Saturday, December 21, 2013

Take a trip to the "New London" with Tiffany Trent! Tiffany sits down with Twinja Book Reviews!

I had the honor of reading Tiffany Trent's book on our blog a few months back. I loved it, as it was my first steampunk book with a person of color. It was one of the first books that made me actually have to courage to tweet my favorite authors. My experience with her has been fantastic! She not only wrote a book that I loved, but had a unique take on diversity in her interview!

1. I've been honored to meet you through your writing, but for those who haven't been as lucky, why don't you introduce yourself?

I’m Tiffany Trent. I write science fiction and fantasy for young adults, but I also write about science as a communications manager in my dayjob. I live with my husband and our critters in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

2. You are the author of 7 published full length novels, as well as un up-and-coming sequel to your fantastic novel "The Unnaturalists", with many short stories under your belt as well. What prompted you to be a writer in the first place? What was your journey before publication like?

I was an only child with a vivid imagination. I can’t really remember a time when I did not tell stories, write poems, or do something creative to amuse myself. But I determined that I wanted to be a writer when I was nine years old. It was a long and winding road to publication—college, graduate school, working at a museum, graduate school again, working and living in Hong Kong, teaching…all the while writing, writing, writing, until, finally, one day…I had a contract to publish a book I had written.

3. Please, please tell me what inspired the initial idea of "The Unnaturalists?"

I was thinking about a world in which magic (rather than oil or gas) is a finite natural resource. I started imagining this world and what it would be like if the Victorian naturalists, with whom I have long been fascinated, were let loose in such a world. How would they treat it? What would they do? What if people who understood the magic already lived there? This was all in the back of my mind while I was actually trying to write a book about Charles Darwin. And then, Vespa Nyx showed up and demanded that I write this book this instant. So, I put Darwin away (mostly) and did.

4. I won't beat around the bush. When I bought "The Unnaturalists" I was a bit skeptical. I'd read on Goodreads forums it featured a woman of color as the protagonist, and though that's right up the alley of Twinja Book Reviews, Im always more skeptical with white authors depicting POC. I tend to worry I'll read stereotypes and see examples of lazy writing, and I think why I connected with Vespa Nyx so much was because she was a reflection of women I know, as well as myself. Was it always a conscious decision to make Vespa Nyx a young woman with mixed race ancestry? Or did it just happen overnight after the book was complete? 

I realized fairly quickly that Vespa was passing for white, not because she wanted to, but because her family was forcing her to. In an earlier version of the book, she carried around a portrait album that Aunt Minta had given her that I knew right away was fake. That made me wonder. It was a huge revelation when I realized who her mother was and why her family was trying to hide that she was mixed race. So, the notion was there pretty early on.

I also wanted to challenge the idea that mixed race people always look a certain way. Some people accused me/my publisher of pandering to the push for diversity on covers with the model we chose, saying that Vespa is obviously white because she has auburn hair and greenish eyes. Vespa’s appearance is actually based on a Japanese friend of mine who was nearly albino. She had red hair, green eyes, freckles, and pale skin and was full Japanese! She was teased constantly by her classmates because she looked so different. I just don’t think these days we can look at anyone and make value judgments about who they are or where they come from, and I was really thankful that my publisher went the extra mile to show that on the beautiful cover they designed. 

5. As a woman, and a person of color, I don't get to see enough strong images like Vespa Nyx. She was a character who, while she had a love interest, it didn't make or break the story behind "The Unnaturalists." I've read so many books, and often characters like her are often sidekicks, or characters whom aren't allowed to carry stories on their own. Is it a fight in the publishing industry to get companies to give the thumbs up to young women in books, especially of color?

I very much hope that the tide is turning in terms of giving strong young women of color a place in young adult fiction—both as characters and as writers. It is still hard to write about a female character, though, whose love interest is secondary to her desire to do something different, be someone more. I’d love to see more books encouraging young women to be more than their romantic interests. Romance is of course wonderful and important, but there’s so much more out there, and relationships can be so much more complex and interesting than they’re generally depicted.

6. I've highlighted Vespa, but I should get to what impressed me more than a strong female heroine. A STRONG ASIAN MALE ONE. I've read in the back of your book, what inspired the "Tinkers" racial makeup. So Im assuming in our world, Syrus Reed would be Asian. There are so few positive images depicting Asian men in any forms of media. While I have no Chinese ancestry( obviously XD) I connected so much to not only Vespa, but Syrus as well. What inspired Syrus? Was he depicted of anyone you'd met specifically? Is Syrus the Tinker King ;p ? 

Syrus was inspired by a Baima lad I met when I lived in Sichuan province. We called him Soldier Boy because he’d just returned to his people after serving in the Red Guard, and as is the custom of his people, he sang songs that were meant to be gifts to us every night around the fire. We couldn’t speak to one another through the language barrier, but he left a deep impression. (Notice how I am not answering that last question. ;-))

7. The journey for any author is extremely difficult, so no experience is any less than another's. But do you find that the publishing industry as a whole, grants different opportunities for authors whom are not people of color writing about the same things authors of color try to display in their writing? 

I don’t want to speak for PoC experience in this arena, because I can’t possibly understand what that’s like, but I do think I can speak as a woman and say that it is still often very difficult for women in the publishing industry for a multitude of reasons. While there are lots of supportive grants for women and people of color, it’s still an uphill battle.

8. Im sure you get sick of this question, but it's just too fun to not to ask. If "The Unnaturalists" had the option of becoming a television series or full motion picture, who would play the cast of the five major characters? 

Do you know, I’ve never really thought about this? I’ve always hoped that The Unnaturalists would be animated by Hiyao Miyazaki and his company Studio Ghibli. Beyond that, I’ve not considered who would play live action roles.

9. I hope you don't get offended by any questions, as Im so interested in highlighting you because I find that your writing for marginalized groups was magnificent. The research behind it, the world building, the characters, were all very impressive to me. I rated your book a five star, and I didn't think it deserved any less. But can you give any advice to writers whom are attempting to write outside of their norm( example: a straight person writing for a queer character; a non person of color writing for a POC, a able bodied writing for a disabled,etc.)? 

I think you need to be very careful about how you handle it, obviously. I will be the first to admit that despite YEARS of studying Chinese culture and living in China, I still probably know only about a fingernail’s worth of what that culture truly means to those who are a part of it. I tried to treat it with as much respect as I could, while still recognizing that I will always be an outsider.  So, I think it’s good to spend a lot of time with whatever it may be, whether it’s queer or disabled or PoC and get to know as much as you can. Really immerse yourself in every aspect of their lives to the extent they will allow and that you can without causing harm.

10. Do you think there is an earnest way to get the publishing industry to open their eyes to diversity and multiculturalism in speculative fiction/SFF/YA or any form of fiction worth reading? 

Well, I think blogs like yours are one really good way to do that. Raising the profile of the books that do depict PoC well, celebrating authors who are PoC or write PoC characters well…I think those are all very important ways. There have also been scholarships for PoC authors to attend important workshops and meetings and I’m a big fan of that, too.

11. Finally, where can your future readers find anything Tiffany Trent? 

On Twitter at tiffanytrent, FB at tiffany.trent, on Pinterest tiffanyltrent, and of course my website at
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