Welcome back for Part Two our interview with Tiffany Trent,, author of the new steampunk novel, THE UNNATURALISTS.
Part One can be read here.
AA: Welcome back, Tiffany. Continuing our discussion about the writing process, do you talk with other authors to trade ideas, get feedback and look to for support?
TT: Yes. Without other authors to support me, I don’t know how I’d get along, honestly.
AA: What advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to become an author?
TT: Try not to let your expectations overshadow your reality. That is, it’s good to work and hope for all the wonderful things that might come to you as a result of your writing, but don’t expect them. If you expect to be an NYT bestseller right out of the gate, you might be sorely disappointed. The thing to always keep hold of is why you’re writing in the first place. Is it for fame and fortune? Or for other reasons?
AA: Tell us about getting the publishing deal. What was your process to achieve that, who did you talk with, how many publishers did you approach, etc.?
TT: I started writing THE UNNATURALISTS the day after I found out HALLOWMERE had been canceled. I’d been toying with another book (which I’m still toying with) that at the time just didn’t seem to be working out. I wrote THE UNNATURALISTS over the course of about nine months and then managed to get my agent with it. She then began submitting it to publishers. Eventually, we sold it to my new editor at Simon & Schuster.
AA: How excruciating was the waiting to find out?
TT: It was a year between when we first sent out the novel until it finally sold, so…um…very excruciating. I’d done a major re-write in between rounds of submission, and in the couple of weeks before the sale, I was beginning to feel a terrible certainty that the book would not sell. That was heartbreaking, because I found that I still loved it as much as I had a year ago. I hated the thought of letting it go. Luckily, I didn’t have to. J
AA: Once you heard the good news, who did you tell and how did you celebrate?
TT: I think I was in shock. But it just so happened that friends were down to visit (I live at the beach), so we all went out to dinner and toasted my agent copiously in absentia.
AA: Let’s talk about your newest book THE UNNATURALISTS specifically, now. What is the plot?
TT: The City of New London is all Tesla’s fault. If his experiment had not broken the walls between London and Fairyland, New London would not be here at all, and Fairyland would not be in jeopardy. The tear in the fabric of space and time brought things from every era of London—Vauxhall Gardens, the Tower, Nonsuch House. With it also came the belief that Science would cure all ills. Soon, the descendants of Tesla learned how to turn magical energy into power, using a substance called myth. Just as Old London relied on coal and gas, New London relies on myth. It’s in everything from lanterns to sealing wax. It powers machines. It provides heat and light.
But all of this comes at great price.
In the Museum of Unnatural History, fifteen-year-old Vespa Nyx has spent the last two years since her expulsion from Seminary learning to identify, catalog, and mount rare sylphs. When her father and his assistant Charles Waddingly hurry out on a secret collecting mission, Vespa wheedles her way along, never dreaming what her innocent impudence will set in motion. Even as the black desert of the Creeping Waste threatens New London, young Syrus Reed seeks Vespa at the behest of the mysterious Manticore. Whether they can all learn to trust each other and work together in a race against time and greed is at the heart of this steampunk adventure.
AA: How do you describe steampunk?
TT: To me, steampunk is a possible history nested within the confines of our shared steam-powered past. I think the permutations on this possible history are endless, and I definitely think steampunk provides us with a way to explore both past and future simultaneously. I find it to be an inclusive genre that invites everyone to re-imagine and reinvent, to re-purpose things that have been discarded and make of them something new and fascinating. I love the DIY spirit of steampunk; it’s such a great genre.
AA: What can you tell us about the characters?
TT: The main character, Vespa Nyx, is the daughter of the Head of the Museum of Unnatural History. She’s spent the last few years working alongside her father at the Museum identifying unnatural specimens from collecting expeditions. She’s particularly good at identifying, cataloging, and mounting small fairies for exhibition in the Museum. More than anything, she wants to be an academic like her father, but that route is forbidden her, for more reasons than one might think, as the reader will discover. She lives inside the walls of New London with her aunt and father, and is exposed to high society through her father’s connections.
Syrus Reed is a Tinker and lives outside the city walls in the derelict trainyard. His people are descended from nomads who were welcomed into Fairyland by its rightful denizens. They still remember the old customs and traditions, though they’ve been forced to become thieves and beggars to support themselves. He’s charged with a monumental task by the Manticore, one of the last Great Elementals in the Forest.
There are many other characters I love—Bayne Grimgorn (a young noble who provides quite the romantic conundrum for intellectual Vespa), Lucy Virulen (an affluent young lady who blackmails Vespa to be her Companion), and Her Most Scientific Majesty, Empress Johanna (who hides a terrible secret beneath her Tower).
AA: How much of ‘you’ is in each character?
TT: That’s really hard to say. I think it’s not so much “me” as my experiences, if that makes sense. For instance, the Tinkers in this book are heavily based on my experiences living in the Sichuan highlands of China with the Baima people, an ethnic Tibetan tribe. The Tinkers wear clothes very similar to the clothes the Baima wear. I have such great respect for these people and the gifts they gave me that I wanted to give them the gift of a story in return.
Vespa is like me in that she’s stubborn, rash, and very interested in science, but I think the similarities end there, really. To me, the best way to create a character is to give them a little seed of something from you and then let the rest grow however it wants to.
AA: As the story evolved, what were your thoughts when creating this steampunk world?
TT: I wanted to use some of the premises I love about steampunk—science, engines, airships, and derring-do—but tried to make the world its own unique place. Thus, we have everlanterns that always stay lit and neverdoors that never open. I wanted to think about how magic and science might collide, about a world where magic *is* science. I also love playing with the notion of what a character does when she finds out her world is not as she was led to believe. Does she try to change it? Or does she just give in to the status quo?
AA: That’s a great scenario for young adults (and older adults) who are learning more about the world around them every day and have to decide what they are going to do in response to that new knowledge and their view of the world.What kind of research did you have to do?
TT: I researched a lot about the Baroque era, because really this world is a Baroque/Victorian mashup. So I did a lot of looking at clothes and fashion of the Baroque era, since I was less familiar with it than I was with Victoriana. I also researched my beloved Victorian naturalists and thought a lot about how they would respond if they were thrust into a world where magic and mythical creatures were real.
AA: That reminds me of the Abney Park song, All the Myths are True. What is one of your favorite scenes?
TT: I built this book specifically to host all my favorite visuals of a steampunk world. Perhaps my favorite scene is when Vespa breaks into the Empress’s Cabinet of Curiosities and discovers that there is much more there than she could have imagined.
End of Part Two
Join us again for Part Three of our interview with Tiffany Trent, author of the new steampunk novel, THE UNNATURALISTS.
Click here to read the rest of the interview