Q&A with Meow Wolf Grapevine Lead Writer LaShawn M. Wanak

We chatted with the lead writer for Meow Wolf Grapevine about writing inspirations and influences behind the Grapevine story.

In your own words, what do you do for Meow Wolf?

Basically, you could call it the lead writer or the head writer. I am the one writing the story for the Grapevine Project. Yeah, I'm writing the story for it.

When did you realize that you were a writer?

Oh, when did I realize that I was a writer?


I've always loved stories. When I was a kid, I read above my reading level. Whereas kids were reading “Dick and Jane,” I was reading more advanced stuff. I loved to tell my siblings stories and I would read to them. A lot of it was stuff that I would read, but sometimes I would also make up stories about them and my cousins, of doing adventures and things of that nature. I was also writing things down, too, but I never thought about writing stories until my grandmother bought me a typewriter one Christmas.

I can't remember how old I was when she gave it to me, but I do remember at that point, whenever I saw a keyboard or a typewriter, I would always put in and I would write these little snippets to stories and pretend I was a novel writer. I always wanted to be a writer of some sort, but I never thought that I could be an actual, professional writer until I had my son in 2004 and became a stay-at-home mom and realized: I want to be a writer. I started trying that out and found that I really, really enjoyed it. That's what I've been doing since then. My son was born in 2004, and I measure my writing career by how old he is. So I've been writing professionally for 18 years.

illustration of a purple dragon emerging from a book being read by a parent and children
Illustration by YISHAII

Wow, that's so cute. I love that.


So, how old were you when you started writing in 2004?

Oh, gosh, 2004. I think I was 33.

That's great.

Yeah, but now I am going to backtrack. I would say that I started writing earlier. So, when I first started writing, it wasn't until I got into college and I wrote a lot of fan fiction. So maybe I was around 22 or 23. I discovered anime at that time and got hooked with Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2, and back then they only appeared on TV, on kids' programming, and of course they were heavily censored. And it was where it's like, we crave more stories, but there was only so much. At the time, you could only either get it from on TV or from Blockbuster. So, I stumbled upon an anime fan fiction mailing list where people would write stories about Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon. And I got hooked on that. And so I started reading them and eventually got the courage to start writing my own fan fics, and actually wrote several.

At the time, I didn't think of it. I didn't really think of it as writing. I just thought of it more as playing within the sandbox of the established worlds.

Back then, it was seen more as, you weren't “real writers” because of that. But since then, things have changed to where I was like, no, no—we were writing stories back then as well. So, while I started professionally writing my original work when my son was born, I would probably say I've been writing stories ever since my mid 20s with fan fiction.

illustration of a woman with a flower headband typing at a typewriter
Illustration by YISHAII

What was the first piece you remember writing?

Fan fiction or original?

Let's say both.

Okay. It's been a while for the fan fiction—it's been a long time—but for my very first piece that was published, it was a short story called, "Light as Gossamer," and that was a Cinderella retelling from the point of view of the glass slippers, and I remember the circumstances that came about writing it. So, right around 2003, 2004, 2005, I came across the works of Neil Gaiman.

I had originally been introduced to him through the comics. At the time, I was much younger than when I first read and saw the comics. I was like, okay, that's a bit too much for me. So, I didn't touch him, but then one day, I came across a collection he made of short stories, and I thought, okay, let me pick this up.

And the stories in there were so amazing and so beautiful. I was like, oh, I wish I could write this. I came across one of his stories that was a Snow White retelling, "Snow, Glass, Apples," and I remember reading that story and studying it. It was being told from the witch's point of view, and I was like, hmm, and that was when I was still kind of wondering. Writing books at the time seemed a bit too daunting for me, but then short stories were like, wait, I could probably play with this and see if I can do something a little bit similar. And so I decided on a Cinderella story, but from the shoes' point of view. It's still online. You can still read it.

So, that's pretty wild and it was a really, really short, it was a flash story, but I wrote it, and I sent it off and got several rejections for it until I came across MYTHOLOG, submitted it to MYTHOLOG and they were like, "Yeah, we love this," and they purchased it, and that was my very first sale.

Oh, that's great.

I remember being so excited because of it, because they actually did an illustration of the slippers, so it was also one that had an illustration. So I was very, very excited about it.

You draw a lot of inspiration, or at least you're inspired by Neil Gaiman and fan fiction, anime…a lot of fantastical directions. What themes prevail in your writing?

That's a good question. I would say a lot of my stories deal a lot with relationships. I like to explore relationships within the safe confines of stories, which on paper sounds wonderful. In real life, it's a lot harder, but a lot of it does deal with relationships. I would say within the past 10 years in particular, they've also been dealing with grief because I had a lot of stuff happen starting in the early 2010s and then moving on—like everyone else—so a lot of what I was seeing around me and a lot of what I was dealing with, I found that one of the ways that I could process it was through stories.

I had several people, had a couple dear friends, die, as well as a few relatives, but also I had a couple of miscarriages at the time. I think that actually one of the stories that I wrote did deal with learning to live with grief, but also to recover and move on. There's a fair bit of that. Sometimes, if I'm in a better mood, I also like humor.

I like things that seem a little bit on the absurd side, but on the fun side too. I think some of my writing, the latest couple of pieces that I have written are now actually more moving from grief to dealing with care and joy. So I'm starting to focus more on that and trying to be a little bit, not exactly more positive, but bringing a lot more about the notion of caring into my stories and “How do we care for other people?” And “What does that look like?” And “What does it look like when it's hard?” And I'm still trying to figure it out, but that's how I process it, through stories.

illustration of a side profile of a woman holding her arms around her chest with wings like wheat strands
Illustration by YISHAII

Absolutely. So, you brought up relationships, and I'm guessing through your writing it becomes a sort of therapeutic approach where you're just processing your emotions while simultaneously feeling those things and drawing on inspiration from how those things feel. What draws you into that concept? Is it just knowing that emotion?

So, the emotional aspect of my stories? Yeah, a lot of it is from experience. A lot of it is from difficult conversations that I have sometimes. Totally, and trying to process: “What could I have said to make it better? What could I have said?” Because I'm a person who can easily respond to something, something that's told to me, I could come up with a response, but it would be, say, three weeks later. It's like, oh, I wish I thought of this at that moment. So yeah, part of it is I also tend to do a lot of "what if" scenarios. “Okay, what would happen if I say something this way or the person responds this way?” And so I do that a lot.

Totally. I'm the same way. I think of something a couple weeks later and I'm like, damn it, that would've been so good.

Yeah, so there is that. A lot of it doesn't come from me, but I also draw from conversations of friends that have gone through similar things and picking up on their social and their emotional cues and things of that nature. So yeah, a lot of it is drawn from experience, whether it's mine or if it's my friends or things like that.

What do you hope that readers take away from your works?

That's a good question. It depends on the work that's being read. I guess I want people to think about the stories. That's probably the best takeaway, with the exception of the stories that are a lot lighter and funnier. I just want them to come away with a smile on their face, and that's true of all my works. I've also written stuff that is a bit more on the darker, broodier side. Just come away thinking and considering perspectives that they hadn't considered before. That would probably be what I want to know. I want people to come away with a perspective or a thought that they haven't seen or considered before.

illustration of a woman's face within an atom
Illustration by YISHAII

What are you hoping people come away with for the story you're writing for Grapevine?

It goes back to the caring. I want people to come away with the people in the story, knowing that they deeply care for each other, even though they have disagreements, they can figure out stuff and they deeply care for each other. And that a lot of what their actions stem from is from love, even when it seems like it's a negative action, when they're trying genuinely to care for the person and basically trying to figure each other out and figure out how to live with each other. That's what I want people to come away with, is that sense of care.

Are there any hints to the story that you can point out for us at this moment?

I don't know. I was told that they were going to tell the theme later on, so I don't know how much I can share.

That's fair. Totally fair.

So, I can say that it is a story about caring, caring for people, and I hope when people walk into Grapevine, when they walk into the site, I want their first impression to be: “Oh, this is a well-loved place, and the people inside love each other and care for each other.”

I'm hoping that people will get that sense as they move about, and they see parts that's like, oh, they're living their lives and they're living their best lives too. They're right where they want to be. At least a few of them are doing the stuff that they've always wanted to do, and they're having a blast. That's what I want them to see, that they care for each other and they will walk with each other as they figure stuff out.

illustration of a man and a woman embracing and their bodies and hair look like the galaxy is within themn
Illustration by YISHAII

Oh, I think that's perfect. Is there anything else you wanted to add into this article before we part ways?

I think, let's see. I am going to say there are shoutouts (within the Grapevine story). I will say that there will be shoutouts to my favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy. So keep an eye out for that. I may have employed the use of Easter eggs to a very liberal extent.

It would not be a Meow Wolf experience without those, for sure.

Yes. That's all I'm going to say.

Do you have a website or anything that we can refer people to?

Yes, I do. I have a blog, but the blog is kind of on hiatus. I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to work that, but basically I can point people to my published work on that site.

And then I do have a newsletter. So, if people want to, I guess the best way for people to reach me is if they follow me either on Twitter or on Facebook.