Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
Having grown up and enamoured by mecha stories – whether it be Gundam or Suisei no Gargantia or Pacific Rim – say the word ‘mecha’ and I’ll likely come running. So when I first heard about Gearbreakers, and later had the opportunity to read it early, I was delighted and excited. I had expected Gearbreakers to be a story full of mecha battles and action, a story led by two strong-willed girls. Although the book does have parts of this, at the center of Gearbreakers is a tender and bittersweet heart – which is what drew me in and resonated with me.
Today, I am so excited to have the author of Gearbeakers, Zoe Hana Mikuta, visiting us at the Pond today for Pride! Zoe visits us as a formidable crow, armed with a dagger (which I really loved to draw!) Having connected with the story and themes of Gearbreakers, I had fun putting together Zoe’s questions but I think you will all love her interview answers as much as I did.
And in case you haven’t heard of Gearbreakers – which releases in two weeks! – I would like to take the opportunity to share with you all its glorious cover and its blurb!
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...
The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…
Author Interview: Zoe Hana Mikuta
CW: Hi Zoe! I am so excited for you to be visiting the Pond for Pride Month – a huge and warm welcome! For our friends out there who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Zoe: Hi! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Zoe, and I’m currently a junior studying English at the University of Washington in Seattle. I write YA science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary books, and I’ll read just about any genre. I drink about four cups of tea a day and I’m really into tarot. Recently I’ll feed the crows in my alleyway so they want to hang around and set the mood while I write.
CW: An early congratulations on your upcoming debut, Gearbreakers! I loved the imagery in the book – mecha gods, vicious angry girls, dangerous wastelands, and an opulent yet oppressive oligarchy. Can you tell us about the inspirations behind Gearbreakers, and what stories or media did you draw from when crafting the world?
Zoe: I’ve always been really into the mecha sci-fi trope – Pacific Rim is my go-to comfort movie – and I knew I wanted to write something with massive robots, but make them scary, which meant making them gods, and everything spilled out from there. As for worldbuilding, I started with the classic setting of a post-multiple-nuclear-wars fried spot, and then built from there with Godolia, the antagonist-city, which grows all sleek and compact and metropolitain in the middle of all the blankness. It becomes this wider visual image of the city sapping life out of everything around it, and I actually got that direction specifically from when we were learning about parasites in one of my high school science classes. I definitely wanted Godolia to seem like it takes on a life of its own instead of just being a setting – makes it more terrifying.
CW: A distinct strength of Gearbreakers are your two protagonists (or, my two angry queer darlings), Sona and Eris. I absolutely adored both of these girls; I loved their rage, the rawness of their emotions, and just also both of their compelling explorations of identity. What was the ‘place’ you were writing from when crafting and developing both Sona and Eris?
Zoe: I was seventeen when I first started writing Gearbreakers, which is the same age as the girls. I’m twenty-one now and I’m observing all of this in retrospect, but I was definitely using my writing as a medium to kind of smooth out all of my teen angst, to put it perfectly indelicately. Both of their emotional arcs involves this shift away from just their pure rage and a need for vengeance toward what actually matters, which is – super cheesy – love, the people you love.
I mean, I didn’t have a ‘need for vengeance’ as a teen, but I definitely went through this period where I needed that, the idea that when we matter to the people who matter to us, every other terrible part just falls away. That theme in Gearbreakers was really one that was unplanned, but for me, it ended up being the most significant piece of the book.
CW: A theme of Gearbreakers that really stood out to me was how children are pulled into senseless wars; how kids, who are just kids and play and do kids things, are also made into child soldiers, and that was so heartbreaking. How did your portrayal of the younger characters in Gearbreakers intersect with the way that you see the world as a young author?
Zoe: I think the younger generation will always have the expectations of the world, or specifically fixing the world, on their shoulders. It’s a very real thing nowadays, that I think weighs on the minds of everyone around my age, that we’re inheriting a very flawed world, but I like to think that those around my generation differentiate from the ones that came before us in that we have the sense that if we are in a position to do something about it, we will, because we’re seeing again and again that no one else will.
Specifically what comes to mind in recent times is the protests in multiple cities to stop AAPI hate, and you’re seeing literal kids participating in these massive crowds. They don’t take it lightly, because this and other issues are of course something that should be taken with great weight, but it’s frustrating, because these are humanitarian crises that we witness being completely mishandled or ignored by the generations above us that hold the actual power. Gearbreakers, even on a much more fantastical scale, focuses on the position of the kids in these conflicts, and how ridiculous and heartbreaking it is that it’s a position they have to bear at all.
CW: I want to backpedal a bit and talk a little bit about identity – because wow, I loved Sona’s character arc so much and how she struggles with her identity and the duality of being versus becoming the enemy. What was the driving force behind writing Sona’s character arc? How did it differ from writing Eris’s?
Zoe: Sona’s character arc was definitely more internal than Eris’s, whose emotional arc largely hinges on the idea of being unflinching with the love she has for her renegade family even though there’s always that possibility of losing them – that balance of having more to fight for yet more to lose. She wakes up from her Mods surgery in the first chapter and has this feeling of being cleaved from herself with all of these implanted pieces, even though she’s the one who sought them out for a chance for revenge.
Over the course of the story, she has to uproot herself from under all the rage and hate she carries around, and it’s a large part because she finds her family in the Gearbreakers, which draws her away from living in the past. She’s disgusted by killing but it’s a facet of the world she lives in, and now, the new people she has to protect, so there’s also a large part where she has to learn to cope with it, or cope with not being able to cope with it – it’s not something that she’ll ever get over, and all she can do is lean into the good moments as they come. Sona feels, so intensely, that she’s a bad person, and it’s not about realizing that the people she loves don’t see that side in her, but that they do, and yet still see this good in her that is untainted. Sona’s emotional arc foils Eris’s in that way – Eris works to love in full, and Sona works to feel worthy enough to be loved.
CW: I also want to talk about Sona and Eris and how the story is gorgeously queer. What I loved about Sona and Eris is that their passion and love for one another comes across quite ‘quiet’ – quiet, in a sense that it isn’t bold declarations but tenderness in the night. What does it mean to you to write about two queer Asian girls, and what was your thought process when portraying the ways that they express their love for one another?
Zoe: I am so thrilled about your use of ‘quiet,’ because that’s exactly what I was going for, and kind of what I’m always going for in my romantic arcs. I loved writing about two queer Asian girls falling for one another – basically, because I couldn’t find something like that on shelves, so I wrote it for myself, to be totally self-serving with it. Both girls are so fiery, but they’re both so fearful too – the world has made them used to losing people. But it’s right away that they can see that hurt, and it’s terrible that it’s something so familiar that that’s what they first recognize in one another, but it sets the tone for their relationship. There’s scenes where they’re both brutally honest with one another, but they also both have calm moments just breathing the same air, with the conscious thought of how fleeting it is. Their world is so chaotic and violent and I wanted these quiet instances between them to balance it all out, and put into perspective that this isn’t just what they’re fighting for, but also that no matter how horrible the world gets, and no matter the horrible things they have to do in turn, it’s still possible to feel human.
CW: I hope(?!) a sequel to Gearbreakers will be on the way, and I cannot wait to read it! What other stories or genres do you hope to explore across your writing career? What themes or aesthetics interest you?
Zoe: I want to write everything, to put it so simply. The Gearbreakers duology – yes there’s a sequel coming 2022! – is sci-fi but my next project is this fantasy horror Alice in Wonderland retelling meets Attack on Titan, with sapphic lovers-to-enemies, of course. It’s super gory and there are a lot of flesh monsters skittering around in Wonderland, and I’m not sure if they’ll let me sell it as YA honestly, but points for trying! There’s also the theme of ‘the gods being terrifying, and here, and also we had a hand in creating them which is very obviously a mistake now’ like I have in Gearbreakers – I just like making scary religions.
But I also want to do contemporary at some point, particularly genre-blends. My current work-in-progress is a contemporary sci-fi about kids illegally brawling homemade robots in the abandoned underground of Seattle, and falling in love, of course. I love a love story more than anything else, that super soft stuff is up my alley. I like to joke that Gearbreakers is a rom-com with mechas, but I did work to make it have that contemporary beat to it, just where it concerns the found family of it all. Found family is definitely my favorite aesthetic, if it is an aesthetic? What pops into my mind is pictures of friends heaped on top of each other in bed, or running through empty streets, constantly sharing clothes. Writing scenes with that kind of feel is like a little treat for me, too, because I go back to them whenever I need a little happy boost.
CW: Thank you so much, Zoe, for visiting us for Pride Month at the Pond! My last question is a question I like to ask all of our guests: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Zoe: Thank you so much for having me for Pride Month! I would say soondubu jjigae reminds me of home the most, a spicy Korean stew – I can hear the soft tofu bubbling just thinking about it. I have very fond memories of when my umma would make it in the cold Colorado winter and we’d sit hip-to-hip at the kitchen countertop, spooning it from the same bowl while we watched her K-dramas. With a steamed egg pot and sesame seeds, of course.
About the Author
Twenty-year-old Zoe Hana Mikuta is a Korean-American writer currently attending the University of Washington in Seattle, majoring in English with a creative writing focus and minoring in History of Religion. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where she developed a deep love of Muay Thai kickboxing and nurtured a slow and steady infatuation for fictional worlds. She enjoys writing deteriorating worlds inhabited by characters with bad tempers, skewed morals, and big hearts. Her YA wlw sci-fi debut, GEARBREAKERS, is upcoming from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan Publishers June 29th, 2021, with an untitled sequel to follow summer 2022. When she needs to unwind, Zoe sews runes onto the belt loops of her jeans and embroiders ‘Bite Me’ on the back pockets. She hopes if she feeds the crows around her campus enough croutons, they’ll begin to gift her quarters, so she can say her laundry is bird-funded.