Hi everyone! I’m so thrilled to introduce my new blog series, The Rainbow Scoop! With each bi-monthly installment, I’ll interview a new queer writer about their process, their work, how being queer informs their writing – and of course what their favorite scoop is! I’m so excited to introduce you all to Ari Koontz, a fantastic writer and friend of mine. Their fantastic writing, commitment to social justice, and unwavering loyalty inspires me to do better, and write better. Without further ado, here’s Ari!
Hi! My name is Ari Koontz, they/them and zie/zir, and I’m a queer nonbinary writer of fiction and nonfiction (and sometimes poetry if the stars are aligned). I’m currently querying a YA trans ghost story and drafting a queer roadtrip to the underworld. Hufflepuff, marionberry pie ice cream, and when I’m not writing you can find me cooking veggies in the kitchen or out exploring nature.
How did you get into writing, and what do you write now?
My first publication was an illustrated novella called “Feather” when I was about four years old, but between the ages of five and ten, I was actually convinced that I hated writing. I devoured every book I could get my tiny hands on, but didn’t realize that “writing” could actually include those things (instead of just, say, school reports about saber-toothed tigers) until I was in fifth grade and had a teacher who convinced me otherwise. Her passion for words was so infectious and exhilarating that I had no choice but to fall head-over-heels, and I’ve never looked back since. My early writing explorations were primarily centered around my adolescent experiences and struggles to define my own identity, and those themes have carried over into what I write now – personal essays and YA contemporaries that explore issues of coming-of-age, identity, relationships of all shapes & sizes, and finding one’s place in the world, often with a little bit of magic splashed in to make things even more complicated!
How do you “queer” your writing? Through characters and relationships? Plot devices or mixed genres? How do you think your identity (if you choose to share) influences your work?
Honestly, queering my work comes not so much as a conscious choice as an inherent part of my voice and perspective. Who I am, how I identify, the people I notice and connect with and try to uplift – that all goes directly into how and what I write, fiction or otherwise. That being said, I do try to be conscious of my limited experience and to look critically at the fictional worlds I’m creating and the people in them, challenging myself always to make them more diverse and inclusive of the wide spectrum of queer identities that exists outside of the pages.I can’t speak for every LGBTQ+ person, but I can listen to them and learn from them and make space for them alongside the characters that more closely reflect myself. Visibility is *so* important, as is acknowledging the complexity and multiplicity of marginalized voices, and I will always be learning how to do it better.
Who’s your favorite queer book character?
Well, if we’re going with canonically queer characters, I’d have to say Tash Zelenka from Tash Hearts Tolstoy (Kathryn Ormsbee) – she’s funny and ambitious and wears her heart on her sleeve, and I’d follow her anywhere. If we’re going with not-technically-canon-but-definitely-queer characters….. I mean, Dean Thomas is right there…….
When did you first read a book with queer characters in it? What sort of book was it? If it was KidLit, did you read it as a kid or as an adult?
I’m not sure if this was actually the first one, but the first I remember reading was Ash by Malinda Lo, which I found when I was fifteen. I held that book up as my favorite for several years, not because of the story itself (though it’s amazing) but because it was so explicitly queer. I remember as I read, I kept thinking, “okay so this person is definitely not straight, but they’re probably going to deny it at the end and marry her off to a man like always”… and then that didn’t happen? I was so blown away by seeing a character whose identity was validated and who was allowed to just be queer without having to answer for it in a painful or unnecessary way. It did feel like a fantasy, in a way; this fairy tale with a fairy-tale ending for a queer woman didn’t look like anything I had seen in stories about the “real world” (yet). [Side note from Trisha – Ash was that initial, super validating queer book for me too!]
What’s your writing process like? What inspires you? If you listen to music when you write, drop us some recs!
My writing process…. is approximately twelve cats on a keyboard. No but really – it changes vastly between stories and even between drafts of the same story. Overall, though, I am a loose plotter who kind of lets the characters do whatever they want in the first couple drafts, then going back several times to clean up after them until everything sort of makes sense. When I’m able to keep up a writing schedule, I like to get my words going pretty early in the morning, and there are always always book playlists (listened to before writing, not during) and character Pinterest boards to provide atmosphere along the way.
Any writing tips or advice you always stick by?
I don’t really do writing tips because I feel like they’re so often overgeneralized and everyone has such vastly different processes, but there’s this quote from Patricia Lockwood that a friend sent me once and that I go back to all the time: “You are completely at its mercy and it is your kingdom. The apples are all the things you have ever compared to apples. The stars are all the ways you have tried to describe the stars. Paradise is not just the day when the poem pours down like Niagara with the hottest couple in the world kissing steamily behind it, it is also the day that you spend changing the word A to THE and back again. That concentration is reverence. The preexisting rhythm has found its place in you.”
You get to take a queer icon to the Met Gala. Who’s your companion and what do you wear?
Oh, I’m absolutely taking Kaitlyn Alexander and wearing… uhh…. something cute & gay? I’d let Kaitlyn decide for me tbh.
Recommend a queer read: any category/genre! Why do you love it?
HOT DOG GIRL! I cannot hype this new release enough. It’s endearingly ridiculous and the characters are so messy & adorable & real and it’s all kinds of tongue-in-cheek tropey bliss. I mean, amusement parks and crush drama and fake dating and cupcakes – what’s not to love?
Lastly, where can we find you online? How can we support you and your work?
You can find a bunch of my writing on my website (arikoontz.com), including links to places where my essays, fiction, and poetry have been published! I’m also always on Twitter (@arioctober) complaining about how hard writing is, or else on Instagram (@ari.october) finding creative ways to procrastinate. Come chat about queer books with me, challenge me to a word-sprint, or just say hi – I am cool and fun and I love making friends!