Not All Demons Are Monsters: An Interview with Nikki Z. Richards

RWP: In the last few years, stories written by queer authors and/or about queer characters have become more visible and mainstream/popular in the YA genre. What do you attribute to this trend?   

NZR: I wouldn’t call it a “trend,” because hopefully the inclusion and visibility of queer characters in YA doesn’t fade over time. It’s been amazing to finally see so many different queer writers being recognized for their talents, and I think a lot of that has to do with technology. Thanks to social media, iPhones, and a plethora of other apps, many of us can connect to each other in way that weren’t possible 20 years ago. While these things have their drawbacks, they’ve also allowed the queer community to unite their voice and express their interests in really important ways. Authors like Malinda Lo, Meredith Russo, and Nina LaCour are writing queer characters from a queer perspective, and their recognition is well-deserved. I can’t wait to see more visible queer authors and characters in the YA genre.

RWP: Additionally, what was it about the Young Adult genre that spoke to you in terms of being the best vehicle for the story you wanted to tell?    

NZR: I think a part of me still thinks I’m a teenager, so it’s natural for me to feel connected to young adult characters. There are so many interesting things that can happen when a young person grows into adulthood, because they’re learning both about the world they live in and themselves. When writing Demon in the Whitelands, I knew I wanted to tell a story about a young person struggling to find his own identity.

RWP: The dystopian world your characters inhabit is dominated by an oppressive theocracy. Are the clerics of Demon in the Whitelands emblematic of the religious right in the Trump era? Or, did you draw on your own experiences of prejudice within a religious community?  

NZR: I would say it’s a combination of the two. For me, religion is a loaded gun in the hands of whoever wields it. Power breeds corruption, and often times, like we’ve seen with many conservative evangelicals during the Trump era, religious leaders will use snippets of scattered          bible verses to defend those positions (and politicians) that will ultimately benefit them. Growing up in a religious home, I witnessed both selfless kindness and indefensible cruelty, all under the notion of “serving God.”

RWP: You’ve said, “for me, Zei is a perfect representation of the voiceless other.” Because Zei is literally voiceless (or mute), how does their gender identity intersect with this representation of disability? Did you research the experiences of queer people with disabilities as part of your process for creating the character?  

NZR: Zei’s gender plays a large role in that it challenges perceived the gender normalcy of the world, and, because they are voiceless (unable to speak), their ability to share about their identity is all the more impaired. Not only is their identity queer, which is counter to gender norms in the Whitelands, but their body is also seen as “dysfunctional.” These things don’t exist on an island. Fortunately, I’ve been able to make personal connections with queer persons, disabled persons, and queer persons with disabilities. Their individual stories were all instrumental in the creation of Zei, and I make sure to have several friends who are all qualified sensitivity readers look over my manuscripts. I highly recommend every writer do the same!

RWP: Are there any books that really resonated with you in your formative years, perhaps in ways you hope your work speaks to young readers? 

NZR: Lois Lowry’s The Giver was the first YA dystopian novel I ever read, and the first book to make me cry. (They were good tears). Her subversion of a seemingly perfect society through the eyes of a young boy is so impactful. And the literal world she creates is captivating. While I’m no Lowry, I do hope Demon in the Whitelands finds a way to connect with readers in a lasting way.

Read With Pride would like to thank Dr. Emily Midkiff for connecting us with Nikki Z. Richard and making this interview possible. Demon in the Whitelands is Richard’s first book, published by Month9Books.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the interview.

Visit Nikki Z. Richard’s website to learn more:

© Read With Pride

September 20th, 2019