Grad profile

Tanya Boteju

“I didn’t know where I was supposed to go after I’d finished my manuscript. The Writer’s Studio takes you through all that.”

Vancouver author Tanya Boteju is living the dream. Just months after completing the Writer’s Studio Online program in 2018, a major publisher snapped up her debut young adult novel. “I try not to share this too much because I realize it isn’t typical,” she says. “I’m really lucky.”

Not bad for a high school teacher who didn’t even start writing “seriously” until five years ago. “I did a little bit of poetry and short stories here and there, but nothing that I was putting out into the world,” says Tanya. “But I had this sense that I had a novel in me. I knew if I was going to write a book, it would have something to do with the drag scene.”

That book became Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, the story of a queer teen who stumbles into the world of drag and unexpectedly finds a sense of belonging. Tanya drew the setting from her own experience performing as a drag king in her twenties. “Nightlife is not so much part of my life anymore,” she laughs.

Published by Simon and Schuster in 2019, the novel has now received high praise from the likes of the American Booksellers Association, Barnes & Noble and Ms. Magazine. Yet when Tanya began writing Kings, she found herself struggling to finish it.

“It’s too hard to try to generate that energy at the end of a school day to sit down and write,” she explains. “I knew if I wanted to finish it anytime soon, or be able to write consistently, I’d need some sort of structure. And I needed motivation.”

She’d heard about the Writer’s Studio from friends who’d been through the program, and she chose the online version to accommodate her full-time teaching schedule. “Online wouldn’t have been my first choice,” Tanya concedes, “but I ended up loving it.”

Not only did she save time by not having to commute to class, but she was able to study and write on her own schedule and still participate in live online workshops with her classmates. “They really didn’t feel any different from workshops I’ve done in person.”

For Tanya, the highlight of the program was her mentor, prolific YA author Eileen Cook: “Her expertise, her wisdom, and her generosity in giving me her time and knowledge, have all been invaluable. Even after the program was done, she helped walk me through things when I got stuck.”

 

Photos by Greg Ehlers.

Tanya also appreciated the program’s lessons on the business side of publishing, from the process of writing query letters to finding a publisher and agent. “I didn’t know where I was supposed to go after I’d finished my manuscript. The Writer’s Studio takes you through all that—and it worked for me, of course!”

With one novel under her belt, Tanya is now at work on the second in her contract, set for publication in 2021. Although she never originally planned to write for young adults, she says she simply “fell into it,” finding inspiration in her own admittedly awkward and insecure teen years, as well as her experiences as a teacher.

“Writing Kings partly came out of working with young adults and seeing so many kids who feel out of the norm in so many ways. I try to use my writing to create spaces for kids to feel more accepted, and to know that it’s okay to be a little weird—in fact, it’s a good thing.”

Given the enthusiastic reception to her work, it’s clear that Tanya has struck a chord. “The kids I’ve met at my book events have been great,” she says. “Often they’re young writers and queer kids who saw themselves in the book. I’ve had some beautiful emails, and that’s exactly the response you want from the people you’re writing for.”

“I didn’t know where I was supposed to go after I’d finished my manuscript. The Writer’s Studio takes you through all that.”