Addie Tsai teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. She collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. The author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin, her writing has been published in Banango Street, The Offing, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. She is the Nonfiction Editor at The Grief Diaries, Assistant Fiction Editor at Anomaly, and Associate Editor at Raising Mothers.
Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, Dear Twin? What made you want to tell this story?
Addie Tsai: In 2013, I was set to publish a memoir that was rooted in formative childhood experiences, and how those experiences influenced patterns I formed as an adult. But, very near when the book would have been published, the press folded. Of course, I was devastated. But, that memoir had laid everything bare, and the stillbirth of that manuscript gave me an opportunity to think about who it was I really wanted to reach with this book and the stories that made up the bulk of that work, and whether I was emotionally ready (and protected enough from certain possible conflicts based who else’s stories were inevitably a part of my own) to handle putting my story out in the world in such an exposed way, a question that often accompanies works of nonfiction and memoir.
At the time, I happened to be consuming a lot of popular realistic young adult fiction at the time. I was very excited by some of the trends and developments that were beginning to emerge in the genre, but, at the same time, I began to feel frustrated by some of the tired twin tropes that I had witnessed as a young person with popular culture and that I was seeing resurface in some of the young adult works I was reading at the time. The more I read YA, the more I started to envision what it would feel like to take the central aspect of the experience I wanted to tell and recast it in the young adult category. I wanted to give voice to certain aspects of my story that I hadn’t seen expressed in ways I felt were important. That’s how Dear Twin began. I told this story for the same reason I create most of the work that I make—in order to connect to others who may have experienced something like me, to feel less alone in the world.
V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?
AT: For the most part, I hope that my stories open the world, and expand their idea of what one can make—whether that’s about the story being told, or in the telling of it.
V: What was the hardest scene of Dear Twin to write?
AT: I have done a lot of my own work towards healing from the many wounding experiences of my childhood. More so than a particular scene, it was difficult to, in a certain sense, return to those old memories and embodiments and channel the complexity of emotions I had as a young person in order to tell Poppy’s stories. Dear Twin is certainly fiction, but it is grounded in the stories that I experienced personally. And so I found it difficult to return to the place of those emotions and experiences more than I expected.
V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
AT: I would tell her not to worry so much about the path towards success that is being pushed on young writers. In reality, there is no one path for everyone, and you can find your own way, in your own time.
V: What are your writing must-haves?
AT: I have to have books around me that inspire the quality I am after in my current work in progress—each work is different, so what works I look at during that time vary. In terms of nuts and bolts, I need my headphones (and an album that sets the tone for me), either my laptop or desktop computer, and I work best in daylight, especially in the morning before the sun is too intense to focus. Also, a cup of coffee or tea, depending on my mood at the time.