Interview with Tobias Madden | Author, Editor and Publisher of Underdog
Interview with Tobias Madden | Author, Editor and Publisher of Underdog
Originally from Ballarat, Tobias Madden studied performance and then sailed around the world. He worked as a performer for 10 years and toured Australia and New Zealand with Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain, Guys and Dolls, CATS, Loving Repeating, Pippin, Oklahoma! and Hollywood Honktonk. He now lives in Sydney with his soon-to-be husband. In recent times, he has rediscovered a passion for writing and started publishing. He submitted a short story for Seasons of Discontent and edited and wrote for WOLVES, both Needle in the Hay productions. Tobias is the editor of Underdog: #LoveOzYa Short Stories (which includes a foreword from Fleur Ferris, author of Risk). and he also has a short story called Variation in it. Underdog is Tobias’ first commercial story. You can find Underdog in most online and physical bookstores and libraries. Underdog is a book for previously unpublished Australian YA authors to show a diverse and dynamic culture. There is queer romance, dystopian comedy and other such stories in Underdogs. He is currently reading Four Dead Queens and Growing up Aboriginal in Australia.
bookwithbane: Before we begin, I heard that you got engaged, congrats! Do you guys have a set date for the wedding?
Tobias Madden: Thank you! I’m getting married in May—so soon! It’s all getting very exciting. I can’t wait to be a husband 🙂
bw/b: Good luck with your wedding! Now, have you ever googled yourself?
TM: I have, actually! I spent most of my life as a performer (a job where public image is very important), so I’ve checked from time to time, just to see what’s out there!
bw/b: Anything particularly notable to mention?
TM: Nothing life-changing haha! Just a few random videos of me performing.
bw/b: I’ll have to have a look-see after this interview :P. Before you started publishing, what other jobs did you hold and what did they entail? Have any horror/funny stories from the front desk?
TM: I’ve had so many jobs over the years. Working in music theatre meant I had to take lots of random casual jobs to fill in the gaps between shows. My jobs to date include deli boy, retail assistant, waiter, dance teacher, promo worker, event host, crash-test dummy (don’t ask), caterer, school holiday activity supervisor, office worker, babysitter, and many, many more.
Horror stories? Well, working as a waiter in a busy Melbourne cafe certainly showed me just how rude people can be when they haven’t had their morning coffee!
bw/b: Woah sounds busy! It is amazing how rude people can be to people just doing their jobs. Moving along, how do you feel when you suddenly go from the amazing high you get from performing to dreary banal reality?
TM: It was always pretty humbling to go from performing for 2000 people one day to working a random casual job the next. It’s interesting/alarming how differently people treat you based on your job.
bw/b: Kind of like Clark Kent double life, huh? What do you think of InsideADog? Is this the first interview you’ve had that’s been conducted by someone under eighteen?
TM: This is the first teen interview I’ve done, and I have to say, I’m absolutely thrilled! As a young adult fiction writer, connecting with teen readers like yourself is kind of the dream.
I love InsideADog. I think it’s such a great initiative. Not only does it promote teen literacy, but it’s also become a beautiful community where teens can really embrace their bookish side!
bw/b: I’m honoured to be your first teen interviewer. Actually you’re the second author that I’ve interviewed, ever! IaD has certainly changed my perspective on all things literature. Now, about the interview process. How long does the interview process usually take? Is it boring? What are your do’s and don’ts for interviewing authors?
TM: Honestly, I haven’t been interviewed all that much yet! And I definitely don’t find it boring; it’s an honour when someone wants to hear from you, especially when it’s about your writing.
Dos and don’ts? Hmm… not really. Just don’t ask spoiler questions in front of a crowd of people that haven’t read the author’s book. (This happened to the beautiful Jennifer Niven in Melbourne a couple of years ago at an event I was attending. Luckily, I’d already read the book!)
bw/b: That’s surprising, I would think that you’d be drowning in requests! No spoilers dropped in this interview! We’ve heard that you’ve previously edited and written for the WOLVES anthology. How did you join WOLVES? How long did it take?
TM: The WOLVES anthology came about through an awesome Australian-run short story competition website called Needle in the Hay. WOLVES is made up of the shortlisted stories from one particular competition I’d entered. When I heard the shortlist was being turned into an anthology, I volunteered to edit it. It was such a great learning experience! The whole thing was on a much smaller scale than Underdog, and it was a much shorter process. It probably took about six months (compared to a year and a half for Underdog).
bw/b: That’s amazing (and time consuming)! Any other writing competitions you’ve entered over the years?
TM: When I first got back into writing in 2015, I entered lots of short story competitions. I really liked having the competition ‘prompts’ to work from, as I found they inspired new ideas and forced me to challenge myself. I also loved working towards the submission deadlines. I didn’t win anything, but I formed some great writing habits and practised a lot.
bw/b: How did you get the idea of Underdog? Did anyone help you along the way?
TM: I first had the idea for Underdog when I was living in Melbourne in 2017. I was working on my first ever manuscript, and I wanted to immerse myself in the world of YA fiction. I attended every single YA event, panel, conference, and launch I could find, and at every event, the host would ask how many writers were in the audience. Every single time, almost every hand shot straight up into the air. It really got me thinking about all the stories that never get told, the voices that never get heard. I’d just read Begin, End, Begin, edited by Danielle Binks, and I suddenly had this idea to create a similar #LoveOzYA anthology exclusively for unpublished YA writers, to help them get their work out there into the world.
I had a lot of help along the way. My Underdog team—Brylie, Monique and Sarah—helped out so much at the start, especially with reading all of the submissions, and there were countless people who shared their knowledge and experience with me along the way. We also have a wonderful partnership with Black Inc. Books, our distributor. The team there are amazing at their jobs and were so supportive throughout the publication process.
Looking back on how it all started, I honestly can’t believe Underdog is now sitting on the shelves of book stores and libraries all around the country. It’s totally surreal. I’m just so, so grateful.
bw/b: I guess you can never do your best without some help! How did you promote Underdog?
To start with, I made a website, followed by ‘official’ Facebook and Instagram pages. For the most part, we relied on social media to promote the project, primarily Instagram. We also had some wonderful support from writing associations around Australia, as well as book bloggers and the official #LoveOzYA page.
bw/b: That’s a lot of platforms to spread yourself across. You have a foreword by Fleur Ferris in Underdog, how do you know her? What do you think of her as a writer?
I didn’t know Fleur personally when I asked her to write the foreword for Underdog. I’ve met her since, and she is absolutely delightful. She is such a talented writer and I knew how much Australian teens connected with her work, so I thought she’d be the perfect person to write our foreword.
I love Fleur’s writing. Her first novel, Risk, made me cry SO MUCH. She really knows how to tap into a teenager’s thought processes, and her pacing is spot-on.
bw/b: Fleur Ferris certainly is an amazing writer. Did you base Variation on your own life? Did you ever have your own Kyle?
TM: Variation is based on parts of my high school life, which I then exaggerated and dramatised (a lot). The protagonist’s feelings are largely my own from when I was a teenager, but the plot is entirely fictional. There was a ‘Kyle’ in my life, but in a very different sense to that shown in Variation.
bw/b: Well I hope the worst parts in the stories have been exaggerated. How many drafts did you go through for Variation?
TM: I went through my standard drafting process with Variation, which involves a horrible rough draft, a ‘pre-first’ draft, a first draft, a revised draft, and a final draft. All the stories in Underdog went through a stringent editing process after they’d been selected, so I then went through three more drafts of Variation before it went to print. So… a lot of drafts.
bw/b: Yikes. I used to write the finished version, WITHOUT DRAFTS. What did your plotting look like for Variation?
TM: I actually plotted a lot less than I usually do (I’m usually a full spreadsheet kind of guy haha). The plot for Variation came to me quite easily, and I got into a nice rhythm when I was writing my rough draft, so there weren’t that many notes at all. The structure of the story evolved while I was writing, and I decided to intersperse the present-tense action with flashbacks to show Andy’s journey to that particular moment in his life.
bw/b: Sometimes we all need to do a little less plotting so we don’t stress too much. What would Variation look like from Kyle’s perspective?
TM: Variation would be very different from Kyle’s perspective. I think we get a good dose of his thoughts on certain things in the story’s current form, but I’d love to experience the events through his carefree, confident eyes. Perspective is everything, and something that seems terrifying to one person can be exciting or enjoyable to another.
bw/b: The world would be a different place with more perspective. Are you planning on releasing another anthology, or book?
TM: I would love to build on the momentum of Underdog and continue to support emerging writers, but I’m not exactly sure how I would like to do that just yet. Once I’ve processed the whole Underdog experience, I’ll get to work on what’s next!
Since Underdog was released, I’ve been working on a couple of my own manuscripts, and it’s been really lovely to have time for my own writing again.
bw/b: I look forward to reading them (if they do get published). Do you believe in writer’s block and if so what do you do to remedy it?
TM: I believe in writer’s block, but I haven’t had it (yet). I’ve definitely had times when I couldn’t make things sound the way I wanted them to, or when I’ve found enormous plot holes that made me want to throw my laptop out the window, but never a complete block. When I have a writing problem to solve, I usually go for a walk outside or have a bit of dance in the lounge room. Sometimes singing really helps too, or even (dare I say it) doing the dishes. But that’s just me!
bw/b: Singing some songs certainly helps me too! What’s your writing kryptonite?
TM: As in, what do I find the most difficult? Well, I’m usually very good with spelling and grammar, but I still have to double check whether I’ve used the right lay/lie/lain/laid/lying/laying/etc. almost every time.
bw/b: I hate having to check if I’ve used the correct version! Does writing energize, or exhaust you?
TM: Both (at different times). Sometimes it’s exhilarating (usually when you’re on a roll and the words are just flowing from your fingers and you feel like the best writer in the world) but other times it can be hard work. Writing—especially writing something novel length—is HARD. Like, really hard. And sometimes it feels impossible. But most of the time it’s just really, really fun.
bw/b: I’ve personally been in the red zone more than once. What’s your writing process? Do you have any writing rituals you do before hand? How do you get yourself into the writing mind-set?
TM: As I already mentioned, I’m a big plotter, and plotting is my favourite part of the writing process. I spend a long time perfecting my plot and drawing maps and diagrams and floor plans before I write a single word. And don’t get me wrong, the plot always unravels a bit once I get going, but I just really enjoy the process of crafting the story beforehand.
In terms of rituals, I always write with a cup of tea or coffee. Often they go cold when I get too deep into my writing, but I just can’t get started without making a hot drink first! I love writing at my desk at home, but I also love writing in cafes and in parks. A change of scenery is always good for the brain!
bw/b: Sounds cozy! Do you write with, or without music?
TM: Both—depending on my mood—but only instrumental. I can’t think when there are lyrics floating around in my head (probably because it makes me want to sing!).
bw/b: I understand completely. How does a normal day go for you?
TM: A normal day involves scrambled eggs for breakfast, reading on the bus on my way to work—I have three jobs: dance teacher, massage therapist and office worker—an afternoon coffee, a swim or yoga after work, hanging out with my fiancé for dinner, and then doing some writing! (I’m lucky if I can actually fit all of that into a day, but that’s the goal.)
bw/b: That’s a packed schedule. I hope you take some me-time for yourself. Do you have an unpopular opinion about books?
TM: There are a few books that I absolutely can’t STAND, that literally everyone else in the world seems to love. I don’t want to say what they are, because I’d hate to turn anyone away from a particular book that they might love. It always intrigues me how different opinions can be!
bw/b: That’s really considerate of you! What do you think about diverse representation in literature?
TM: IT’S SO IMPORTANT. #OwnVoices novels, especially in young adult fiction, are vital. As writers and publishers, I think it’s so important that we try to create a space for marginalised people to tell their own stories, rather than the having rest of us tick off a checklist of diverse characters in stories that don’t honour their experiences. Having said that, I also think it’s really important that all writers look outside their own experiences as much as possible, and that our work represents the world as it really is—diverse and colourful and wonderful.
In practice, it’s actually a little more complicated than it seems, and I know a lot of writers (especially those who don’t identify as ‘diverse’ in any way) struggle internally with how best to handle diverse representation in their work.
bw/b: It’s definitely challenging. How do you think books can change the world?
TM: I think books can change the world by opening people’s minds to different perspectives. The world lacks a lot of empathy, and I think books are the answer to that. If you could really put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’d never be able to hate.
bw/b: Books change my perspective with every word. What was your first writing piece?
TM: The first thing I remember writing (which I still have on my bookshelf) was a book called The Unicorn’s Journal. It was this beautiful picture book my Nan bought me for Christmas one year that had a blank page next to each picture, so you got to write your own story. I was only four at the time, so my spelling is questionable, and the plot leaves a little to be desired, but it’s still super cute.
bw/b: Adorable! What do you think is unethical for a writer to do?
TM: Umm… Probably the same things that are unethical for everyone. Lying, stealing, cheating. I also think writers really need to do their best to support each other. Like any creative industry, it can be hard to avoid feeling jealous of other people’s successes, but the more we help each other, the more we’ll all succeed!
bw/b: I feel that you have to be nice and kind to make it as a YA author. How important do you think connections are in the industry?
TM: Well, I’ve only got half a foot in the door of the industry, really, so I’m probably not the best person to ask, but connections are important in any profession. Having said that, where writing is concerned, I think it’s more helpful to think of it as becoming part of a community, rather than making forced and often insincere connections.
bw/b: The writing/blogging/reading community is very tightknit! Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
TM: I actually went through a massive period of reader’s block after I read Twilight in 2009 until I picked up Cloud Atlas in 2015. Yes, I know. Six years. How awful. It was partly because I couldn’t find anything I liked, and partly because I was travelling around the world, and I was so focused on performing that I didn’t have the time or energy to read. But Cloud Atlas is one of my all-time favourite books, so it really got me hooked again!
bw/b: That sucks! Do you think reading and writing makes a person more empathetic?
TM: Definitely. I think any kind of storytelling (whether you’re the one telling or listening) makes a person more empathetic. And this isn’t limited to books, either. This includes TV, movies, podcasts, chats with friends, everything. The more we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes, the better. Everyone has a story to tell—I firmly believe that. And I believe someone should hear it, whether that’s a friend, a family member, a few strangers reading a blog, a bunch of people in a cinema, or millions of readers around the world.
bw/b: Empathy is something we need more of in this world. How welcome has the writing community been to you?
TM: Incredibly welcoming. The industry in Australia is very small, and people are so willing to help. Underdog certainly wouldn’t have made it this far without the support and encouragement of the whole #LoveOzYA community.
bw/b: I feel the same. I attended my first few events last year and everyone was so welcoming! Do you write characters of the opposite sex and if so, do you find it challenging?
TM: I do! I love writing female characters. Growing up, all of my friends were girls, so I actually find it pretty easy to get into a female character’s head. I really enjoy writing strong-willed, intelligent female characters that represent not only the women and girls I know but those I look up to. (Interestingly, my idols all happen to be female.)
bw/b: Thank you so much for answering my questions. That’ll conclude this interview
TM: Thanks so much for your questions, I had a lot of fun answering them.
I really recommend Underdog to you all! You can find Underdog at underdogshortstories.com and please do follow @underdogshortstories on Insta.
Yours with the literary revelations,
Update 6:23PM 9/04/19: Many thanks to Tobias Madden for sharing this post. Viewers, if you are between the ages of 12-18, sign up for an account and those over eighteen may enjoy my blog anonymously! I appreciate every heart and I am happy to field questions. Stay tuned for my next post!