Tiffany Trent, author of the Hallowmere series, has a new book coming out, The Unnaturalists, an interesting and fantastic tour marrying Victorian science and the biology of faeries. Tamora Pierce has great things to say about the book, and I can speak to how much I enjoyed the Hallowmere series. I’m happy that Tiffany has taken some time out of her Wiscon prep to answer some questions about her writing process.
Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book? (If it varies, please keep one project in mind as you answer these questions.)
Tiffany: It tends to vary from book to book. I’ve tried both chronological drafting and also what I’ll call “scene” drafting, in which I allow myself to write whatever scene I want as it comes to me, regardless of order. I did that with a book I started a couple years ago and it was fun, but it became a great challenge when I tried to figure out where the pieces went. I’m still figuring it out!
Tamago: In general, how many drafts does it take before you are satisfied with a novel?
Tiffany: I’m not sure I’m ever satisfied. The closest to satisfied I’ve been is THE UNNATURALISTS (coming in August) and that took more drafts than I care to count, including three to-the-bones rewrites.
Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?
Tiffany: I really enjoy the voyage of discovery when I’m drafting a new novel. It’s then that I feel the most synergy with my characters, that I have the most revelations about the story, that the book is at its most organic. It’s a sort of obsessive love that I cultivate in the beginning because that will carry me through every subsequent draft. I surround myself with art and experiences to enrich the novel; I read lots of resource material and make playlists, etc. I love that best of all. (Though sometimes that process isn’t always as romantic as I make it sound here. Some books just don’t want to cooperate and all one can do is grit one’s teeth, put the butt in the chair, and do the work).
The least enjoyable to me is revision, especially because I know I’m going to have to give up much of what I loved best to achieve the story that really needs to be told. I often hold harder to such things than I should, so the trimming away of all the inessentials is usually a very painful process to me.
Tamago: How much time do you spend, if any, doing research for your books
Tiffany: A TON. At some points, I’ve found myself doing more research than writing. Oops.
Tamago: How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working?
Tiffany: It’s sort of like cooking a soufflé. You look in the oven and realize that not only is it not blossoming golden over the top of the dish, but it’s sunk to a pile of sludge that cannot be resuscitated no matter what you do. I throw it out then and start over.
Tamago: Do you discuss your initial ideas and drafts with others? Why or why not?
Tiffany: I tend not to, though sometimes if an idea seems really strange, I test it on a couple of trusted readers if they have time to see whether I’ve gone completely insane. There are many reasons why I don’t discuss ideas, but most often it’s because if I discuss them too early then it sometimes kills my vision just as it’s forming. And even though that vision may ultimately prove to be wrong, I still need its initial spark to light the flame that keeps me going.
Tamago: What are some particular issues that a YA writer needs to pay attention to that a writer of “adult” fiction might not have to pay attention to?
Tiffany: I think YA is much tighter in its pacing and style. You have to hook the reader and keep hooking them; there’s not much patience for meandering. You also have to make sure the voice is pitch-perfect.
Tamago: Do you write by yourself or do you write in a writing group? What do you see as the benefits of the method that you choose?
Tiffany:I write by myself. It just seems to suit my nature better, I think. And at this point in my life, with a dayjob and a farm and many health problems for the last few years, I have little enough time for my own work as it is. But I do like helping people when I have the time. I seem to have a knack for critting and helping people find the story they’re trying to tell—wish it worked better on my own stuff!
Tamago: What has been your favorite project to date? Why?
Tiffany: I think THE UNNATURALISTS has been one of my favorites because I got to mesh so many things I love—science, Victoriana, museums, mythological creatures, Baima culture—into one thing. It’s not often you get to do that!
Tamago: Besides the big firsts (getting an agent, publishing your first novel), what moments have you had that made you think, “hey, I’m actually a writer?”
Tiffany: I think when I started getting fan mail, I definitely got that feeling. Also when I was asked to speak at a university I’d secretly wanted to attend since I was a child, I had a true sense of arrival.