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‘I wanted to write through an emotionally complex teen character’: An interview with Metonymy author Addie Tsai

Addie Tsai teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. 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 and Senior Associate Editor in Poetry at The Flexible Persona. Dear Twin is her first novel.
Kiese Laymon (Heavy) calls Dear Twin “equally horrifying as it is beautiful, rigorous as it is readable, quiet as it is spectacular.”
According to Addie, the novel is about “Poppy, a biracial, Asian, queer, 18-year-old living in Houston, Texas. Shortly after high school graduation, her twin sister, Lola, goes missing. Poppy lives with her father, who has become incredibly possessive and anxious of Poppy since Lola has left, making her defer college for a year. She decides to write her twin a series of letters about her side of the story regarding some of the trauma they’ve both experienced, hoping it might bring Lola back, and that she’ll be able to leave for college with her love, a Korean butch girl named Juniper.”
To mark the book’s official pub date this week, we asked Addie to answer a handful of questions about her creative process and the story behind what Kai Cheng Thom calls this “loving subversion of the YA genre.”
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a queer, nonbinary, Asian, biracial writer and artist in Houston, Texas. I teach at a community college where I live, and I love witnessing all kinds of performance, film, and almost any form of art you can imagine. I’m most excited by making or consuming work that pushes the boundaries between genres and identities. I’m also invested in dance, and I’ve recently begun reviewing performances in the city, which has been exciting! I currently take rhythm tap for fun, but used to dance Argentine tango pretty seriously for a number of years. I write a little bit of everything—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, scholarship, reviews, and hybrid work. Growing up as a twin, biracial, and discovering that I’m queer, I’m committed to investigating dualities, the spaces between the uncontainable categories that I think most live in.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to this form of creative outlet?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! But the earliest moment I remember is writing a Happy Mother’s Day poem for my mother (and for a school contest) when I was in third grade, which won Honorable Mention. But I began writing seriously starting in sophomore year of high school when I chose to write a poem to make sense of my childhood trauma. The catharsis I experienced after writing it was powerful, and I realized that writing was a way that I could understand myself, and also a means of survival.
Tell us about other things you’ve written and/or created?
I’ve written a memoir called and in its place—: An Ode to Frankenstein, in which I explore my preoccupation with Frankenstein, and the ways I see myself and my own history as connecting to Mary Shelley’s life. I’ve also written a hybrid of poems and other experimental pieces about my relationship to being a twin called Twin Songs: A Memoir of Twinhood. I also co-created a contemporary ballet dance theater adaptation of Frankenstein with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, called Victor Frankenstein.
What was the inspiration for Dear Twin?
Almost eight years ago, I wrote a memoir that focused on a particular central experience in my and my twin’s childhood that occurred in our adolescence and teen years. That memoir was under contract with a press but ultimately did not get published. That stillbirth gave me the opportunity to consider the complications of telling that story in the form of nonfiction, and also who I wanted to be most impacted by this story. At the time, I was reading a lot of young adult novels, and I realized that the young adult genre would be the most appropriate form (and imagined audience) for this story, and also protect some of the people in my life who are depicted in it. So I took the central experience from that memoir and fictionalized it into a young adult story that ultimately became Dear Twin.
Why should people want to read Dear Twin?
I wrote Dear Twin in order to give voice to queer Asian girls, but also teenagers who have felt invisible or lost for a multitude of reasons. I wanted to write through an emotionally complex teen character, in ways that I felt as a young person but didn’t see represented in any of the young adult novels then, or even now. Most of all, though, I wanted to give visibility to actual twins, to give a more three-dimensional view to a lived experience that is often treated as a trope in film, television, and fiction.
Who do you hope to reach with your novel?
I hope to reach twins! And also teenagers who experience childhood trauma.
What was the most surprising thing to you about writing Dear Twin?
As this is my first novel, I didn’t expect the world of the novel to take off in my mind or on the page as it did, or to feel a sense of freedom in the space between fiction and nonfiction.
What was the most challenging thing that you ran up against during the process?
The most significant challenge was navigating between all the modes I wanted this novel to take on, the epistolary form and the traditional narrative, but also writing through the young adult format in a way that I haven’t seen represented in the genre so far. It was also a challenge to figure out how to fictionalize the autobiographical in a way that would still feel true to the new world I had created.
What appeals to you about publishing with Metonymy Press?
I’m thrilled to be publishing with Metonymy Press for its mission of social justice, its focus on queer narratives, and its striving to publish authors whose perspectives have been underrepresented. Metonymy is an incredible invested, thoughtful press and it’s been a wonderful experience working with them, and I can’t wait for what’s next!
What’s next for you, as an artist and in general?
I’m currently trying to find a publisher for the memoir I mentioned earlier, and am currently working on two novel projects, a sequel to Dear Twin, as well as a new novel in progress, which is a queer, racialized adaptation of Frankenstein.