A law grad and higher ed professional from Oakland, Taj McCoy, is committed to writing stories championing Black and multiracial women of color, plus-sized protagonists, Black love, and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Her debut novel--a romcom featuring a plus-size heroine--SAVVY SHELDON'S FEELING GOOD AS HELL will be published by MIRA Books (Harlequin HarperCollins). When she’s not writing, she may be on Twitter boosting other marginalized writers, trying to zen out in yoga, sharing recipes on her website, or cooking private supper club meals for close friends.
What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?
Everyday life gives me tons of ideas. I always find myself in weird situations, and my agent and I joke that I’m living an unfinished romcom. I could be driving in silence and an idea hits me, or I have some random encounter at the grocery store, or I swipe through a dating site and have a funny interaction, and all of a sudden I have the premise for a story. I love to share stories and to make people feel good, so I’d say that’s my inspiration to write. Books have always been a refuge to me, so I want to create that for others.
Tell us about your book.
Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell is an adult romantic comedy about a plus-size sweetheart workaholic who goes through a bad breakup and finds love with her contractor as she renovates her kitchen and her perception of self. Along the way, you meet her hilarious, ride-or-die best friends, her family, and see how she reprioritizes her commitment to workplace success and promotion as she finds balance in other things.
Can you pitch your current project?
My second book is a love triangle. My main character is again plus-size, and she owns an indie bookstore in DC. She crushes hard on an author who comes to do a book event at her store.
Tell us about your writing journey and how you got where you are today.
My writing journey started in elementary school–I was published in a local newspaper in second grade. We’d been tasked with writing a paragraph about what we would change about our city if we had the chance, and I decided to defend the city and change nothing. In fifth grade, we wrote short stories, and mine was runner up and published in a Young Readers of America anthology.
From then on, I just knew that I was meant to be a writer. I always felt like I expressed myself better in written form, and I used stories and poetry and blogs to manage my emotions. In college, I really wanted to major in English, and I declared it initially, but I had some familial pressure to focus on something that would make me more money–business, STEM, law. So I detoured and went to law school after college, but I found myself constantly coming up with novel plots in law school. I attempted five different novels before I graduated. Once I became a higher education professional, writing was put on the back burner until a good friend told me to stop making excuses and do the thing I loved. There was no looking back after that.
What advice do you have for aspiring BIPOC creators?
Keep going and embrace growth. There are a lot of barriers in the publishing industry, but don’t let them deter you. Do your research, ask questions, make friends with others who have similar goals, find critique partners that you trust, read craft books. Sign with an agent who you aren’t afraid to ask questions of and who makes you feel like a priority. If writing is your career goal, understand that learning and growth are central to this profession–we are always in a state of revision and improvement. It can be uncomfortable to receive critique, but it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We all have things we need to work on and improve. As much as I LOVE Savvy, the writing in my next book is already better–I’m already more confident in my craft.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?
My mom is Black and Thai, and my dad is Black and Filipino. My mom was actually adopted, so I’ve always felt a disconnect to our Thai culture. Over the years, I’ve researched, I’ve planned trips that I haven’t yet been in a position to take, and I’ve connected with others of Thai descent. I feel like knowing your family history and culture teaches us about the stock that we come from–it’s something that I’d love to pass down to future children, nieces and nephews. It was important for me to give Savvy intersections of being biracial–Black and Asian–in addition to being plus-size. We have to stop thinking that every person is monolithic when the reality is that many of us come from many intersections of diversity–I’m fat, multiracial, bi, I’ve been adopted by a stepparent, I deal with anxiety and depression, the list goes on… I didn’t layer everything into one character, because as writers, we always face the feedback that the character isn’t “believable,” but these factors exist in the aggregate, and I look forward to incorporating all of these, and other parts of my experience, in future stories.
What is your writing process like?
I am a plotter of the Capricorn order. I come up with a premise, which is then stored in a project spreadsheet that I share with my agent. When I’m ready to start working on it, I draft the synopsis first–it’s where I first meet and name the characters. Then I take the synopsis and chart out the story scene by scene, tracking setting, mood, character traits and arc, playlist, and other factors. I reference the chart as I write, and if my characters or the story require us to veer off course, I update the chart accordingly. I’m sure it sounds very rigid, but there’s flexibility to adjust when needed.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Depending on how much I have going on, writing a first draft can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year. I wrote Savvy in about a year while working a full-time university administration job.
How do you deal with critiques of your work?
I am always trying to maintain a mindset of openness to learn. In doing so, I’m receptive to critique, but that doesn’t mean that I take all of it–I take the parts that resonate with me, and I leave the rest. At the end of the day, I’m looking for the critiques that helps me strengthen my manuscript to best accomplish the goals of my story. If some of the critique takes me away from my goals, that’s what I leave behind.