Tess Sharpe is the author of Gay YA’s May Book of the Month Far From You— which has quickly found a place
on my Favorites shelf. This book features a bisexual and disabled protagonist, and I found it to be incredibly moving and well-written. Join our discussion of it over on the forums and read our full review!
Tess Sharpe is here today, discussing her writerly journey and her thoughts on Gay YA. This is my first interview, so I hope you all enjoy it!
Victoria: While on the path to getting published did you ever run into any difficulties because you had queer characters in your story?
Tess Sharpe: I didn’t, though I thought I would, because I’d heard horror stories. I was not going to query Far From You because I’d gotten discouraged with another (very different) book. My critique partner Elizabeth May (author of the fabulous Falconer trilogy) basically forced me to, because she was convinced it was “the one.” And I kept saying, “No one is going to buy a book about a disabled drug addict in love with another girl.”
Spoiler: Elizabeth was right. I was wrong. And now she gets to say, “I told you so” forever and ever.
I was very fortunate to receive such an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response from agents and editors about the book. But that’s not to say my publishing journey has been easy. Far From You was the sixth book I tried to get published over the span of seven years, and I wrote more than a dozen books in the 14 years before I wrote it. It’s been a long, hard journey. But I’m very grateful for all those years and books I wrote before Far From You, because each one made me a better writer.
V: What, in your opinion, is the most important issue in regards to Gay YA?
TS: We need more of it. And we need more representation and a broader range of representation and experiences. We need more books about trans teens. About asexual teens. About aromantic, biromantic and homo-romantic teens. About pansexual teens. About genderqueer teens. About undecided teens.
We need to show all the colors of our community, like the rainbow that we have claimed for our own. There are so many amazing stories and characters out there, so many experiences beyond discovery or revelation just waiting to be written, and there are so many readers who need those stories so badly.
V: What are your favorite Gay YA books?
TS: ASH by Malinda Lo was hugely influential on me as a person and a writer. I also love anything that Julie Anne Peters writes, but I think my favorite is the first book of hers I ever read, KEEPING YOU A SECRET. In books that are out this year (this is SUCH a great year for LGBT YA!), LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley and OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis are at the top of my favorites list.
V: As I mentioned on Tumblr, I am a homeschooled teen, and really appreciated your portrayal of Rachel as a homeschooler. How did you do it so accurately?
TS: I was a homeschooler, too! I truly don’t think I would be where I am now in my career if I had gone to school. Mostly because by the time I hit my teens, my mother let me write books most of the time. So I’d written a lot by the time I got to college. I did other schoolwork, but Mom did me a huge favor by letting me focus on becoming a better writer.
There are a lot of stereotypes about homeschoolers. Usually they’re portrayed as uber-religious and totally shut off from the world, and many of my homeschooling peers growing up were like that. But a lot of them were more like me, raised by secular liberal or hippie parents who homeschooled for a lot of different reasons. I needed a good reason for Rachel and Sophie never meeting before in such a small town, and Rachel is an independent spirit—a trait a lot of homeschoolers develop—so I thought it fit well.
V: What does your writing process entail?
TS: I do this weird thing where I write a book’s worth of notes and scenes before I actually write the book. Maybe 10% of that work will ever actually get into the book, but I’m a control freak and a little obsessed with character history. And it does come in handy when you juggle multiple timelines or are writing within an out-of-the-norm story structure.
I also rarely write in order, and I usually listen to the same song on repeat for the duration of a draft. I wish I could be cool and create meaningful playlists for my books, but alas, it is not meant to be.
V What was it like seeing your book in stores for the first time?
TS: Pretty surreal. I live near a small town and I did not think it was going to be at our store, because it doesn’t stock a lot of LGBT work. But there it was!
V: I saw in your unofficial bio that you love Shakespearean insults. As a fellow Shakespeare nerd, would you mind sharing your favorite insult and play?
TS: My favorite insult is from Coriolanus. “More of your conversation would infect my brain.”
My favorite comedy is As You Like It (I named my property after the forest of Ardenne, in which the play takes place). And my favorite tragedy is Othello.
V: Is there anything you can tells us about what’s next on your writing horizon?
TS: My next book is about two best friends who are more like sisters and the choices you face when you have someone who loves you enough to die—or kill—for you.
V: And, most importantly, do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
TS: Salted Caramel!