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.
Taleen spoke with us about writing her debut Sorry Bro; role-playing bravery through her main character; and portraying the reality of being Armenian-American—in all its humor, happiness, generational trauma, and sorrow.
How did you first become interested in writing? What draws you to writing romance in particular?
I’ve always been writing, which for me is since I was five. I knew I had to do it. I had to make sense of my thoughts, put down the stories swirling around in my head. The last several years, when I write it’s because there’s some burning topic that I want to explore more deeply, and sometimes I’ll draw it out in a nonfiction essay and sometimes in fiction.
I found out about the joy of romance novels much later in life, but before that, I’ve always been drawn to romantic subplots in movies and books. As a child I used to daydream about fantastically romantic scenes and scenarios (rose covered balconies and so much yearning). In fact, I won a swim team gag award for “most boy crushes” (little did they know I also had the most girl crushes). I loved love. Makes a lot of sense given my history that now I adore writing romances.
Sorry, Bro follows Armenian-American Nar as she attends a month-long Armenian festival in San Francisco and, unexpectedly, falls in love with the fascinating and gorgeous Erebuni. While their romance makes Nar feel understood and see the beauty of the women’s shared culture, it also challenges Nar (who isn’t out as bisexual) to be brave enough to really be herself. What sparked the idea for this story?
Nar’s journey parallels mine in a lot of ways, especially her taking the time to discover the beauty in her culture. My Armenianness has always been a big part of me but there were so many years when I just wanted to be a white blonde girl (no doubt from seeing heroine after heroine fitting this mold). I wanted to explore this part of Nar and show how this evolution could occur.
Also, I am the least brave person ever so I wanted to roleplay bravery through Nar, especially her coming out. Dreaming up Erebuni to take her on that journey was a ton of fun. I took core personality elements from my spouse and put them into her, and created someone wholly unique who I hope readers adore.
Sorry, Bro is a warm and fun romantic comedy that also explores difficult topics like internalized and externalized homophobia, grief, cultural identity and the immigrant diaspora experience, and family expectations. How did you strike a balance that felt right for the story you wanted to tell?
I’m not sure how well I succeeded but I knew I had to include heavier elements in this story. Tragedy is so deeply rooted in Armenian identity that I couldn’t not mention the Armenian Genocide, among the other realities of being an Armenian-American. It’s just who we are (even among our joy) so I wanted to paint as realistic a portrait as possible. The humor and happiness hold hands with our generational trauma and sorrow.
Was there any aspect of the story, as you wrote it, that surprised you?
This book was the most fun I ever had writing—it was as if all of this was dying to flow out of me after holding it in so long. It was my first time really writing about the Armenian-American experience. I was surprised by how easily (still wasn’t easy, I want to stress, but easier than previous books) words could appear when I was enjoying writing about this world I wanted to tell everyone about. I think with this book I finally felt: “I am dying to tell you this”. It felt essential to write.
What are you proudest of within the book?
What makes me proudest is when I hear other Armenians deeply relating to it. When I saw my Armenian cultural editor Amy Kazandjian’s all-caps comments to the Armenian representation in the book, when I heard my audiobook narrator had to hold back tears while reading, when my sister said this is the funniest book she’s ever read—that’s when I feel like I’ve succeeded. If no one else likes it, it doesn’t matter, I’ve helped some Armenians feel seen.
Was there anything you read, listened to, or watched while working on Sorry, Bro that influenced its creation?
Yes! For the proverbs, I was influenced by legendary Armenian author Nancy Kricorian who started posting Armenian proverbs on Twitter. They spoke to me and I knew I needed to include them in my book. She pointed me toward Seven Bites From a Raisin, a book of Armenian proverbs, which I used for the epigraphs in each chapter of Sorry, Bro.
I also watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire which absolutely floored me. I thought the sensuality in it was so clever and refreshing and I decided to do closed door romantic scenes because of it. I wanted to focus more on Nar’s journey in this book.
And while editing I listened to "Georgy Porgy" by Toto about 100 times on repeat. I can’t explain it. It’s not necessarily a favorite song of mine but it got me into a meditative state so I kept the Toto coming for days straight.
What are you currently reading? Are there any upcoming books that you are excited about?
I’m reading two books right now. Just finishing Meryl Wilsner’s Mistakes Were Made and holy moly it is so steamy and so much fun. An instant favorite. I’m simultaneously reading Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Well, That Was Unexpected, which is as usual so hilarious I find myself laughing out loud every other page. Also, spoiler alert, but I was so happily surprised that there was a side sapphic romance plotline!
I’m looking forward to so, so many books. Here are a few: Courtney Kae’s follow up queer romance In the Case of Heartbreak, which is in my inbox! So lucky. Looking forward to Sarah Adler’s women’s fiction book Mrs. Nash’s Ashes which has a sapphic side plot. And definitely The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest which sounds like an introvert bookie’s dream!