared or you’re supposed to be able to watch the most gruesome things, and I really like the idea of queering that, of turning it on its head and being like, “no, I want to be scared. I want to be freaked out by this.”

Kayla: Yeah, totally.

Nico: We’re getting closer and closer to talking about the actual book, but I have one more sort of meta question, which is, I noticed that a lot of the supernatural elements in this book were sort of ambiguous in that they could be real in somebody’s mind, and it made me think of the article you wrote about that happening in Yellowjackets, and I was like, is this an interest of yours or a particular flavor of the supernatural that you enjoy or what’s the history there?

Kayla: Yes. I am really drawn to art in all forms that kind of fucks with you a little bit as to what’s actually happening. I love work — and movies especially — where two people can have a completely different interpretations of what’s actually happening. I feel like I saw that a lot with Yellowjackets. There are people that are very insistent upon the fact that nothing supernatural is happening, some who are very insistent that something is, and then someone like me who exists somewhere in the middle, which is almost that supernatural things that are not normal do exist in the real world. It’s things that we can’t really explain, as simple as coincidences.

To bring it to Helen House — and I won’t go too much into the details of this because of spoilers — but there’s an aspect of shared nightmares in the book, right? That was something where I was like, people could definitely be like, oh yeah, this is a real thing that’s occurring. These people are having the same dreams. And some people might be just like, no, they’re having thematically similar dreams and they’ve been through similar trauma, so they think that they’re sharing these dreams. I think it can go either way, and I kind of based that a little indirectly on the fact that my sister and I, when we were growing up, did have the “same dreams,” but I put that in air-quotes, because it’s like, did we actually? We would compare our dreams, and there were definitely a lot of similarities, and we adopted this sister mythology of, we have the same dreams.

We both were very active dreamers and continue to be.  And we sometimes mixed up each other’s dreams. There’s some wild dream, a nightmare that my sister had, similar to my E.T. nightmare. She had a nightmare about Franklin, the turtle, the cartoon turtle. I don’t know. It was a Nick Junior show, I want to say, in probably the late 90s, early 2000s, based on my sister’s age, probably somewhere around there.

It’s a very innocent cartoon turtle, and she had this nightterror about him, but I was so convinced for a few years that, that was my dream, and I finally conceded the fact that she was telling the truth. It was actually her dream.

Within families, people do that with memories all the time. My sister and I argue over who did what all the time, and we always have to call up my dad and be like, “Was that me or Alex?” Never my mom, because she is the number one culprit of mixing all of our memories together, but that’s just one of those things that happens, in a family especially, where it’s just, was this real or did we all just say this and it became real? Or whose memory was this?

I can draw a very clear line between when I didn’t watch horror movies and when I did watch horror movies, and it was after I came out.

Nico: Everybody remembers things differently. I’ll often run my essays by my sister to fact check because in case I’m remembering something weird, and sometimes she will be like, that’s not what I said or something like that. And it’s very true that you can build that mythology based on filling in the gaps for each other and then that becomes your truth. Okay. I have to ask. Why a lesbian ghost story? [which is kind of silly because of course HECK YES a Lesbian! Ghost! Story!]

Kayla: I think I started writing this also not really realizing it was a ghost story. I really was trying to write a story about a relationship using a very common premise of meeting the parents for the first time.

Nico: Terrifying.

Kayla: It’s something we see all the time. Yes. It’s scary. I think it makes sense that there is a lot of horror that comes from that. Get Out being the peak. It’s a real life scary thing, and there’s so much potential there for a story, and there’s so many different ways it can go, and it’s this very specific intimacy line to cross, meeting a person’s family. I knew I wanted to write something that was based on that.

I’m not sure I went into it thinking it was going to be horror or have some sort of dark turn, but when I wrote this, it was while I was away on my anniversary trip where we go to a cabin in the woods in North Carolina in February every year. That’s where I was, and I was reading a lot, and the two books I read right before I wrote this were, Luster by Raven Leilani and Bag of Bones by Steven King. It’s one very sexy book about desire and the mess of relationships and this character, this protagonist who has a really complicated and often contradictory relationship to sex — and then a literal ghost story. Those were the things percolating in my mind as I sat down to write this, so I think it really makes sense that those things ended up married together a little bit. Everything I write is just going to have dykes truly.

Nico: Yeah, of course. It’s kind of a silly question because of course, you’re writing from your own experience and about the community you care about.

Kayla: As I was writing, it got a little more twisted as it went, and then I had the idea of a haunted doll house. Again, it’s just one of those things where it’s a trope for a reason. It’s something you can do a lot with, this idea of this contained microcosm, a domestic space, something that’s associated with children, but also, all doll houses are haunted. There’s just no way that they’re not.

Also, as far as talking about influences, one of the pieces of art that has probably had the biggest impact on my own work, the biggest lasting impact on my own work in recent years is the show Sharp Objects, and there’s a dollhouse element to that. I don’t think I was explicitly thinking about Sharp Objects when writing this, but it’s one of those things for me, particularly the show, not necessarily the book, but I also do love the book, but it’s for some reason always on my mind. It just is. There was something about that show that just, I don’t know. It haunts me, I guess.

Nico: You mentioned the main character’s complicated relationship to sex, and the next question is very much about that. The main character, she’s presenting us with this unlikeable perception of herself, and it’s very much where she’s like, oh, I use women for sex or I’m not a good girlfriend. And it’s like, okay, we can’t take that completely at face value, but also, that’s how everything is colored, through that. What was it like to write a main character that views herself in that morally gray way? How did that lend itself to the horror of the story for you?

Kayla: A very weird thing that I thought as I was writing this was that I really wanted to write a protagonist who definitely had been through trauma — but who had also been through a lot of therapy. I feel like a lot of times protagonists, especially in horror, I’m always like, “they haven’t been to therapy, clearly,” so I wanted to write this character who has been to a ton of therapy, so in a certain way, she has a lot of self-awareness about the way to talk about–

Nico: That’s what I was going to say! Self-aware!

Kayla: Yeah! She is self aware. She knows how to analyze herself from this removed way. I was thinking that this is a character who’s maybe been through many therapists. And I don’t necessarily think that just because you’re in therapy, you’re nailing all things and you’ve got things figured out. It’s like, yes, she’s self aware, but she’s also sometimes wrong about herself and also, obviously, needing to be so in control of the way she’s perceived. The way she’s addressing the reader a little bit, it’s manipulative. But I also think that’s believable for someone who’s been through a lot of therapy. You do know the ways to talk to people, to get people to listen to you. I feel like sometimes she even uses some language that she clearly picked up in therapy to talk about herself.

Nico: That’s so gay. I love that. With her character, too, I wrote down her specific dissertation topic that she says, but she’s writing a dissertation for her PhD in “coded queerness in Victorian Gothic literature and modern gay art house pornography that engages with the fantastic.” It’s not surprising also that she’s sort of peeling everything apart and analyzing everything and everybody around her, and there’s this tension between her horny self and her analytical self, and they come apart, but the dissertation stood out to me and I just had to ask you, where did that come from?

Kayla: It was not in the first draft. I knew she was an academic and in grad school. I wanted her to be interested intellectually in some of the things that are literally happening to her. That was something that I held in my mind and in the early draft, but it was just hinted at. I had a very good editor for this book, and if I remember correctly, it was him who was like, can you name exactly what her dissertation is? Especially because that dinner scene also, which is obviously a very pivotal moment in the book, it used to be a lot shorter and a lot more written in summary. I kept cutting away from the scene, because I was kind of getting trapped in my head of, oh no, another fraught dinner scene in literature. Who’s ever thought of that? But again, it’s a trope for a reason, and just because it’s done a lot, the thing I should be thinking about is not, oh, this is done a lot.

It’s like, how do I make it mine? And how do I make it specific to this story? And that was something I worked with my editor a lot on. This dinner scene is important. We can’t keep cutting away from it. This is the longest time that everyone in the book is together at once. I added a lot more detail during the revision process, and that dissertation topic just came to me because it’s something I think about a lot, the idea of queer monsters and inverting monster narratives.

It’s something I’m really drawn to in literature. I’m obviously the biggest hype man for the book Our Wives Under the Sea. I think that book does it so well. This idea of, for so long monster narratives were forced onto queer people, and I’m so interested in the ways that people have taken that and made it our own. I don’t know, that dissertation just came to me. I was just like, Gothic, monsters, porn — it’s almost a parody version of what I am trying to do in the book.

Nico: It is.

Kayla: It’s an extreme version. It’s sex and monsters.

Nico: Truly, there’s so much to love about that scene, too. There’s really interesting class tensions. That scene is just really meaty.

Kayla: Thank you, because it’s probably the one I worked the hardest on during the long revision process.

Nico: I noticed time and time again, you have the protagonist want to run or want to flee, and there’s this tension between that and trying to be a good girlfriend and trying also to be polite. There’s a whole lot in there where, when we’re traumatized, sometimes our instincts get all scrambled, and we do realize that wanting to maybe run from every relationship isn’t the most healthy thing, for example. Also, there is that sort of narrative of politeness can keep you trapped in unsafe situations, and I was just like, do you want to talk about that and how you navigated that as you wrote this and what you were drawing from? I just didn’t really have a concrete question for this, but I was very interested in this. [Gestures around, broadly.] Kayla, will you tell me about it?

Gothic, monsters, porn — it’s almost a parody version of what I am trying to do in the book.

Kayla: One of the tricky things about writing horror is that the reader or the viewer is always going to be like, why didn’t this person just get out of there? Why are they not leaving? And I think some work does not do a great job of answering that. It’s not needed all of the time, especially if you’re watching something that’s maybe a little more horror-camp, horror-comedy. I don’t necessarily need all those questions answered. Why are they staying in the haunted house with the creepy basement? Sometimes I’m willing to just go along with it for the sake of the genre, but sometimes it can be distracting. It can be like, why are they putting themselves in danger? Why are they showing so much emotional intelligence in some ways, but then falling for this obvious liar, this obvious monster. And that’s something that happens in real life, but there’s usually a cause or causes. It was something I was thinking about. I was like, why is she staying here? For one, she can’t really leave. I put them in a place where it’s not like they can call an Uber, necessarily.

Nico: Right, they are physically isolated.

Kayla: Yes, physically isolated. I think that’s another reason why you see settings like that in a lot of horror, like the cabin in the middle of the woods or whatever. It’s physically not easy to leave.

But also, I wanted it to be somewhat believable that she would just continue to put herself in this situation, and I do think it comes from this place of her impulses being scrambled. It’s this almost one-track mind that mirrors her one-track mind when it comes to the way she seeks sex. This one-track mind of, I need to be a good girlfriend. And the way she’s going about it is so counterproductive. She’s constantly self-sabotaging, but I think that’s so realistic, too. She has convinced herself: This is the thing that I need and it’s maybe going to solve a lot of my problems, if I can just be the good girlfriend for this weekend. She’s trying to prove it to herself, so I think it’s believable that she just continues to, as things get increasingly weird, make excuses for it.

I think the narrator obviously has a ton of issues, a ton of flaws. I also think she’s deeply empathetic in a lot of ways and because she has this somewhat shared trauma with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s family. She makes a lot of excuses for them, even when they’re acting very bizarre, and she’s kind of like, but I get it. It’s like, how are people even supposed to act with this? She lends a lot of empathy to the parents I feel, and it takes her a while to catch on to the fact that maybe the parents ways of coping with things and stuff have deeply impacted her girlfriend Amber in a negative way.

Nico: Yes. Thank you. Also, I was like, there’s also this specific horror to conforming to a family’s expectations that I felt as I was reading this or conforming to somebody’s expectations for you and trying to fit into a mold. I felt like that was very specifically gay.

Kayla: Yeah, totally. I also love that there’s that initial fear that the narrator has where she’s like, oh shit, Amber’s not out to her parents. When Amber’s like, “I have something to tell you about my parents,” that’s her [the narrator’s] first thought, and she has that fear, and then that obviously ends up not being a thing at all. But at the same time, what you’re talking about, there’s still certain expectations, too. So maybe Amber’s out to her parents, but the narrator’s still feeling like, but I have to present this certain way, especially when she finds out that Amber has been through a terrible thing in her life. She’s like, I want to show her parents that I can take care of her, and she sees the way that Amber is with her parents and how there’s maybe some weird codependency there, but she’s like, I want them to know that I can take care of her and I can fulfill this role. And it does feel very queer, these ways that even if someone is out or whatever, we still need to super prove ourselves.

Nico: Right, right. That was something that definitely stood out. Well, let’s talk about the trauma of the family. It’s interesting because the book has both sibling dynamics in it through memory and through flashback, and then it also has this very specific dynamic of a family who’s lost a child. It’s interesting because I have been very close with a family like that, and I felt like you captured the way that loss is a part of daily life and it never really departs, and I wanted to ask what went into that because it was really well done.

Kayla: I was just thinking a lot about how both of these characters, the narrator and her girlfriend Amber, they’ve both lost sisters, but their losses are so different. Which doesn’t mean that one is worse than the other or anything like that. It’s just different. It’s different losing a young child versus an adult child dying. Amber’s family is so literally haunted by this loss, and it makes sense. For Amber, she was so young when her sister died that, that’s been almost her entire life, versus the narrator who is a little closer to the death, but then feels it in these different ways. The impact is different. The results are different.

Also, the ways that both of them, Amber and the narrator, deal with their sister’s deaths is very informed by their relationship to their parents. It makes sense that Amber has this pretty complicated, maybe codependent relationship with her parents where she feels pressure from them to be a certain way and stuff, because she has the survivor’s guilt. She was so young. The ways her parents were not equipped to deal with things ended up putting a lot on her. I don’t think her parents are evil or anything. I think there’s no way to deal with that, so they kind of fucked Amber up in the process.

The narrator has a much different relationship with her parents and kind of lived her life a little more linearly than Amber would have because Amber’s life was so interrupted by this death. The narrator, she and her sister, they grew up, they went about their lives. All of a sudden, she’s having to navigate specific parental dynamics again because her sister dies.

Nico: Speaking of grief, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the overwhelming amount of grief in this story, because so often ghost stories actually don’t have that. They eschew grief. People move into a house that’s haunted and the ghost maybe has some grief, but those people don’t share that grief with the ghost. They’re just being tormented by whatever is there, and here, the grief is just throughout from page one to the end. What were you influenced by or what were you thinking about when you were, I guess maybe this comes back to this being a story that was originally not a ghost story, but that was originally a relationship story, but how did the presence of grief evolve in the story as you were writing it?

Kayla: Right off the bat, I knew that both these characters had dead sisters. I wanted to explore relationships and I wanted to explore the idea of sisters and sisterhood. I knew I was going to start with this idea of withholding that grief, too. This is a very extreme version of how we don’t always present ourselves super truthfully when we’re just getting into a relationship with someone, whether that’s as small as pretending to be into a certain type of music that we’re not actually into or whatever. Just because you’re flirting, you’re trying to impress someone, and those things always get chipped away at. This is a very extreme version of that. Amber’s withholding the fact that she has lost her sister.

The hard thing about writing this and writing anything that’s so closely narrated is that we don’t get to hear a lot from Amber. We don’t get to hear a lot of her motivation for certain things, and that’s one of those big question marks in the story, I think, is why did she withhold this information? I think, and I hope, that it doesn’t just feel just withholding for the sake of dramatic tension to start the story with. I think we slowly do get to peel back the layers on Amber a little bit and realize that she has not been set up for success in life to deal with the death of her sister, and a lot of that is the ways that her parents have preserved her sister and kept her as a ghost presence.

Nico: My next few are just more like craft questions, but I read this a couple of times, and as I was going through it the second time I just started filling up pages of this legal pad with these pieces of foreshadowing and dramatic irony that you had dropped throughout the text. I wanted to know what was your process for planting foreshadowing? I guess this is a two parter, but was it in the first couple of drafts or were you going back and heavily editing in order to achieve this?

Second part, I wanted to ask you about, it’s an unusual length. It’s a long story or a novelette and you also said, you mentioned a couple of times that you’ve had a great editor, so I was just curious about the process of finding a home for this work and what the process of working with the editor was for you and working with the illustrator and how it all came together.

Kayla: As far as foreshadowing goes, it was definitely a mix. There was a lot of it in the first draft, and this is not typical for me, because I think sometimes people say this and it just sounds so over idealized and romantic, but I sat down and wrote this draft in one go. That’s not common for me, even with my shorter short stories. It’s usually a few writing sessions for that first draft, but this was something where I wrote out the full first draft in one go. Part of that was also, I was in a very focused environment of that anniversary trip that I do with my girlfriend Kristen, and I knew it was a rare instance where I definitely for sure knew how I wanted the story to end. That’s always going to make it easier to foreshadow things if you know where things are going.

I always start writing short stories because I usually get a sentence a little stuck in my head, and that’s always the opening. It’s never the end, until this. This was kind of a reverse of that, where I did have the ending in mind and then certain components already, and some of those components were more abstract things like grief and sibling death, and then some were concrete images. I knew I wanted there to be a doll house. I knew I wanted there to be dolls, and I knew I wanted there to be this A-frame in the woods, so there were all those little things that I had percolating a little bit, and then I had the ending in mind, so I was able to build toward it. But at the same time, I did a lot of work and revision on foreshadowing, but also just pacing. I think pacing can be so hard in horror. And because this is an unusual length, too, it’s not necessarily… I didn’t have a clear map for things.

Pacing got finessed a lot in revision and yes, my editor Ryan Rivas at Burrow Press, had reached out to me to ask if I had anything that could be considered for publication. And Burrow Press’ publishing program specifically puts forth work that wouldn’t really be published by a traditional means. Work that’s maybe considered too long to really be a short story, but way too short to even necessarily be considered novella or whatever.

I was like, as a matter of fact, I do have something. Because when I wrote this, I wrote it in one sitting, which is so rare for me, and I just wasn’t thinking about length at all, and so when I ended and saw that first draft, it was way too long for a short story. I was thinking, okay, I’m going to shelve this and think about it more. Can I significantly shorten it or can I significantly, significantly lengthen it? I ruled out the latter very quickly. I was like, this does not feel like a novel concept to me. It really doesn’t, because I want it to be so contained, by time and space. And plenty of novels can do that, but I was like, this is not the story for that.

It was perfect Burrow Press publishes work that’s exactly like this, that’s just not really a shape or size that is going to find a home other places. Also, Ryan right away was like, we can do internal illustrations with this, too, and that was immediately appealing to me because I do feel, as with a lot of people, my first kind of exposure to scary stories was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and the images, those will be in my brain for all of my life. Every time I look at them, I’m like, this is seared in my brain.

So effective, too, because they are just pencil drawings ,and it’s so simple and so scary and disturbing, so I was like, I would love to have internal illustrations, and then the artist who did them, Kira, she is a local artist here in Orlando. I already knew her because Kristen actually owns a piece that she has made. It’s a gorgeous piece of art, of a bunch of peacocks fighting. Really cool. So when Ryan mentioned her, he was like, “There’s this artist here who I think could be a good fit,” and he said that it was Kira. I was like, “Well, her art’s literally hanging in my home right now, so yeah, let’s go with that.”

One of the tricky things about writing horror is that the reader or the viewer is always going to be like, why didn’t this person just get out of there? Why are they not leaving?

Nico: You’re going to be a featured author for the A+ Read a Fucking Book Club in December with this book, which I’m really excited about.

Kayla: Me too.

Nico: Readers! You should definitely come to that. More info TBD. Are there any other events or talks that you’re doing around this that readers should know about?

Kayla: Yeah. For any readers in the central Florida area, my actual launch party is happening here in Orlando on October 23rd. It’s going to be a haunted dance party at Will’s Pub. Again, my editor is a rockstar. It’s a joint launch party also for his book that’s coming out, Next Door in Colonialtown. He asked me: What is your dream launch party? And this is an example of why it’s so great to work with a micro press, too. There’s a lot of creativity there and also a lot of author input. I was so involved at every single step of this, because it’s not some department working on things. It’s me, it’s Ryan, it’s a couple other people. It felt very close, and I had a lot of control and a lot of input.

So he asked me, What’s your dream launch party look like? And I said a haunted dance party, not even really knowing what that means, but I was like, it sounds fun and cool and different, and he was like, all right, let’s do it. There will be a short reading beforehand. There’ll be me and Ryan, and then Kristen is also reading, and then it’s just going to be a dance party after that. I’m also doing a Gainesville event [on the 14th]. It’s all very soon actually, I’m just now realizing.

Nico: And we can follow you on social media and then, keep up with what you’re up to.

Kayla: It’s true. I’m Kayla Kumari on everything, all centralized.

Nico: Beautiful. Thank you, Kayla. I feel we’ve talked so much and you were so generous and you let me just be like, tell me about that, so much, so thank you.

Kayla: No, those are always the best questions I feel like, in these interviews, are just talk about this.

The limited edition hardcover of Helen House is still available for preorder — get one before they’re gone 👻. Paperback copies are also available to preorder from Bookshop. The novelette publishes on October 18.

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Nico Hall

Nico Hall is a Team Writer for Autostraddle (formerly Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director and For Them's Membership and Editorial Ops person.) They write nonfiction both creative — and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret longform project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 229 articles for us.


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