Interview with Tiffany Trent – Part 2

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

Part 1

Part 3


Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 7:14 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Interview with Tiffany Trent – Part 1

This week, we are talking with Tiffany Trent, author of the new steampunk novel, THE UNNATURALISTS. I first heard about Tiffany from a mutual friend who said “Hey, I have this friend who is into steampunk, too, and she just wrote a book!”

At first, I thought it was her first book but quickly found out that Tiffany is an established author with several books behind her and more coming up. She also has three Master’s degrees, which I thought was very impressive!

Her website and “About the Author” information say:

Hailed by New York Times bestselling author David Farland as “one of the best dark fantasy writers of our time,” Tiffany Trent is the author of the young adult HALLOWMERE series.  In the Serpent’s Coils, the first book in the series was named a BookSense (IndieBound) Children’s Pick for Autumn 2007 and a New York Public Library Book of the Teen Age 2008.  Tiffany won the 2008 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant for a novel on Charles Darwin, which she researched in London last fall. Her new book THE UNNATURALISTS is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  Prior to writing full-time and working seasonally as a historical interpreter, she taught English at Virginia Tech for six years.

When not writing or reading or knitting (her latest addiction), she chases wolves and bears with her wildlife biologist husband in the Alligator River Refuge in North Carolina.



Airship Ambassador: Welcome, Tiffany! Thank you so much for joining us for this interview! I apologize in advance for having so many questions for you. As I kept thinking about what you’ve accomplished so far and what is coming up, more questions kept coming to mind. You are the author of the young adult dark fantasy HALLOWMERE series. How did that come about, where did the ideas come from?


Tiffany Trent: A long time ago in a galaxy far away…Ahem.  (Sorry, I had to do it some time!)  The way HALLOWMERE came about was pretty unusual, to say the least.  I had long wanted to do a novelization of the Marsh King’s Daughter fairytale and had even tried setting it in the modern Everglades (which didn’t work).  It just so happened that my crit partner in grad school had met an editor who was looking for a new author to help launch a young adult dark fantasy series as part of a new young adult imprint at Wizards of the Coast.  We got in touch, and I submitted the winning proposal for a 10-book fantasy series.


AA: How are young adult stories different from an adult story? What were the factors or guidelines that you had to keep in mind?

TT: I feel that young adult stories have a very different sensibility than an adult story, not just in content but also in execution.  The story has to hook the reader from the first line and keep them hooked; there’s no room to meander in YA.  The good thing about it is that pretty much anything is fair game for YA; it’s all in how you treat the subject matter and how you seek to connect with your readers.

AA: Aside from an entertaining read, what else would you like your readers to take away from each story?

TT: There are very specific things that I find fascinating. One is our response to our environment—natural or artificial. I think I’m asking readers to take away or develop a sensibility to the world and people around them, to be engaged.  It’s so easy to be numb and apathetic these days. I also like to think about how nature and myth intertwine, and the ways these things affect us, especially in this age of rationality and science. If the place we come from is the ground of our being, how do we carry that with us?

AA: How has it been co-writing some of the more recent books? How does that process work to brainstorm ideas and then weave together a storyline with a consistent style?

TT: Co-writing was really good practice.  I had developed the basic storyline, but each author we invited had his or her own spin on that storyline.  I worked to mesh their vision with mine, which was sometimes difficult. But it was very rewarding.

AA: What’s coming up next for Hallowmere?

TT: Sadly, HALLOWMERE was canceled after Book 6. However, I was recently able to get permission to write a story set in the world of Hallowmere for the charity anthology I’m editing for Gulf Coast oil spill relief called BREAKING WAVES.  If fans want to find out about the origins of the mysterious Captain in Hallowmere, this anthology is where the answer will be revealed!

AA: Speaking of BREAKING WAVES, it’s an anthology about the Gulf Coast oil spill relief efforts that was just released by Book View Café, where all proceeds will go to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Relief Fund. How did you get involved with this project as Editor-in-Chief and what kinds of stories will be included?

TT: BREAKING WAVES came about because I just couldn’t stand to sit by and do nothing after the tragic Deep Water Horizon oil spill.  But I also couldn’t run down to the Gulf and pitch in to help.  It seemed like the best way to fight oil was with ink.  So, I asked a bunch of authors in various collectives if they’d be willing to donate work to an e-book anthology, with all proceeds going to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund.  I was very fortunate to have authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, David Levine, Sarah Monette, and nature writer David Gessner to contribute, among others.  We’ve a stellar crew of writers for this, contributing poetry, essays, and short stories, so I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to raise some funds to help people combat a tragedy that will probably haunt the Gulf for decades to come.


AA: You have been invited to contribute a short story to a new steampunk young adult anthology, CORSETS & CLOCKWORK. What can you tell us about the anthology and your work in it?

TT: This anthology will be edited by Trisha Telep and published in the US by Running Press and the UK by Constable and Robinson.  I’m not sure of the publication date, but keep an eye out for it.  Some other authors who will be contributing are Caitlin Kittredge, Jackie Dolamore, and Tessa Gratton.

My story will be a prequel to THE UNNATURALISTS, and will explore events leading to my main character’s birth.

AA: I know some professional authors write a synopsis and sample chapter for submission to a publisher and others write the book first then find a publisher. What was your high level process from idea to publication? Has it changed from your first Hallowmere story to today?

TT: I went a different route than most by being invited to submit a proposal for my first books. This time around, I wrote the novel on-spec and had my agent shop it around to find the perfect publishing match. I realized the other day that though I’ve written/co-written six books, I’ve never actually gone through the traditional commercial publishing process—querying, getting an agent, letting the agent shop the book around, etc.–until now. I definitely think it’s best to have an agent. I know a lot of people, myself included, are eager to just be published and get going already, but impatience can be the greatest hazard to a lasting career.

AA: What was your actual writing process – environment/space, outlines, word count goals, etc.?

TT: I think I’m still learning the best process for me.  For HALLOWMERE, I had to work from an outline, which sometimes felt mechanical.  For THE UNNATURALISTS, I basically went wherever the story wanted to go and then worked to trim the crazy hedge that resulted into a recognizable shape.  After the first round of submissions, I realized I’d need to make drastic changes, and so I did a lot of drafting, outlining, re-wiring…It was pretty intense.  Lately, I’ve been trying a new technique where I write whatever scenes come to me and assemble them after the fact, rather than forcing myself to write chronologically.  I’ve always been a scene writer, and accepting that scenes often come to me out of order and that I don’t necessarily have to wait for them to happen has been really freeing.

AA: How did previous experiences prepare and lead you to write a book?

TT: I think every experience prepares a potential author to write a book.  It’s all in the way you observe and how you use those observations.

AA: What are the qualities a person needs to be a successful writer and author?

TT: I think persistence and toughness are two very important qualities.  Notice I said nothing about talent.  I think talent is a bonus, but it can also cause trouble if your head and heart aren’t in the right place.  You must be able to persist indefinitely, even when no one is petting you on the head and telling you what a genius you are.  You must also have the toughness to deal with rejection after rejection, not just of your manuscripts but socially and emotionally.  I think it’s important to know what you want and learn how to get it and what you need to get it as quickly as possible.

AA: While rejection is one of those constant obstacles in writing, and in life in general, what are some other challenges of writing a book?

TT: I think the biggest challenge for me is holding everything together and making all the little things pay off really well in the end for the reader.  As a reader, I always want a twist or something delightfully new at the end that seems like it was there all along, some buried secret.  Pulling that off can be really hard.

AA: What are the rewards of writing, what do you look forward to?

TT: The biggest reward for me has been meeting my readers.  I’ve met so many amazing teens and pre-teens over the past few years, and it really gives me hope.  They’ve been so smart, so energetic, so filled with love of books and learning.  It’s wonderful to have such a positive connection after so many long hours alone at the laptop.

End of Part One

Join us again for Part Two of our interview with Tiffany Trent,, author of the new steampunk novel, THE UNNATURALISTS.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

Part 3


Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 8:16 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

Announcements at Airship Ambassador

Hi everyone, just a few quick announcements before the next regular Sunday posting.

I’ve launched a new website to complement this blog:

There is an event page listing conventions, local groups and single day events, and a resources page listing websites, blogs, and forums.

There’s also a growing reading list as well as ones for movies and music groups.

The home page lists recent steampunk related news items.

If  you would like your group to be listed or suggest a link as a steampunk resource, please email

VCON35 is a general science fiction convention and this year it has a steampunk theme. I will be attending this year as part of the group representing Steamcon. If you are there, too, please say Hi and I’ll have an Airship Ambassador badge ribbon for you.

There are a number of conventions coming up for the rest of the year,  and while I wish that I could attend them all, real life limitations intervene and I’ll only be able to make it to Steamcon. It’s going to be another fantastic gala event that’s so big it is spread across two neighboring hotels.

Thanks for reading and your continued support and feedback!

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment