Today, I welcome my awesome friend Tash McAdam to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about writing queer dragon riders and trans superheroes, their action-driven dystopian YA debut, I Am The Storm, and writing stories that don’t center on queer or marginalized pain.
Tash is a Computer Science and English teacher in Canada, although they were born and raised in the hilly sheepland of Wales (and have lived in South Korea and Chile before settling down in Vancouver). Tash identifies as trans and queer and uses the neutral pronoun 'they'. As an English teacher they are fully equipped to defend that grammar! They have a degree in computer science so their nerd chat makes sense, and a couple of black belts in karate which are very helpful when it comes to writing fight scenes.
Their novel writing endeavours began at the age of eight, although they will admit that their first attempt was derivative, at best. Since then, Tash has spent time falling in streams, out of trees, juggling, dreaming about zombies, dancing, painting, learning and then teaching Karate, running away with the circus, and of course, writing.
They write fast-paced, plot-centric action adventure with diverse casts. They write the books that they wanted to read as a queer kid and young adult (and still do!)
1. What is your writing origin story?
Great question! Essentially, I complained so much about the YA novels I was reading (the shoehorned in romances, the pointless love triangles with two white bread nobodies, the romance-is-the-main-point-never-mind-the-plot, the predictable endings etc) that my now-fiancée dared me to write a book. I think her exact words were ‘well if you think you’re so clever why don’t you write your own book? And stop bothering me, I’m reading.’ (I love her).
2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
The story idea for my first ever writing project, which was my first ever novel was born when I was in one of those super tiny showers. It wasn’t draining, and I was thinking well... What if it fills up forever and I drown in this tiny weird box? That was the inspiration for the Tank, where they drown telepaths in anti-power goo so they can wipe their memories, and that idea went on to spawn a whole series. I think I’ve never really lacked for ideas and inspiration, it’s more the ... sitting my butt down and doing the work that’s a problem for my ADD self. But I’m always inspired! By everything! Every story, ever sunset, every face on the bus is a story waiting to be born as far as I’m concerned. My gdrive has 42 story universes in it right now (.. it’s the meaning of life. I now force myself to delete and old one if I have a new idea)
3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
Representation means everyone should have characters that they share their various traits with. It means that we all deserve to deeply connect to characters and the stories they’re part of. It means that when a kid (young!me) goes to the library and ask for books about girls who want to be boys, they don’t hand out ‘I dressed up as my own twin for plot purposes’ books and think that that cuts it. It means we all get adventures.
As for rep in my writing... well, I’m an action driven kind of guy. I’m in it for the plot and the action, I’m not much for Finding Oneself, or Romance, which makes a lot of the queer fiction out there feel like it’s not for me. I hate having to choose between rep and a good, plotty story. It’s getting better now, for sure, but there’s still not many action-based stories out there with MCs I identify with. Sidekicks are getting more and more diverse, but where are my queer dragon riders and my trans superheroes? Hint: They are in my books.
My stories put marginalised identities front and centre, but are focused on the action-based storyline, which is never to do with The Struggle of being queer/ trans / marginalised in some other way. Unless you count being a telepath as being marginalised, because I guess that’s a whole thing, in the X-Men style of elaborate sexuality metaphors. Ha.
4. What is your favorite thing about writing queer YA?
Writing stories I’m pumped to read. Stories where the queer kids have adventures, and Dumbledore isn’t only gay if you squint.
5. What is your writing process?
Procrastinate for at least two hours... finally realise I’m running out of time and need to get on with it, bribe myself to write for ten minutes, immediately get super into it and forget to stop and pee or drink water etc. My hyperfocus is strong.
6. What is your best piece of writing advice?
Be a shark. This means, keep swimming (or in this case, writing). When you get bogged down in editing as you write, that’s when things fall apart, in my opinion. The more time you waste crafting each sentence to be Perfect, or thinking about cover art, or choosing your perfect TV show cast, the less time you’re putting words on screen/ paper for. Your book won’t write itself. Everything book-related except the writing can come later. Be a shark.
7. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?
You can’t please everyone, nor should you try. That’s hard for me because I’m a people pleaser. I’ve had people slam me because they ‘don’t like Young Adult Fiction’ (thanks for reading!), because my story had ‘too many Asians’ (actual quote, please show yourself out), and because I didn’t adequately explain on the back cover why young people are fighting in a war (read the book). Opinions are subjective. I don’t like everything I read, so why would I think everyone would like what I write? I mean, I wish people would keep their unhelpful criticisms to themselves, and stick to the stuff that might actually, I don’t know, help me improve as a writer, but that is not the world. Write what you want to read, find your crew, they will love it, and it will Feel Great. Ignore the people who don’t get your stuff, it’s okay. Don’t take it personally.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
Oh wow, that’s a tough question. I think at the heart of all my stories is the message that we aren’t able to reach our potential (and save the world) without a team. Teamwork makes the dreamwork. We all have different skills and abilities and it is in our communities that we are powerful. Also, possibly, destroy the status quo because the status is not quo. (credit: Dr Horrible).
9. What is a great queer book you have read recently?
I recently finished ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ by Jandy Nelson and it blew me away. I really enjoyed the artistic and poetic, metaphorical writing style (which is super unusual for me, I mostly enjoy very fast-paced and driven stories that aren’t bogged down with much waxing poetic). Highly recommend checking it out. It tells the story of twins who lose their mother in their teens, and it’s a dual timeline (one twin tells the past, one tells the present) mystery that’s also a coming of age story, and a coming out story all at once. Masterfully told.
10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on a new novel, the first in a new series, although I definitely should be working on the sequel to Warp Weavers (Magic, mystery, interdimensional warfare, Buffy meets Dr Who, out Dec 2019). My new story is a post AI apocalypse, where children have been bred for the express purpose of passing unnoticed in a robot controlled society so they can destroy the evil AI overlord. I entirely blame Person of Interest for this brainchild.
Keep your head down. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Never even think about technology if one of those ghostly, grey cars is sliding silently down the road. They'll see the thoughts inside you, if you let them.
Sam's a technopath, able to control electronic signals and manipulate technology with his mind. And so, ever since childhood, his life has been a carefully constructed web of lies, meant to keep his Talent hidden, his powers a secret. But the Institute wants those unusual powers, and will do anything to get a hold of him and turn him into one of their mindless slaves.
Sam slips up once. Just once, but that's enough. Now the Institute is after him in full force. Soldiers, telekinetics and mind readers, all gunning just for him.
Newly qualified rebel soldier, Serena, doesn't even know she's chasing a person, all she knows is that she has to find whatever the Institute is after before they do. But, tracking an unknown entity through an unfamiliar city, with inaccurate intelligence, unexpected storms, and the Watch on the prowl, will she even survive? Will she get to Sam before the Institute does? His special skills could provide the resistance with an incredible advantage, but not if they can't get out of the city, and over the huge wall that stands between them and freedom.