Taleen Voskuni is an Armenian-American writer who grew up in the Bay Area diaspora surrounded by a rich Armenian community and her ebullient, loving family. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in English and currently lives in San Francisco, working in tech. Other than a newfound obsession with writing romcoms, she spends her free time cultivating her kids, her garden, and her dark chocolate addiction. Sorry, Bro is her first published novel.
I had the opportunity to interview Taleen, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’m Taleen Voskuni, an Armenian-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been writing all my life but only buckled down and tried to unlearn all that I thought I knew about six years ago. It eventually worked out! I’ve got two young kids that keep me busy and I work in tech. I’m not the mom that creates elaborate crafts, but I do tell some decent bedtime stories.
What can you tell us about your debut book, Sorry, Bro? What inspired the story?
The book is about an Armenian-American woman in the Bay Area named Nar, who gets convinced by her mom to go to this series of Armenian events to try and meet Armenian men. There’s lots of Armenian line dancing, cooking classes, and brandy tasting. But it isn’t any of the mom-approved bachelors that catch her eye, but a witchy Armenian woman instead. The two of them are pretty taken with each other right away but the issue is that Nar isn’t out as bi, and her traditional family and community don’t really seem supportive of it. And the final event is a huge banquet which her entire family is going to be attending along with her new…secret girlfriend.
In terms of inspiration, the first spark of Sorry, Bro came to me when I heard the voices of two women talking to each other. One saying something like, “can’t we have just one conversation without bringing up the Armenian Genocide?” and another woman gently and curiously correcting her. So strangely, my romantic comedy started with a conversation about this heavy topic, but it was also the dynamic between them, the forgiveness in Erebuni’s response to Nareh, that I found so compelling and wanted to explore.
Also, Nar’s journey, embracing her Armenianness sort of parallels mine where I rejected parts of my Armenianness for too long, or refused to see it and then embraced it so fully that I wrote a book about it.
Sorry, Bro is said to feature Armenian and queer representation. What does it mean to you as an author writing this type of representation in your work?
It means so much! This is an intersection that has not been fully explored in the Armenian commercial cultural canon. There has been a lot of work done by Armenian academic writers and literary and experimental artists, which I have loved and savored, but I hadn’t seen much universally accessible on the topic, so I wanted to write it. Where is our fun Armenian queer book? Now I can say: here it is!
One of my goals with Sorry, Bro is to reach a wide audience and to teach non-Armenians about who we are. To have an Armenian-American story out there, one that is joyful and has the potential to reach readers who don’t know anything about Armenian culture; that is very important to me. Armenia is under siege, and I hope that by learning about Armenians and getting a peek into our culture, more people will care and will try to do something when we call for help.
What drew you to writing, particularly romance? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?
I have been writing since I was five, and I am wondering now if part of what draws me to writing is my inability to express myself well verbally. My thoughts fly at me a mile a minute and it’s hard for me to get organized thoughts out in the moment, especially if I’m passionate about the subject. But writing? You can take your time, edit, shuffle around and organize on your own time. I think writing helps me make sense of my own life, then share my insights with others.
Long before I knew what a romance novel was, I’ve always been drawn to romantic subplots in movies and books. I was the girl in high school for whom having crushes was a hobby, maybe even a personality. I loved love. I still do!
So many writers! Jane Austen was and is a huge influence, and when I was younger, every Disney princess movie ever made. The Mummy—there’s a joke that this was a bisexual awakening for thousands of us in the ‘90s and it’s not wrong. And Clueless! What a masterclass in humor and timelessness. I love vast multi-generational epics like East of Eden, and more recently, Pachinko and Homegoing. I also love getting my heart broken, and I think the most effective heartbreak I’ve ever felt in a book was In the Woods by Tana French. I’m still not over it, seven years later.
How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?
I swear by the outline, the outline is my beacon and savior. So first I nail that down (and of course while writing, it always changes a bit, but that’s part of the fun), then begin drafting. I can usually only write in the margins of time, so on the weekdays, at lunchtime, or after the kids go to sleep. I have bi-weekly writing goals, not daily, and that really helps give me flexibility.
For inspiration, I find that showers really help! I can usually solve plot issues while in hot water. Or meditating. Sometimes I meditate for 5 – 10 minutes before writing and can write a lot more clearly.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging for you?
I used to detest scenery, and now I feel like it’s my greatest weapon, and love using it in my writing to heighten emotion in a scene. I also love writing humor, it makes writing such a pleasure, and I hope my enjoyment shines through on the page.
I find that writing realistic dialogue and making characters sound different without turning them into caricatures is tough. I still have a lot of work in this area, but I’m looking forward to learning and improving!
One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/ advice that help you finish a first draft?
This is not going to work for everyone, but I need someone to send pages to every 2 weeks. I’ve found that 15 pages every 2 weeks is a doable chunk for me, and I must have someone on the other end who I trust (who is both non-judgemental and helpful) receiving those pages. Without accountability like this, I simply will not finish.
That, and having a deadline. I’m actually thrilled that now with an editorial team, I have deadlines! I love and respect a deadline. I will move heaven and earth to meet a deadline when there is someone who is relying on me. But without that, I would endlessly draft and tweak.
This is why I love writing contests so much. PitchWars and Author Mentor Match were my first deadlines; the reason I finished my first and third novels.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
None, I’m happy with all questions asked!
Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?
That I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be published. There is nothing about this process so far that has been disappointing. Anything I get I am so thankful for. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.
And most importantly, I truly do not want to be known, but I do want to share Armenian diaspora culture with the world. Armenia is on the verge of being wiped out by its genocidal neighbors, who are scheming every day to find some way to ethnically cleanse Armenians from their indigenous lands. Literally (not figuratively!) every interview I give, there is some new horror happening in Armenia at the hands of Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey. So I would love readers to take an interest in what is happening in Armenia. Here is an on-the-ground media source that is providing accurate information: https://www.civilnet.am/en/
What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?
I feel success in writing is a combination of: (1) Constantly trying to improve (2) Putting in the actual work of writing (3) Finishing (4) Luck
Not much you can do about #4, which honestly is a huge factor, but you can control the first three!
I’ll elaborate on the first one. Approach your writing with an open eye—what can you improve? Study writers you admire and try to learn what makes them so good (I’m still working on this myself, and feel it can be a lifelong pursuit). Find writers in the same boat as you and share work. It is shocking how much editing someone else’s work will improve your own.
Then just keep trying!
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I am! I was lucky enough to get a 2-book deal with Berkley, so I am in the developmental editing stage of that book. I’m not sure if I can give away the plot yet, but I’ll say that it’s another queer Armenian romcom, this time a foodie book that takes place in Chicago. And surprise, the parents are once again heavily involved.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Yes! Here are some books that came out recently:
Meryl Wilsner’s Mistakes Were Made, or as you may have heard of it, the MILF book. Holy steaminess!
Courtney Kae’s In the Event of Love is the most delightful holiday romance, both sweet and steamy.
Dahlia Adler’s Cool For the Summer is the perfect YA bi-anthem book. I adored it!
For fans of horror, Trang Thanh Tran’s book She Is a Haunting is full of lyrical prose and one terrifying house.
Elle Gonzalez Rose’s book Caught in a Bad Fauxmance is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while.
Header Photo Credit Clouds Inside Photography