Today I welcome Taylor Brooke to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about authentic representation, juggling multiple projects—and genres—at once, and their experience co-writing their upcoming m/m second chances romance, Shadows You Left, out May 20 from Entangled.
Taylor Brooke (they/she) writes Queer books filled with magic and attitude. After an exciting career in Special Effects Makeup, she moved to Oregon and settled in the mountains with her plants and one-toothed cat. Connect with her on Twitter @taysalion.
Pre-order SHADOWS YOU LEFT
Taylor's backlist titles including her critically acclaimed debut FORTITUDE SMASHED
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What is your writing origin story?
I started writing when I was young, but I didn’t get serious until I was in high school. I started creating original stories, roleplaying with friends, establishing rules for worlds and narratives we played in regularly. I probably did most of my writing in the fanfiction space, though. That’s where I built a name for myself and really worked to hone my craft. Without Archive of Our Own, I probably wouldn’t be a published author today.
What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
That’s a tough question. I’m constantly working on something which both feeds and starves my inspiration, to be honest. If I’m not working, I feel like I’m falling behind, and when I am working, I’m constantly wishing I had less on my plate. It’s this weird game I play with myself where I see how far my creative limits can be pushed before something breaks - usually a scene I’m working on or my sleep schedule. Then I’ll take a step back and slow down. Really though, I think the most important part of my writing regiment when it comes to keeping inspiration alive is having something I’m unapologetically passionate about hanging around in the wings. Right now, that passion project is a book about a sheltered evangelical boy who gets roped into joining a satanic fraternity. It’s different than anything else I’ve got in the pipeline - written in first person, intimate voice structure, personal themes being explored. I know that book will be there if I need a break from something else, and I know I can always put what I’m working on down and go re-read what I’ve written of that manuscript for a self-hype moment. Sometimes just reminding yourself that you’re capable can refill the creative well.
What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
Representation means authenticity. That’s a complicated thing I just said and I’m going to do my best to explain it. Representation, like a lot of things in publishing, is marketable to a point. As long as representation is palatable to a certain readership then it is allowed to exist in our industry. Unfortunately, that representation is rarely authentic. So, to me, when we talk about representation as something universal we do a disservice to the authors and creators doing their best to write from their bones. We’re setting them up for failure. Because authenticity is not a one-size-fits-all publishing trend, it’s not something we all experience the same way or twice over. It’s a deliberate, personalized, realized experience of self, culture, sexuality, ethnicity, gender and emotion in a way that only that specific person can express. Does that mean their particular authenticity won’t speak to someone else? Of course not. I relate to a lot of authentic representation out there today, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the same vein of something I’d write. Relating to a story doesn’t always mean significance can only be found in telling stories in its likeness. To me, representation is the effort to diversify the industry by allowing the same story to be written by six different people, from six different backgrounds, in six different ways, and not to call it a dead trend like vampires or werewolves or heist YA books. It’s allowing more voices to tell stories we have heard again in different ways while also being allowed to tell new stories as well. It’s a re-balancing of power. An effort to be inclusive. It’s looking at a bookshelf and knowing there is something for you or me or them or us waiting to be read.
What is your writing process and does it differ between your YA and NA/adult projects?
So, to be honest, my writing process doesn’t differ between my YA and NA projects. But my my writing process does change depending on each and every project. Right now, I’m working through my passion project (a college YA which is what I think the industry is calling NA now, don’t quote me) from beginning to end. But when I wrote FORTITUDE SMASHED, I jumped between chapters depending on what I was feeling like writing that day. With my 2020 book, which I wish I could talk about but I can’t just yet, I wrote it from beginning to end, did a change from first person to third person in a re-write, and also went through four large-scale revisions to change the pacing of the book. It always depends. It’s always a surprise.
What was your experience like, co-writing SHADOWS YOU LEFT with Jude Sierra?
It was a wonderful experience. It was fast. A little messy. Very emotional. I feel like me and Jude were both working through personal things as we wrote what would turn out to be an extremely personal book for us both. We for the characters, I wrote all of Erik’s chapters and Jude wrote all of River’s, but we were both hands on in the editing process which helped smooth out any inconsistencies in our overall voice. We had a rough outline that we built off of as we went, and we were in constant communication about what worked and what didn’t as the story built itself. Overall, I think it was a strange, month-long writing workshop where I learned how to speed write, self-edit and critique all in one go.
What are some of your favorite tropes in YA and NA and how do you subvert them?
If I don’t say Soulmates one of my readers might bite me. I do truly love the soulmate trope. Fate. Destiny. True love. It’s something I’m extremely fond of and I enjoy looking at the trope through the lens or why rather than how. Why do we believe in fate? What does fate mean to us? Why do we react to it so strongly when it’s presented to us in creative outlets? All those questions are powerful driving forces in how I subvert the trope. Instead of looking at soulmates as a way to create a romantic arc, I look at soulmates as a way to unpack our own complex relationship with relationships.
I’m also a big sucker for enemies to lovers and friends to lovers.
Do you have any advice for authors who are writing for different audiences like YA and NA/adult?
Make sure you have an agent on your side who knows the industry well. Also, make sure you advocate for yourself. Look for different publishing avenues and opportunities. Never count yourself out for something unless you truly don’t want to do it. If you can write for different audiences and you enjoy writing for different audiences then do your best to create work that will stand apart from each catalog. YA should feel YA. NA should feel NA. Adult should feel Adult. Granted, sometimes these categories can overlap, but you want to make sure the voice of your books and your brand is strong for each pen name or category/genre you write in. You want people to be able to find you no matter where you go.
Who is your favorite character you have written and what do you love about them? (Yes, this is like picking your favorite child, sorry.)
Aiden Marr is and always will be my favorite character. It’s selfish of me to say he’s my favorite because he’s an autobiographical character, but the journey I went on as I wrote about him in FORTITUDE SMASHED and CURVED HORIZON will stay with me for the rest of my life. We changed, me and him. We grew and healed and lived. That’s something I can’t say I did with any other character - not like I did with him.
You are one of those authors who always seems to have a lot of projects going on. How do you schedule out your day and what do you do for self-care?
I do always have something going on. Truthfully, I’m not the best person to ask because my advice isn’t great. My self-care is having a thick skin and knowing that hard work is what’s getting me to where I want to be. I also like bath bombs, but that isn’t really self-care for my writing. I’d like bath bombs even if I wasn’t busy. I think the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to find what works for you. Twitter is full of hot takes and lots of drama at all times, but honestly? You don’t need to be anxious to be a writer. You don’t need to have self-doubt. You don’t need to constantly question your work. You are allowed to exist and be happy about it. You’re allowed to write and be happy about it. Granted, talking about mental illness is important, but I’ve seen a lot of writers online relating the industry to mental illness as if the two are related, and in some cases they might be, but a lot of the time they aren’t. My self-care is knowing that this industry owes me nothing and that I am happy to be writing stories people love. I eat a lot of Thai takeout when I’m on deadline. I also take the weekends off (unless I’m behind). But my mentality, the way I approach what is owed to me and what I can take for myself, is truly the best self-care I give myself.
What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on a few different things, but unfortunately I can’t tell you much about any of them. I will tell you that I’m working on a YA about cats and fate and the complexity of changing love, another YA with a non-binary protagonist, and a NA/College YA about family, faith and new beginnings.