Today’s interview is very special in the way that it get pretty personal at some point. We’re extremely grateful that Adrienne felt comfortable enough to be this honest with us. And with you, guys.
We’re also just ridiculously excited about her upcoming F/F fantasy book! It comes out in 2021 and y’all should be looking forward to that, too, if you’re not already.
So let’s just get to it!
Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us! It really does mean a lot to us!
Thank you so much for asking me. I love your blog & the work that you do to center queer content!
That’s great to hear! We figured that 1) we already read so many LGBT books and constantly talk about them and 2) there could always be more spaces for LGBT media alone… So here we are! So that’s our backstory, roughly. What’s yours? How did you first get into writing?
I love that so much. You’re doing really great work!
I was a really avid reader as a kid, and while I dabbled in creative writing (& fan fiction), I mostly journaled, oddly enough. I had a ton of anxiety/insomnia and my mom basically threw notebooks at me & told me to get all the words out of my head and on to paper. While I initially started just writing about my day, I turned into an “always have a notebook, write everything down” kind of person, and that sort of seamlessly translated into writing bursts of my own stories. But honestly, I didn’t actually finish writing a complete novel until a few years ago.
That’s such a cool transition, though? From writing something as personal as a journal to just writing in general! Do you feel like it helped you with your craft? Get into characters’ heads better, be more in tune with their emotions and how you relay them on paper?
Yeah, I think it really helped me find my “voice” at a really young age. It’s funny, sometimes when I’m visiting my parents I’ll rifle through those old journals and they definitely read like I was writing for an audience rather than just myself. Maybe that was just me being a dramatic preteen/teenager, but it’s been really interesting to see how I maybe planted the seeds for writing fiction even as I was doing something as run-of-the-mill as relaying my own life.
And yeah, whenever I’m stuck on a scene or trying to do foundational character work, doing a journal from that character’s POV is usually my go-to trick. It’s fun to see how different characters would approach the page, how much of themselves they would choose to reveal, etc, sort of the way my journals read differently during different years of my life.
I was just about to say how basically every person keeps a journal in a different way! I love that you use that in your actual writing process!
It’s sort of like my home base, if that makes sense? That’s how I learned to write so it’s what feels most comfortable to return to when I’m stuck. Although ironically, I don’t journal as much anymore now that I’m writing novels!
It does make total sense! And I guess since you have another outlet now, you don’t really need journals as much?
Exactly. Some days I’m just worded-out, I guess. Haha
So how does the rest of your writing process look like? At what point do you let other people read your drafts and who are they?
I tend to be pretty isolated while I’m drafting. I keep my story close to my chest and while sometimes I’ll ask writer friends for help brainstorming a certain name or a tiny twist, I usually don’t let anyone read it until I have a finished draft I’ve revised and line-edited myself. I keep all the really messy pieces just for me. When I’m working through something tough (plot, motivation, etc) I like to talk at someone, and my fiancee is really great for that. She just kind of lets me ramble and I can usually work it out once I’ve talked myself in a couple circles. That’s always been part of my process, finding a person who doesn’t mind nodding and smiling at me while I spout nonsense and half-formed sentences at them. Haha.
It kind of goes hand in hand with keeping a journal, almost. Where you write all the messy bits and try to figure stuff out on paper and only then show the people around you the real thing, which is to say yourself.
Yes, exactly that! That’s so much more poetic than how I said it. And as far as who I send my drafts to, I have a few CPs (that I met on twitter) who I trust so much to help me with pacing and consistency. I also always send my drafts to my mom, who is an english teacher, and I know everyone says don’t send drafts to your mom but she probably gives me the most notes out of anyone!! But they’re always spot-on and I super appreciate her because she’s the only other person willing to read my books ten times over.
I have my moments haha. Oh my god, that is so sweet!! I love how the family is helping you out with writing!
I come from a line of English teachers so it’s in our blood. Haha
Amazing! And what are your favourite genres to read and write?
I have such a soft spot in my heart for YA contemporary because those are the books I read as a teen, and my first few shelved books were YA contemporary, but honestly, I have been having the most fun writing fantasy. I was a big Harry Potter & Redwall fan as a kid, but I didn’t really read much further into the genre, but now I’m really loving diving head first into adult fantasy (I’m currently reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemison).
It’s kind of the opposite for me, I used to be super into fantasy books and now I usually choose contemporary ones first! But that being said, I’m planning on reading both Spinning Silver and finally, finally something by Jemison!
That’s so funny. But that’s the great thing about being a reader, your tastes can change at any time and there’s still a wealth of wonderful options out there. I think reading in multiple genres is so important for a writer, too. For example, if you only read fantasy, you’re missing out on influences from other great places. I’m trying to get myself to read more non-fiction for that exact reason. I don’t want to get stuck anywhere, because for me, reading is such an intrinsic part of my writing craft and I never want to feel stale.
And that’s true for everyone, in some way, too, not even just writers, who should actively seek to improve their craft, like you say. It always seems so silly to me when people say they only ever read one particular genre. There’s a whole wide world out there and you’re willingly constricting yourself?
Exactly. I think reading widely is so so important for everyone.
I’m actually trying to branch out more myself and read some non-fiction, as well! Especially books about LGBT history. It just expands your horizons!
Yes! I just bought When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan & I can’t wait to dive in.
Okay, so going back to your own writing. Are there any genres or tropes you wouldn’t write?
Oooh, hmm that’s an interesting question. I think I will probably never write a thriller, not because I don’t love them (I really love to read them), but because my plotting brain doesn’t work that way and I imagine I’d give myself a serious headache. I also don’t think that sci-fi is something I’d be able to do well. Writing great sci-fi is an enviable skill that I do not think I possess.
I feel like a lot of people shy away from writing sci-fi, even if they love the genre itself, because it’s considered such a difficult one? Not as much freedom as in fantasy, I suppose; you have to keep all those rules, you have to create a world that makes total sense, you have to know physics!
Exactly! It has to make sense and it also has to be accessible to the reader, which I think is where the true skill of sci-fi writers comes to light. Making it effortless on the page despite all the research and fine-tuning behind the scenes? I am in awe of that skill.
I think it’s similar to writing historical fiction in that way?
Yes, exactly. There are so many details you have to get right, but also you have to build an intriguing narrative while staying in those specific parameters.
But good god, it’s so amazing when it’s well done!
Yes!! Honestly, I’m in awe of writers. All of them. Each genre comes with its specific set of challenges and watching people excel is just the absolute best.
It really is! And how do you get inspiration for your books?
Oooh. Um. Each one is different! Once, I got an idea while listening to a father-of-the-bride speech at a wedding. One from watching the food network. One of my book’s titles just popped fully formed into my head and I had to figure out what the story would be to do that title justice. Sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and there’s a lyric or a concept that will spark something. So there is no one true way for me, which is sometimes frustrating and sometimes incredibly exciting. There’s absolutely nothing better than the rush of scrambling to write down a new book idea.
Not gonna lie, I’m really intrigued by that wedding speech inspired book now…
It was the first novel I ever completed & it was about a queer girl in a cult.
OH MY GOD. How do you get from a heart-warming (I’m assuming) speech from a father to a CULT.
I KNOW, totally not what you’d expect. It was one of the last lines in the speech and the particular way that the father was talking to the son-in-law about how to love his daughter really sounded like it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a rule, and my mind sort of just spiraled. This was back when dystopian YA was still big, and it started out dystopian and then after a few years I came back and was like, hmm, dystopian is dead, but this sort of reads like a cult… So that’s a front-row seat into my brain and the way it twists real life into story ideas. Hahaha
Oh my god that’s wild, I absolutely love this.
I really loved that book, too, so it all worked out. Hahahaha
If songs can sometimes inspire you, does that mean you also have writing playlists? And if you do, do they focus more on the lyrics or melodies, vibe of the songs?
Yes, I have playlists for each book and yes they’re all different. I definitely go for vibes over lyrics, because giving myself an atmospheric playlist to settle into really helps my headspace. It’s really funny later to listen to a song that I’ve played a hundred times while writing a book later on because it’ll always be associated with that particular writing process.
I kinda know the feeling! I have songs that I stronly associate with a particular character, so whenever I hear it, I just instantly think about them.
Yes! It’s especially weird if I hear the song unsuspectingly because it will throw me back into the book even if I’m out, say, having a coffee with a friend.
Oh yeah, same for me! I recently almost cried in a car with my parents because of a song that randomly played on a radio. But okay, fun times now! Summarise your upcoming book in up to 5 words and a meme. (Also, if it has as wild the inspiration backstory as the cult book, I would LOVE to hear that!)
Lol i’m so bad at memes let me find one. But I’d have to say “queer witches trying their best”.
(Also sadly this idea does not have a wild backstory, but I wish it did!!)
I guess it has to be enough that it’s a wild sapphic story in itself!!
EXACTLY. Like, getting to write a sapphic witch love story is a DREAM. Also idk if this is important but I “discovered” my queerness sort of late in life (24) and always wonder what might have been if there had been more wlw representation in YA when I was growing up. I never thought I would get to read one so now I can’t imagine writing a book that doesn’t have some sort of inherent queerness to it.
Oh man, I was pretty late with figuring this shit out too, actually, like already halfway through uni late. And I often think it has A LOT to do with the absolute lack of rep I had at my disposal growing up. THE TRUE GAY AGENDA. Just giving the lgbt youth what we didn’t have ourselves.
Exactly. As soon as I pieced it all together I was like, oh, shouldn’t I have known? But how can you when there’s nothing available to you. My fiancee always says that I’m writing the books she wishes she’d had as a closeted 16 year old, and like, my HEART.
Oh god, that’s so sweet! And that really is the ultimate goal, isn’t it!!
It absolutely is.
Which three authors would you say influenced your writing the most?
That’s actually really tough! It’s sad because some of my favorite childhood authors whose works I think planted the seed not only for my sense of humor but for what my writing would one day be turned out to be… not always the greatest people (which is a whole other tangent), but I think that the books that shaped me were Matilda, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Series of Unfortunate Events. I know that doesn’t exactly answer the question, but if I have to point to foundations, that’s where it all began.
Yeah, it’s never the authors themselves that influence you, but their writing. So you’ve given me a perfect answer.
Yeah, I feel like “what’s your favorite book” is so impossible, but I always hold tight to my foundational works.
It IS an impossible question, personally I never know how to answer it. Moving on to a whole other medium of favourites, though. If (when!) your books were to be made into movies, who would you like to direct them?
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge film buff so I’m having trouble coming up with a name, but definitely a woman, and definitely someone able to bring the level of playfulness and sapphic energy as Killing Eve. Does Phoebe Waller-Bridge direct?? Because her a thousand times over.
I’m probably the last lesbian on the planet who still hasn’t seen Killing Eve, but I know enough about it to realise how ideal this answer is.
I know, I’m really ashamed of myself.
It’s okay. It’ll be worth it whenever you can get to it.
And for something that is also very important to us & what we put a lot of emphasis on when blogging. What does ownvoices LGBT representation mean to you? Which we already talked about a fair bit…
Yes, like I said above I think that representation is so important. Allowing LGBT kids to learn about themselves & work out their identities by offering characters on a page that reflect those questions, those curiosities & those truths gives power to those who can often feel powerless or alone or wrong or not enough. Being able to be a writer who went through my own journey of self-discovery and offer pieces of my experience to someone who might have that same journey? It’s overwhelming, that maybe my words will make a difference to someone else.
Honestly, I always look at this from the persepctive of the reader. How I’m looking for the most authentic voices and that’s why I choose ownvoices books. How I feel LGBT people themselves just understand me & my feelings better. But I never stopped to consider what that’s like for the writers themselves. How happy it must make them to be able to share their stories!
And on the other side of it, as a reader, I too feel more connected to ownvoices LGBT stories. There’s just an air of honesty there that can’t be fabricated or created. It just is, because that’s their life and their identity that they’ve used to craft their stories. It’s special on either side of it, to be honest.
I’m just so incredibly grateful that we’re getting more and more of those kind of stories. So rec us some great LGBT books you’ve read recently!
We Set the Dark on Fire! The Weight of the Stars! The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo! Far From You! Red, White & Royal Blue! Also I can’t wait to get my hands on These Witches Don’t Burn, Wilder Girls, and Gideon the Ninth.
The Weight of the Stars is one of my favourite books! I absolutely love Kayla and all that she gives us.
Yes, Kayla is iconic, tbh. Oh, god, also WE ARE OKAY.
We Are Okay is such a beautiful, tender story!
It’s so perfect and quiet and all-encompassing
It’s similar to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, in what feelings they both evoke, I would say. And I didn’t expect to be lucky enough to read a sapphic book like that!
And it’s proof that there doesn’t always have to be a love story for a book to be inherently queer.
Oh, you’re totally right! It’s all in the details! In how the characters perceive the world! How they navigate it.
Yes, and that, exactly is why ownvoices is so important. That sort of experience can’t be manufactured.
Even if the author isn’t out and the book isn’t marketed as ownvoices, you can just tell.
Exactly. And I by no means support the idea that writers need to out themselves so they can claim ownvoices. I think that’s dangerous and insensitive, but as you said, sometimes you can just tell. You don’t need to know a writer’s identity to know.
What’s one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self?
Hmmm. I’d probably tell myself to not get so wrapped up in giving other people what I thought they wanted from me and to instead think about why I was so quick to sacrifice for others but not for myself.
We’re so much quicker to be kind to others than to ourselves.
Exactly. Spending so much time trying to prove something rather than looking within lost me a lot of time where I could have been happier or more confident. But we grow! And we know better! And wish we could look back and tell ourselves it will be okay.
The best we can hope for is helping others to find that courage faster than we did.
That’s exactly right.
Okay, one last question! If you could have dinner with one member of the LGBT community, dead or alive, who would it be?
Okay, so this requires a little bit of explanation, but I’d pick Tig Notaro the comedian (& her wife Stephanie Allynne, I hope), because while I was going through my “oh, I might be queer phase” and falling in love with the woman who is now my fiancee, I watched her documentary and it just sort of knocked everything into place for me and I feel like I need to say thank you. Hahaha.
That moment when it finally clicks, when the whole world suddenly makes sense & maybe even a label suddenly seems to fit you perfectly… There’s nothing like it. So I can see why you would want to sit down with her, if she was a big step in that journey for you.
Yeah. It had been weeks upon weeks of me questioning my entire being, and then there was this moment with her wife and I was just like “oh”. I saw her on the street once but I am very bad at talking to strangers and so I said nothing, hahahaha.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adrienne Tooley was born and raised in the desert suburbs of Southern California. She grew up in the theater, telling other people’s stories, until she decided it might be just as much fun to write her own. She has lived in New York City long enough to confidently give directions to tourists, but not long enough that the skyline at night fails to take her breath away. In addition to writing novels she is also a singer/songwriter and has released several EPs which are available on Spotify & other streaming sites.
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We hope seeing Adrienne’s point of view on things made you even more excited about her upcoming book!