Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Samantha Allen began studying for her Ph.D in Women’s and Gender Studies at Emory University, she never anticipated that she’d one day be writing a horror-comedy novel about a gay Sasquatch. However, the world had other plans for the Seattle writer.

According to the author, she wanted to continue her career in academia as a professor. But that was before she started writing online, and discovered that she loved writing for a larger audience rather than just her peers.

Ultimately, Allen’s career pivot has paid off. In her years writing for publications, she’s become a GLAAD-Media-Award-winning journalist, a guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and landed a spot on NPR’s Books We Love list. Allen’s most popular works are on two different ends of the spectrum, but each tells a story about LGBTQ+ identity.

Real Queer America (2019) is a nonfiction book in which Allen shares the experiences of queer people who live in conservative cities and states. On the other hand, her debut fiction novel Patricia Wants to Cuddle (2022) follows four female contestants on a The-Bachelor-esque reality show as they travel to a fictitious island off the coast of Washington state for the show’s finale. There, the contestants meet female Sasquatch Patricia who doesn’t quite give a warm welcome.

KOIN 6 News spoke with Allen about her work, the inspiration behind it and the importance of telling LGBTQ+ stories.

KOIN 6 News digital reporter Jashayla Pettigrew: In Real Queer America, you tell the stories of people in the LGBTQ+ community who choose to stay in the conservative states that they’re from rather than moving to cities that are typically deemed as LGBTQ+ friendly. What was the inspiration behind that book?

Samantha Allen: Prior to moving to Seattle, I lived in Florida and I went to grad school in Georgia. I met my partner in Indiana. My friends live in Missouri and Tennessee and these places. So when I was working as a national LGBTQ reporter, I was often frustrated by the stories that got told about queer life in red states. It was usually only focusing on discriminatory legislation or just nightmare stories about how awful it was to be queer in Kentucky or something like that.

I wanted to write a correction to the record [or] a counter narrative, I suppose, showing how beautiful, expansive and resilient LGBTQ people in red states can be. So I set out on a road trip in the summer of 2017 to just prove what I already knew, which was that red states are filled with queer people who are facing challenging political circumstances and certainly still are but are creating community despite them.

JP: Your other longform work, Patricia Wants to Cuddle, encompasses many genres. It’s a horror and it’s a comedy and it’s a nod to reality television and it centers a queer character. Why did you think all of these elements were essential to telling the story?

SA: I think I made my life difficult by deciding to include them all, but I sort of don’t know how to write unless I’m taking everything I care about and am interested in and put it in a blender and set it to “high.” I tried to write simpler, more pared down versions of the first few chapters, and I just couldn’t unless it had all of these elements to it — the satire, the supernatural stuff, the comedy. It felt like it needed everything to me.

With the idea of having a Sasquatch in it specifically, I needed something larger than life, something mythical to kind of counterpose against the more mundane reality of striving for attention under late capitalism. I wanted this figure who was almost prehistoric looming over this production that’s concerned with these very petty, immediate short-term payoffs, like ratings and followers. I originally was gonna have a human killer in the book. It was gonna be a jilted ex-contestant or maybe a former lead on the show stalking the production — and it just didn’t have that punch to me without some of those other elements mixed in.

Patricia Wants to Cuddle cover (photo by Justin Mitchell)

JP: As the author, is there a particular message that you want readers to take away from Patricia Wants to Cuddle?

SA: I hope, above all, that it makes the reader feel something [and] that it delights and entertains and confounds them. I hesitate to say there’s a single moral takeaway that I’d want people to leave with, but I think that more broadly speaking, I hope the book encourages critical examination of our relationship to reality television, to entertainment, and to the social media economy.

If I could distill some of my favorite elements of the book, it’s Renee over the course of her time on Otters Island discovering the beauty and freedom of being detached from the production that she’s caught up in. To an extent, a lot of what we’re dealing with right now is inescapable. We can’t really unplug from our jobs and our applications and all that, but I think it’s always worth interrogating the nature of our relationship to these necessities, and how much we emotionally invest in them.

JP: I saw your tweet about selling the television rights for Patricia Wants to Cuddle to a production company. Often whenever novels are adapted into TV shows or movies, there is concern about whether the new medium will reflect the quality of the last. Is that a concern of yours?

SA: I’m 100% convinced that the TV show will be the superior version of Patricia Wants to Cuddle. They have some really smart, creative people working on it, and I’m just kind of blown away by what I’ve heard so far.

I think the advantage of it going to television is that there will be room for them to expand on aspects of the universe and the world that get a more cursory treatment in the book. I sort of feel like they’ll be great companion pieces. The book will always be there as this really succinct, breezy way to experience it, and then the TV show can kind of expand on the lore while also still delivering a lot of the same thrills and commentary.

JP: Throughout your career, you’ve told a lot of women’s stories, queer stories and, more specifically, queer women’s stories. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to share those stories? Why do you think this has become a focal point for your writing?

SA: I don’t know that I necessarily feel a responsibility to tell stories about gender, but I do feel like when you have certain life experiences — I’m an out trans woman — you take what insight those experiences have given you and you can’t help but apply them to the world. I think that’s evident throughout my books, whether it’s memoirs where that’s more explicitly addressed, or Patricia where it’s more on a thematic and subtextual level. I’ve always just been interested in who gets to be inside and who’s on the outside, and that definitely stems from my experiences of being a queer woman… I’m watching a reality dating show and I’m thinking, “Well, what kinds of women am I not seeing in this cast? And why is that and what does that say about our society and our conception of a category like womanhood?”