Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Interview with Tiffany Trent, Author of THE TINKER KING

We're thrilled to welcome Tiffany Trent back to the Inkpot today!  She's here to talk about her terrific new novel, THE TINKER KING, a sequel to her YA steampunk fantasy, THE UNNATURALISTS, which won a Green Earth Book Honor.  Both novels are a tantalizing blend of science and magic, set in a marvelously imagined world in which scientists are saints, fantastical creatures are real, and myth is a source of power.

To catch you up, here's a quick summary of THE TINKER KING:

After Vespa, Syrus, and Bayne defeated the Grue and restored order to their world in THE UNNATURALISTS, they thought their future was secure. Empress Olivia, committed to peace and equality for humans and Elementals alike, was a fair and just ruler. And the Creeping Waste had vanished, giving them hope for the first time.

But rebellion is brewing in the far-off city of Scientia, and dark Elementals are plotting war in the ruins of New London. Before they know what’s happening, Vespa, Syrus, and their friends are plunged into a new swamp of intrigue, deception and magic—and the cost of survival may be more than any of them are willing to pay.

And now on to the interview!

Delighted to have you on the Inkpot, Tiffany!  Did you originally plan to write a sequel to THE UNNATURALISTS?  Or did you have to figure it out as you went along?  

I had originally considered this as a potential trilogy, but then decided that I should focus more on making the books stand alone. I had other ideas about how this book would go that were ultimately thrown out, and for a long time, I stumbled over how to deal with the constraints the first book had given me while still challenging my characters (and readers!) with an engaging story. But I had to write a proposal to sell the book, so yes, there was a general plan.

It’s wonderful to see Syrus, the young Tinker in THE UNNATURALISTS, take a starring role in THE TINKER KING.   What was it like as a writer to revisit such a familiar character, and to take on the challenge of portraying his change and growth?

Syrus is really one of my favorite characters I've written. Though I have the least in common with him, I just genuinely like him. (Which cannot always be said of certain other characters I could mention. Ahem). I had to spend a lot of time figuring out a way to get inside his head and make him accessible to the reader in this book because transcribing his thoughts in a jumble of Chinese and English did not quite work out in the first pass of the book. And Vespa's voice is so strong that I had to be careful I didn't slip into her gear, so to speak, when I was in first person with Syrus. It actually helped to go back to the source and look at pictures of the person on whom Syrus is based and remember his demeanor -- very outwardly quiet and calm, but obviously filled with thoughts he daren't speak. Hopefully, it turned out OK!

I can assure you that it did!  In THE TINKER KING, Syrus and his friends face a truly terrifying antagonist: Ximu and her horde of xiren.  In creating them, how much did you draw on existing myths?  How much came from your own imagination?

Ximu is pretty much my own invention, except for her Chinese name. In China, spiders are considered lucky, so really I just flipped that idea on its head and decided to invent a Greater Elemental even more fearsome than the Grue, one who had been in Fairyland since the beginning of time. I suppose Ximu is somewhat the lovechild of Shelob and Jadis, but perhaps that's stretching things. (And in all fairness, I absolutely love spiders myself, so writing a nasty one was a bit hard for me). 

Sometimes fantasy can be very monocultural, but that can’t be said of THE TINKER KING.  I love how it deals squarely with cultural divides, including the cultural misunderstandings that can occur even among friends (as when Syrus slurps his soup to show appreciation for the cooking).  What advice do you have for writers – especially fantasy writers – who want to write more culturally sensitive stories?

Much as I've likely bumbled through two very gracious cultures--China and Japan--in the past, I'm certainly no expert. I try to live by the rule of being a good guest, whether I'm traveling or researching with an eye toward using something in a story. I very much want my work to honor the people who inspired it, so I try everything I can to make it clear that fair representation is the norm in my stories. And I never assume that my characters are all of one race or creed or sexual orientation. Even if I don't say so overtly, I assume a vast spectrum in the worlds I create and I try to leave enough room for the reader to join me in imagining these worlds in all their diversity.

Nikola Tesla (aka “St. Tesla”) is an important figure in your world.  He’s a fascinating man, and I’d love to know what drew you to put him in your books.

I suppose my reasoning was quite utilitarian. I needed someone who could make a rift in the space-time continuum, someone whose science generated serious voltage. Couldn't think of anyone better than Tesla. When I started researching him, he was a writer's dream come true -- a somewhat mad genius filled with visions of a world that still is largely the province of science fiction. If anything, I wish he could have played a greater role.

I'm all for that! I hope you end up writing about him again.

Steampunk has sometimes been accused of using the trappings of Victoriana but not examining the moral dilemmas of the period.  Do you think this is changing?  In THE TINKER KING, it’s clear that your characters know that luxury has a cost—one that often involves the exploitation of others—and for me that was a very powerful part of the book.

I think that is definitely changing. A lot of people are challenging the notion that Victoriana is the sole province of steampunk -- we know that many cultures had steam/clockwork-powered inventions long before the Victorians did. And many of the inventions we attribute to the Victorians really have their beginnings in Chinese, Indian, or Arabic culture. I wanted to make clear that the Victorians, while fascinating, caused a good deal of damage that we still haven't repaired.

Thanks so much for visiting us here at the Inkpot, Tiffany! We can't wait to see what you write next.

To learn more about Tiffany's books and stories, you can visit her website: 


Amy Butler Greenfield was on her way to a history Ph.D. when she gave into temptation and became a novelist. Now an award-winning writer, she lives with her family in England, where she eats chocolate, bakes cakes, and plots mischief.  Her most recent book is the YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS (McElderry / S&S, 2013).  Its sequel, CHANTRESS ALCHEMY, comes out in May 2014. You can find her at



  1. Great interview! Your Steampunk world sounds fascinating, Tiffany, especially with the twists you put on it.

    Thanks, Amy and Tiffany!

  2. Thanks, Lena! It IS a fascinating world - one that sticks with you long after you've finished the book!

  3. Wonderful interview! The series sounds fantastic. I'll be picking this up. Anything with a nod to Tesla is definitely okay with me!

  4. Great interview, and your insights (both of you) make the book sound deeply compelling. Definitely on my list now. Thanks!

  5. Your books are definitely now on my radar! I can't wait to check them out. And let me just say the the cover for the Tinker King is amazing!


  6. Great interview Amy! Tiffany I love the title - The Tinker King - playful with a hint of melancholy, I can't wait to read it!

  7. Oh, how I've been looking forward to this book! Thanks for the fascinating interview, Amy, which only served to whet my appetite further. :)

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  9. The Tinker King takes the reader on a gripping, richly detailed, and intelligent adventure through a myth-powered, steampunk world. Towering risk, fearful love, reluctant compassion even for virulent evildoers, and scientific intrigue… touches all the best bases!

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