Interview by the Young Adulting Editors
Tash is a Welsh-Canadian author and teacher. Their publications include The Psionics series (NineStar Press), and the JLG Gold Standard Selection Blood Sport (Orca Books) as well as multiple anthology contributions. They are a recipient of the Shoot for the Moon fund for trans writers and a founding mentor in the Trans Tipping Point Program.
When they’re not writing, they’re usually found teaching either Computer Science or English in Vancouver. They have a degree in computer science so their nerd chat makes sense, and a couple of black belts in Wado Ryu which are very helpful when it comes to writing fight scenes.
They write fast-paced, plot-centric stories with diverse casts. They write the books that they wanted to read as a queer kid and young adult (and still do)!
Hi-lo is an amazing genre featuring exciting and interesting content in an accessible format. What is your favourite aspect about writing hi-lo books? Did you find any aspect of the genre challenging at the start of your career?
I absolutely love writing hi-lo books, I feel like they fit my style of fast-paced, direct storytelling well. In fact, a lot of my first drafts read like hi-los in style, as well as vocabulary choices! My favourite aspect of writing hi-lo is that no one asks me to adjust the content, it’s all about the syntax. That means I’m writing complex stories but in a shorter, more linear form than I would for general YA. When I first started writing these kinds of stories, I did struggle to adjust my vocabulary. I was that encyclopedia kid who used words like “salubrious” in my grade four assignments—so I really had to work on stripping down the language I usually lean towards.
Your Psionics series is an awesome sci-fi dystopian series featuring telepathic teens. What were some of your inspirations for writing the series? Do you have plans for expanding the world in future books?
Thanks! I’m so proud of the Psionics—it really is my baby. The second book in the series was the first book I ever wrote. I was living in Chile at the time, and had been reading a lot. My wife got bored of me complaining about predictable plot twists, and dared me to write a novel! That novel became We Are the Catalyst (Psionics book 2). I was inspired by classic science fiction narratives like 1984 and The Chrysalids, combined with my desire to see more diverse casts of characters in action-based stories. I’d love to revisit the Psionics world, and have vague plans for a spin-off series set twenty years or so post–This Is The Circle (Psionics book 4).
Many of your books feature trans and queer characters. What are some of the ways that the industry can increase #OwnVoices representation in young adult books?
Finding the authors who are already telling those stories—I published the Psionics with a small press because no one else wanted it. I was querying for quite a while, and had several agents respond that they were skeptical about their ability to sell a queer narrative that wasn’t about being queer. Now we are seeing many more queer and trans authors writing in all different genres, and we should be supporting those people. We should also be asking the powerhouses in the industry to put their weight behind releases by marginalised authors the same way they do with more “marketable” authors. I would like to add that “own voices” is increasingly used to police author’s identities, where it was supposed to uplift and raise these voices. #OwnVoices was supposed to help people find books that authentically reflected the author’s experiences, but it has been weaponized and used to force authors out of the closet, or to disclose personal information—i.e about neurodiversity—that they may not be comfortable sharing.
Do you think that your teaching career has impacted your writing? If so, have your writing interests and perspectives changed while working with students? Do you have any advice for students who wish to pursue writing?
I think the biggest way that teaching has influenced my writing is by keeping me connected to the young adults I work with. I talk to them about their lives—and while I’m not mining anyone for story ideas, I do find that certain situations will resonate and end up in one of my stories. It also helps keep me up to date with trends, which I think adds authenticity to my teen voices.
My writing interests and perspectives often change, I love talking to anyone and everyone about what they’re passionate about, which often leads me to pick up books I wouldn’t otherwise have selected, or maybe even heard of! I’m a big fan of YA, which is my most highly read genre, but I’ve been known to read the dictionary or the Bible when there was nothing else available. Sometimes, I’ll stumble on an author or subgenre that will become a passionate favourite.
For anyone interested in pursuing writing, student or otherwise, I have a few pieces of advice. Firstly, to write. We improve by doing, and often writers are discouraged in their early stages because they’re comparing their early stages of work to polished, published stories that have been edited by multiple people, and worked on for years! Don’t compare your drafts to someone else’s end product. Also, don’t be discouraged if you can’t get the story down the way you want to. Writing effective stories is a skill. Keep writing, and the gap between your execution and concepts will shrink. Another thing to do before pursuing writing as a profession is to brace yourself for a lot of rejection. By its very nature, art is personal, but most of the reasons you’ll be rejected as an author are the opposite of personal. It’s a business, and publishers and magazines etc. are necessarily choosey about the pieces they are able to publish. Thus, the authorial life is one filled with rejections. Even authors who get an agent almost immediately will end up being rejected over and over at various stages. That’s just the way it is! It only takes one yes to get yourself out there, but that yes will probably be surrounded by a whole lot of nos. Going in aware of that and prepared for it is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself and your creativity.
Can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?
Sure, I’m not a secret agent! Right now I’m waiting for edits (from my agent) on a nonbinary-led YA contemporary fantasy, which I pitch as Buffy X Harry PotterX Dr Who! I’m also outlining another hi-lo for Orca Books, this time a trans sports romance, and I’m working on the second draft of a project currently called “Lesbian Monster Hunters”—the lesbians hunt the monsters, as opposed to monsters who hunt lesbians. The title will definitely change down the line!