Sensational Sophomores: Interview with Mia Siegert

Sensational Sophomores is a periodic blog series highlighting authors who are releasing their second book. Today, I am honored to be welcoming Mia Siegert, author of Jerkbait and the forthcoming Somebody Told Me (4/7/2020) for an interview!

If you are an author interested in being featured in this series please click here to fill out the Google form.

Mia Siegert’s sophomore novel SOMEBODY TOLD ME will come out with Lerner/Carolrhoda in Spring 2020 (#ownvoices). Their debut JERKBAIT made Goodreads Best YA of May 2016, Top 12 Indie YA from Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, Top 10 YA of 2016 from AndPop!, and gained attention from SB Nation, Publishers Weekly, Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, AndPOP!, MaximumPOP! UK, VOYA Magazine, Paste Magazine, Teen Librarian Toolbox, among many others.

Siegert is a self-taught costume designer with their husband. Their work has appeared on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” When not writing or making costumes, Siegert can be found cosplaying, RPing, and playing Pokémon Go.

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Hey, Mia! Thank you for joining me today! Your second book, Somebody Told Me, comes out in April. How does it feel knowing that’s now less than six months away?

Thanks for having me! It’s pretty incredible and a bit surreal as it’s been some time since Jerkbait released. I’m really grateful for the readers for sticking with me and I can’t wait to get to know new readers.

Can you describe Somebody Told Me for us with five adjectives?

Gritty, Provocative, Self-Depreciating Jewish Humor (I’m counting that as one), Intense, (hopefully) surprising.

You told me that you’re simultaneously proud and terrified of this new book because it’s a huge detour from what you normally write. In what ways is it different from your debut, Jerkbait, and why did you decide to make that detour?

I’m proud of writing a book with a bigender protagonist that focuses on friendships, romance, and surprisingly humor since I’m more known for being a punch-in-the-feels writer than a funny one (and well, of course the heavy stuff, corruption, assault, etc). Where Jerkbait was very, very bleak, Somebody Told Me has a darkness presented in a very different way. Since Jerkbait, I’ve learned a lot more about YA mostly thanks to book bloggers who were very compassionate and educational—I was always open that I wrote Jerkbait not knowing what YA was so I broke a lot of “YA rules” in it. I broke a ton of “YA rules” in Somebody Told Me as well, but this time deliberately.

In terms of terror, the incredible Dahlia Adler hosted my cover reveal and the exclusive first chapter on LGBTQ+ Reads where she stated that she thinks this is YA’s first traditionally published novel with a bigender protagonist. That in itself is terrifying as there’s so much pressure and I hope I was able to convey that this is not necessarily universal for every bigender person’s experience. 

I also hope that it’s clearly conveyed that I am not attacking Catholics although I fiercely protest Canon Law and think something needs to be done. With many priests absolving each other of sin, corruption festers and grows. There are other things that are terrifying about this book but they’d be major spoilers so I have to sit on that.

Your novels deal with some very difficult topics such as suicide, mental illness, and assault. Why is it important to you to include these topics in your writing and how do you navigate it?

I struggle with PTSD, severe depression, and anxiety (with some unfortunate side effects of paranoia) among a few other things. With a few exceptions, often I’m not able to be happy more than three consecutive days although recently I accepted a part-time job at a not-toxic workplace with some amazing people and that is helping.

On social media, there are a lot of writers who say there are no places for tragic or depressing queer books and how much fluff there should be, and it makes me infuriated because all of that is for the sake of self-promotion. YA is for teens, and teens deserve a HUGE variety of books. The light ones are just as important as the dark ones, and the idea of omitting difficult topics is a form of silencing and herd mentality. If someone needs some light, refreshing reads, I’m not the writer for them and that’s fine! But some teens want and need to see their experiences on page.

There is one message I received through my website from a teen reader. It said “Thank you for writing Jerkbait. Jerkbait saved my life.” It made me cry when I read it, and I still cry now. I saved that email and any time the waves of “ONLY HAPPY YA” pops up on social media, I reread it. I was able to help a reader in need. I hope that I can continue to help where I can.

Somebody Told Me is a song by The Killers – does the novel have any connection to the song or is it a coincidence?

YES! It absolutely ties in! 

Trying to be not-spoilery so I’ll say this—many people in general think of the song “Somebody Told Me” as a trans anthem, which is pretty critical with Alexis/Aleks. But, as well, they listen to confessions through a vent in the wall and “somebody” told them things that lead to many difficult decisions.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

One of my biggest influences writing Somebody Told Me surprisingly was the French film Amélie. I’d been kicking around some ideas with my agent (Travis Pennington) and we thought about the idea of what would happen with a teen overhearing confessions through a wall. Would there be revenge? Or something else? My mind went to a few horrifying documentaries when it hit me that I could write something reminiscent of Amélie filled with its stream-of-conscious quirks… and have it go horribly, horribly wrong. Funnily enough, right after I sent the manuscript to my agent, I was going through papers and found my old French homework from high school—a huge Q&A about Amélie! By the way, I really recommend the film to everyone. I think if it was released now, it’d be rated PG13 though at the time I think it was R. It’s light, hilarious, quirky, and delightful—so basically the opposite of what I write! LOL!

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

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