Lee Mandelo (he/they) is a writer, critic, and occasional editor whose fields of interest include speculative and queer fiction, especially when the two coincide. They about to put out their latest work Feed them Silence and took a few moments to talk about that novel and queer representation in the literary community

1. You have spent most of your life in KY,  what always draws you back and has the local had an impact on your writing?

The physical and cultural geography of places—maybe  where you grew up; maybe where you first settled down as an adult; maybe the city where you vacation to visit friends every year—have a huge effect on the people in them. What you’re used to on the daily shapes everything from what smells get associated with a summer day in your mind, to whether or not you’re used to hearing cicadas scream all night during bug season, to what kinds of flowers bloom in spring. It’s everything!

I think that’s the main effect being from Kentucky has on my writing, overall, and also what draws me back. I’ve also travelled a lot, and lived elsewhere… but there are some core memories, experiences, and relationships that created me as a person that are located here. Appalachia generally also doesn’t get as much airtime in popular media, let alone as written by people from Appalachia. There’s an element of “wanting to explore those untold stories,” and doubly-so as queer person.

2. You began writing about queer fiction for Tor.com at a young age, what do you think has changed about the literary landscape for LGBTQ+ writers and readers?

It’s a big question! My answer five years ago would be different from my answer today, as we’re currently fighting the rising tide of fascism and far right attacks on the public existence of queer/trans people and our arts… but, also, as Judith Butler has explored in recent essays, the revivification of old forms of conservative trans- and homophobic “feminism” also masquerading under the banner of “protecting women and children.” On the one hand we’re seeing more queer texts being published than ever before! On the other, we’re seeing increased attacks on those texts from outside forces… and increasingly vicious respectability politics policing from within the house, too.

So, given those changes, as an artist in the queer literary landscape at the moment I’m way less concerned with visibility (which is a trap!) or “good representation” (also a trap!) as the field continues onward. What I’m aiming to see more of instead is loud, unapologetic queer presence: the forms of presence which bring our whole complex selves to our art—mess, failure, mistakes, conflict, and myriad different ways of approaching queerness included.

3. Your latest novel Feed Them Silence is about a woman who uses a mental link to explore the world through the sense of a wolf, this opens up a lot of themes. What inspired you to write the novel?

Feed Them Silence was initially drafted during the early pandemic lockdown, when I was in a doctoral seminar cotaught by a multidisciplinary faculty team on animals. We were wrestling with questions about ethical research practices, and also what it means to say we’re “in kinship” with nonhuman animals. Like, are we, really? What does consent look like, and what does power look like, in our relationships with other creatures… and with one another? I wanted to explore the troubling ways contemporary science sometimes approaches its objects of study—and also what drives people to fail one another, plus our shared world at large.

So, Feed Them Silence grew from that soil. I’ve been saying, with a lot of fondness, that it’s a bad vibes book: a story that gnaws on selfishness and one person’s poor choices. But from another angle, it’s a story that I hope invites readers to “stay with the trouble” per theorist Donna Haraway in their thinking about nature, culture, and our relationships as the future continually arrives.

4. I know after Feed Them Silence you have another book on the horizon for 2024, and promoting books takes a lot of time and effort, but do you have any idea what your next project might be?

Right now, I’m in the last stages of editing for the novella being released in 2024, so that’s my current focus. I’m also in the midst of drafting my dissertation, which will come next, and then… we’ll see! Uncanny Magazine recently picked up a novelette from me too, which I’ve been affectionately calling “the haunted porn theater story,” so readers can expect to see that soon as well.

5. If people want more info about you or your books, where should they go?

Folks can find me on Twitter and Instagram @leemandelo, or find updates at my website!


Final four questions –we ask everybody

Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?

I’m not a big zombies guy, but probably doing the best I can to form a survivable community to get through the trouble together.

Q )  What is your favorite fandom?

Honestly, I’m so bursting with love for a thousand things at once it’s hard to choose, but I’ll loosely say, “Thai BL/queer tv series” right now! There are some genuinely awesome, cutting-edge, beautiful shows being made, like Kinnporsche: La Forte, 180 Degrees Longitude Passes Through Us, and Moonlight Chicken.

Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?

In terms of visual art, maybe the Taschen collected works edition of Ren Hang’s photography?

Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?

I’m super, super, irrationally afraid of heights.

Photo Credit: Sarah Jane Webb

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