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