Her name is beautiful and unusual, much like the writer. I met Tristan through a mutual friend, and as soon as I read her first email I knew we were going to work together great. Why? Because she’s imaginative, open-minded, and has a work ethic of mythic proportions. She’s also a lot of fun and I love her work. I’m not only her editor, I’m a big fan. Read the interview and you’ll see why! Then head on over to Back That Elf Up and check out “Thieves At Heart”.
1. What has your path toward publication been like?
Our path towards publication has been a bit like stumbling through a marathon after thinking, ‘Hell, I think I’ll go for a little walk.’ When I initially started writing The Valley of Ten Crescents it was a lot of brainstorming and back story for Tavera and a bit of Derk for an RPG campaign. It started off as something a bit hyperbolic, and got toned down and fleshed out; it went from ‘Oh, I’m going to make a thief that likes to sleep around a bit and is part of a secret society!’ to over 200,000 words. I really fell in love with Tavi and the other characters and wrote it all and when it was said and done my Admin (husband) and I had to decide what to do with it. I wanted to share Tavi’s story with people, I just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it and through trial, error and a lot of learning about formatting we got it out there. Our unofficial motto of sorts is ‘Just ****ing try.’ It went from back-story to a serial on the web to an e-book and paperback with an actual ISBN.
2. With a Small Boss and a family to care for, how do you structure your writing time?
A vast majority of my creative writing takes place at night. I’m a night person through and through and I pretty much only turn in for the night because the part of my brain that can think about the future says ‘Hey, your child is going to wake up early tomorrow and you need to be able to make coffee without gravely injuring yourself.’ I spend the mornings answering emails and doing any advertising I have to do and basically brainstorm throughout the day, writing things down if I come up with conversations. I’m lucky enough to have this freaky memory so if the plot point is big enough, it generally sticks in my head and then pulsates in my brain, especially when I’m trying to get to sleep to avoid the coffee related injuries. Every once in a while I do have to go on crazy research binges where I spend a combined several hours looking up other lunar goddesses or rabbits or rock formations and how they occur or elemental magic. So basically it’s not very structured! I just try to use my free time to the best of my abilities while watching the clock. Sometimes that means dinner is at 6:30pm instead of 5:30pm. Sometimes it means saying ‘Hey, I need to get some writing done.” Sometimes it means not eating, sad but true. I love to eat and I love food but I have enough interruptions from everything else, I can’t let simple things like organs and biological needs get in the way of me hitting my word count.
3. Who would you say are your biggest literary influences?
I would have to say one of the earliest bits of fantasy that really struck me was ‘The Crystal Cave’ by Mary Stewart. I’m named after a version of Sir Tristan so an interest in the Arthurian saga came really early for me and Merlin is just one of those characters that I think everyone knows about. And to see him broken down as a little kid, to read about him as a real person who climbed trees and felt pain and was awkward around girls and wanted to belong really struck me. Those things happened adjacent to the stuff everyone knows him for, the prophecy of the tower, his aid to Uther Pendragon’s lust for Ygraine, the sword Excalibur. It wasn’t till recently that that book registered as ‘fantasy’ for me, I’ve always thought of it as a fictional biography, heh. Between the extraordinary bits, very human things take place and without them, the emotions and the political stuff and the familial angst, the extraordinary stuff has no foundation.
4. What made you decide to engage a professional editor?
Realizing that I definitely needed one, ha! I had ‘Thieves at Heart’ out in its original incarnation and it was only about 23,000 words long. We were just figuring out how to format and the Admin was learning GIMP and we just wanted to get it out there and do something. I think we rushed to put it out because at the time the Admin was deployed and we wanted something to work on together and to help fill up the space of our separation. There was also the sense of ‘If we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.’ The series (then a single, giant book) was done so we jumped in. As a result it was not nearly as polished or professional as it should have been. I know part of this resulted because I was scared to look it over too many times. I didn’t want to give myself the chance to doubt myself (‘You wrote ‘their’ instead of ‘there’! You should never write again!). Someone was kind and honest enough to say hey, the story is good but this really needs to be edited (not their exact words) and gave us a name and email for our editor. That was another thing, when we were just starting out in February we didn’t know anyone who was an editor so having a name and a testimonial was kind of like a golden ticket. We had kicked around the idea of having someone else look at it and make corrections at the beginning but for me, the idea of asking a total stranger to potentially tear apart my work and judge me was pretty much terrifying. After it had been out for a spell we had a few people say that they enjoyed the story so I was more confident about my work and ready for a bit of literary flogging, I think. We worked with the tools we had at the time, someone gave us another tool and we thought we’d be stupid to not use this. But we had had enough positive feedback that the first spank wasn’t going to reduce me to tears. To use a really inappropriate analogy.
5. How has working with an editor affected your writing process?
There’s still an aspect of ‘other’ when it comes to the editor. Not the editor herself but by showing this body of text to someone else, I am admitting that this will in fact see the light of day. Therefore it needs to make sense not only to me because they don’t live in my brain, they don’t know what I mean or have the info I have. For me the inclination sometimes is to just get it out as fast as you can (see above issue with having ‘free time’) and sometimes that means gaps in trains of thought or events. In true husband-wife fashion, I do just tend to think the Admin knows exactly what I’m talking about and when he doesn’t I go, ‘WHAAAAAAAAA?’ In addition I can just explain something to him if he wants to know something since he is physically there. With my editor, that’s not the case. So the editor is kind of an intercessor of sorts. In addition I’m more aware of those words that I use too much and my own grammatical shortcomings. I used to use the word ‘had’ as if I was getting paid to use it. And bloody hell, do I love gerunds. Being in the headspace of writing for an audience versus just to write really helps.
6. What surprised you the most about working with a professional editor?
The most? That the first email I got back wasn’t a giant harpoon of ‘THIS SUCKS. DID YOU HAPPEN TO FAIL GRAMMAR IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? ALSO, ELVES AREN’T REAL.’ For the record, I did fail grammar in school. The fact that the initial email was rather quite pleasant and not just scathing commentary on my all too obvious lust for the pluperfect tense was a surprise. While I do have a professional relationship with my editor there is definitely a sense of camaraderie, that we’re working on making this as awesome as we can together. I guess I was expecting an editor to Balrog me (You Shall Not Pass!) when really, the editor is in your Fellowship. But don’t throw your manuscript into Mt. Doom! HA! That’s not the goal, obviously.
7. You recently attended Geek Girl Con. How was that experience and would you go again?
GeekGirlCon 2011 was AMAZING. And we’re already making plans to go next year. I wrote about it on my blog a few days ago but basically, I felt like I was home. Even though I was trying to sell books and network a bit and working, the Con was really well organized and everyone was really excited to be there. It was great talking to other writers and encouraging to hear people wish me luck in my endeavors. So many things there were awesome, from the people running the Con to the other exhibitors to the amazing cosplayers. It was a small Con, as far as Cons go (it had a bit under 2,000 people attending I want to say) but it made for great opportunities to connect with people. I got to talk to a lot of great people about the things they were working on and what they dug.
8. Why did you choose the path of self-publishing?
Probably a little bit because of impatience? HA! But also because our team of two people really does believe in things like DRM free e-books and Creative Commons and Open Source. I write on LibreOffice now and wrote all of the initial manuscript on OpenOffice. We both run Linux on our machines, the Admin made the ads and formatted the cover on GIMP. The e-books are DRM free and always will be. The book and the material is protected under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 which has provisions for things like remixing and sharing. I love stories and if what I wrote, if Tavi and Derk’s story inspired someone to make a youtube video or write something or make something? I would be totally blown away! Even if it was a silly rap about onions (HA!) I would be floored. I wrote this story because I wanted to but I put it out there to entertain and hopefully make people think about what it means to be yourself. If it spurs people on to be entertaining and do their own things and follow their passions, that’d be great. Hell, if someone reads it and thinks, ‘I write better than this’ then well, get on it! Self-publishing was right for us because we wanted to be able to say ‘Hey, have a bit of fun with this if you like. The fun doesn’t have to end when the book is over.’
9. What would you say is the biggest challenge of being an indie artist?
Advertising/Self-promoting, I want to say. Back That Elf Up is a two person team with a lot of neat people filling in really needed roles but I’m the PR person, the research assistant, the caterer, the CEO, the advertising department, etc. I’m fairly introverted and the fact that I have to be digitally social daily and email strangers is slightly daunting. Trying to think of the best 140 character pitch for ‘Thieves at Heart’ takes more time than you might think. Getting your ads out to the right people who will be interested is another challenge. Thank goodness for the digital age that we live in. It makes a lot of this a bit easier. Through things like Twitter, Kickstarter and G+ we’ve been able to reach people and get out story out to places we wouldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
10. Tell us about your upcoming projects.
Well, there’s still about 180,000+ words of The Valley of Ten Crescents to reveal. ‘Self-Made Scoundrel’ is due to come out this coming winter if all goes well and that’s a prequel to ‘Thieves at Heart.’ ‘Self-Made Scoundrel’ goes into Derk’s beginnings as a thief and how he gets to the point he does in the very beginning of ‘Thieves at Heart,’ where he kidnaps Tavi. A few characters from ‘Thieves at Heart’ show up like Old Gam and Hock as well as a few new faces and the first bit of magic as we think about it when it comes to fantasy. The third book is tentatively titled ‘Red Moon Rising’ and picks up with Tavera and what she gets herself into once she’s on her own. Tavera teams up with a few honest type folks and so it goes into the whole private self vs. the public face and what that means when a group of people are trying to pull something off. We’ve also got some ideas for ways for people to show their support via t-shirts. And well, the next two books are started, ha! A lot is upcoming, basically!
Tristan J Tarwater is the author of The Valley of Ten Crescentsseries, as well as several other stories that hope to see the light of day. Born and raised in New York City she remembers reading a lot, visiting museums and the aquarium frequently and wanting to be a writer from a very early age. Her love of fantasy and sci-fi spills over into what she reads and watches in her free time as well as the collection of dice, books and small metal figurines that reside in her home. She currently lives in Central California with her Admin, Small Boss, a cat that knows it’s a multipass and Azrael.