Niki Smith (she/her) is the author of The Deep and Dark Blue, a beautiful middle grade graphic novel with a trans girl protagonist. Please enjoy this interview with Niki Smith:
As the author of graphic novels, which comes first? Do your stories originate with a picture, words, or some combination of both?
My books always start with a story hook I want to explore, but visuals play a big role in my research! I don’t start sketching characters or designs until much further down the line, but I make folders full of imagery I want to include. For The Deep & Dark Blue, those folders were full of natural dye pools, medieval tapestries of family trees, and depictions of spindles in mythology and fairy tales.
The Deep & Dark Blue is set in a fantastically creative fantasy world; I particularly loved the women who can cast magic by spinning. Where did your inspiration for the world and the story come from?
I grew up reading and loving so many fantasy stories that played with gender– girls who disguised themselves to live out their dreams of being knights or pirates or soldiers. I loved them, but I never encountered anything that was the inverse; being a girl was always boring and full of tedious needlework. I wanted to celebrate that instead, to write a world Grayce would long to be a part of! Spindles have been a part of so many myths throughout history, from Sleeping Beauty to the Three Fates and their thread of life. The women of the Communion of Blue spin magic thread with wool dyed a deep, mysterious blue, and can control the strings of the world around them.
It was incredibly satisfying to see Grayce’s gender validated not only by her family, but magically by the family tree. Why do you think that was important to include?
Over the course of the book, Grayce finds a place she belongs, but I didn’t want the home she’d left behind to be a source of painful memories of her dead name. The family tree is a tapestry woven from the same magic threads that Grayce learns to spin in the Communion of Blue– it’s a living tapestry, documenting births, deaths and the line of inheritance. It only made sense to have it reflect her new name once she was ready to share it!
What do you hope your readers will take away from your books?
That queer kids can have adventures too! That a little trans girl can learn to weave magic and save the day. 🙂
You have a new book coming out November 23rd. What can you tell us about The Golden Hour?
I do! The Golden Hour is very different book– it’s about a boy struggling with PTSD and anxiety after witnessing gun violence. Manuel keeps his struggles to himself, using his phone and photography to find anchors and keep himself grounded during panic attacks, but life is lonely and hard until he’s teamed up with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project. Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. Manuel helps his new friends get ready for the local county fair, and he learns to open up and find the support he needs from the boy who’s always there for him.
I didn’t want to tell a story about violence. The Golden Hour is about what comes after: the trauma, the panic attacks and the nightmares. But it’s also about slowly healing, Kansas wheat fields, and a sweet first crush on a gentle boy!
In addition to all of your amazing work, do you have any queer books or media that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Absolutely! If you love graphic novels as much as I do, you should check out Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up with Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki, and The Tea Dragon Society series by Kay O’Neill!