Will Taylor (he/they) is a reader, writer, and honeybee fan. He lives in the heart of downtown Seattle surrounded by all the seagulls and not quite too many teacups. When not writing he can be found searching for the perfect bakery, talking to trees in parks, and completely losing his cool when he meets longhaired dachshunds. His books include Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort; Maggie & Abby and the Shipwreck Treehouse; and Slimed (as Liam Gray). Catch That Dog! and The Language of Seabirds coming 2022.
I had the opportunity to interview Will, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi hi! Feeling star-struck to get to be here! I’m Will (or Liam sometimes when I feel like living the other half of my name). I am gay, biromantic, gray ace, and enby, or, as a teacher friend once dubbed me, multidisciplinary queer. I’m a dual US/UK citizen, though I’ve lived around Seattle my whole life and don’t get to visit my family over there nearly enough.
I write mostly Middle Grade, but I’ve got several picture books doing the editor rounds and am piecing together a super gay murder-mystery-musical-romcom which I’m crossing all my fingers will turn into my first YA. (Let me tell you I am daunted, but if it comes together it’ll be so fun.)
How would you describe your upcoming book, The Language of Seabirds? Where did the inspiration for the story come from and where did you come up with the beautiful title?
The Language of Seabirds is the book of my heart, and also a real departure for me. My first four books are all silly, bouncy romps full of pillow forts and ghost mooses and evil slime and dogs who think they’re people. Seabirds is a contemporary romance about the first big feelings of love, and how the time and place where they arise (in this case summer on the Oregon coast) gets woven into our hearts. My own first big feelings happened in fifth grade and were immediately drowned out by shame and the fear that someone would be able to tell I liked a boy. I wanted Seabirds to be a book where the good feelings win, and where a kid who’s not super certain of anything yet gets to just feel and celebrate and be.
And hey, thanks for the kind words about the title! It came to me as I was lying on the couch eating mac and cheese and watching cooking shows on Netflix. (My natural habitat.) A Danish chef was saying something about “the alphabet of Nordic cuisine,” and all in a flash I saw a boy watching another boy running along a beach in my mind, with birds wheeling and crying overhead. The title showed up in the same moment, just there suddenly, and as I got into writing the book I discovered that the language of seabirds is actually a code the two boys come up with, a way to say what neither of them is quite ready to say out loud yet in the big noisy world. I feel like I can’t take any credit for the title; it definitely felt like a gift!
How did you get into writing, and what drew you to Middle Grade fiction specifically?
I was that kid who preferred the library to the playground, so the love of books and stories was always there. I started writing in seventh grade when a fabulous English teacher liked a poem I wrote and encouraged me to keep going, and I was lucky enough to get more fabulous English teachers in high school who pushed me to work hard at it and grow. I stepped away from writing for a decade or so after college as I bounced around trying to find my place in the world, but when nothing else seemed to fit I came back to it, found I still loved it, and got to work.
As for Middle Grade, oof, that’s a big answer. I guess at a core level my heart is still eleven years old, and the sheer magic and wonder I remember books giving me access to at that age has never gone away.
The field of LGBTQ+ Middle-Grade literature is slowly, but steadily growing. What are your thoughts on the medium as it stands, and can you name any titles that stand out to you?
I cannot express how excited I am to see this field finally expanding! I wrote Seabirds because it was the exact book I needed as a kid. Not to sound all own-horn-tooty, but speaking as someone who didn’t feel safe enough to come out until after college, I guarantee my life would have been different if I’d had access to this book in fifth grade. With every LGBTQ+ Middle Grade book added to the shelves another kid in our community gets a mirror to see themselves and feel good about who they are and who they’re on their way to becoming.
I’ll save my book recommendations for the question at the end, but I have to shout out absolute legend Kacen Callender here, who has 100% led the way with LGBTQ+ Middle Grade. Their work is extraordinary, and I’ll remember the first time I read Hurricane Child for the rest of my life.
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite things about writing?
Once my agent has approved one of the endless ideas I send him (*blows kisses to Brent Taylor at Triada US*) I usually spend a few weeks getting all the themes and arcs and characters in place. I’m definitely a plotter; I write best knowing where I’m going and trusting that I’ve already done the heavy lifting to make sure it will all work. After that I tend to set up a checklist system so I have a certain doable amount to get done every day, which builds into a positive sense of momentum—another thing that’s essential to me doing my best. Writing’s hard enough without feeling like I’m behind all the time!
I should say it’s taken several books to figure out how I like to write, and I’m sure it will change along with me in the future.
Favorite things about writing: I love the way scenes and pages stack together and accumulate. Putting words into a blank space is such an act of faith, and it’s always magical to see the threads you’ve laid down start to weave together, to see the characters learn and change, and to be able to channel your own emotions into something other people can experience.
Were there any stories or authors that inspired or touched you growing up?
Oh, so many. I think the ones that really stand out in my brain are the ones about strange, overlooked kids being summoned by mysterious forces to worlds where they are powerful and needed. (Strong resonances for LGBTQ+ kids in that archetype for sure!) Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising was huge for me, as was A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. So You Want to Be a Wizard, by Diane Duane; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond; the Redwall series by Brian Jacques; everything by Rosemary Sutcliff, especially The Eagle of the Ninth and The Shining Company… so, so many.
Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you?
Ha ha, oh nooo, this is like filling out a dating profile! I’m sorry but I’m honestly so boring! I spend the vast majority of my time reading kidlit, writing kidlit, comparing movies and TV shows to kidlit, talking about kidlit, or hanging out with kidlit friends. I like to bake, is that cool? I have a degree in sacred architecture… I’m blind in one eye… I collect teacups…
I guess it might be worth sharing that if I weren’t a writer I’d want to be a garden designer, and that I did static trapeze for a good chunk of my twenties. Somewhere there’s a video of me doing a solo performance as a merman to Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid in a blond wig and teal lycra. I’m sure it will resurface at some completely embarrassing time.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Ooo, okay: What one person alive today would you want to have lunch with if you could?
With absolutely zero hesitation, Kate Bush. I was introduced to her music at a very young age by my British family, and it’s irreversibly woven into my creative DNA and imagination. I don’t know of any other artist who describes so perfectly the world I’m always writing toward. If I could write a book that had one-tenth of the intimacy and grandeur of her songs I would be happy forever. It was Kate Bush who taught me that it’s possible to be both deeply romantic and fiercely independent, and I’d give a lot to eat tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with her.
What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?
Read! Read as much as you can, and as widely. The more you read the more your imagination has to work with. You’ll know what you like and don’t like, what works in story and what doesn’t, and what kinds of people and experiences you’re genuinely interested in exploring.
The second half of that, of course, is write! Write as much as you can. Above all, finish projects, even if they stay as rough drafts. Give yourself first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to go from a blank page to the words The End. Build those pathways in your brain, reinforcing that this is what you love and want to do, and with every piece or project you complete it will be that little bit easier to embark on the next one.
Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?
Well, there’s that ridiculous YA idea I mentioned before, but at the moment I’m on the third draft of what I hope will be my next Middle Grade: a 12th-century historical escape adventure full of castles and frozen rivers and swords and stolen jewels.
I’ve also got another Scholastic book coming out the month before Seabirds, a silly, heart-achy, overlooked-girl-and-her-doggo-best-friend story called Catch That Dog! It’s based on the real-life dognapping scandal of Masterpiece, the toy poodle who helped set off the poodle craze of the 1950s. There’s no sweeping summer romance in this one, but there are a whole heap of feelings, well-earned comeuppance for nasty grownups, and hopefully plenty of laughs. Think Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie crossed with Christopher Guest’s movie Best in Show, all set in fabulous small-town New Jersey. I’m really proud of this book, actually. Preorders welcome! Comes out April 5!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Okay, seriously, I could do another three pages of answers here, so I’ll try to limit myself to my absolute top faves. Everything by Kacen Callender, obviously, also Alex Gino and Adib Khorram. I loved This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer, Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow, Thanks a Lot Universe by Chad Lucas, Between Perfect & Real by Ray Stoeve, Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian, The Remarkable Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake, Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell, The Insiders by Mark Oshiro, Runebinder by Alex Kahler, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Camp by L.C. Rosen, and argh I’m going to have to make myself stop!
Oh! One big resource I want to recommend is LGBTQreads.com, run by the fabulous Dahlia Adler who also makes sure LGBTQ+ books get plenty of love on Buzzfeed. She’s curated a stunning and incredibly searchable list of books that encompass the whole spectrum of our community, and it’s always growing as our options on the shelf grow. Dahlia is a total champion, and so is her site. And of course so is Geeks Out! All the very biggest thanks for having me today! It’s been a dream!
Header Photo Credit Joshua Huston