Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interview with Tiffany Trent, author of The Unnaturalists

I’m thrilled to welcome Tiffany Trent to the Inkpot today to talk about her fabulous new YA steampunk fantasy, The Unnaturalists.

The author of the Hallowmere series, Tiffany already has many fans, but The Unnaturalists is sure to win her even more. Here’s the quick summary:

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.

Welcome to the Inkpot, Tiffany!  What draws you to writing YA fantasy?  Can you tell us about your journey from the Hallowmere series to The Unnaturalists? 

It took writing an entire adult epic fantasy (unpublished) to realize that the books I’d always loved, the books I kept returning to, were considered young adult (juvenile) in my day.  The realization was a relief.  I wrote Hallowmere with that knowledge. And I wrote The Unnaturalists with an even deeper knowledge of what I loved and what I valued. For instance, I cannot seem to shake my love of complex and thorough world-building. While it may not matter to many, I’m nearly always thrown out of a story with shoddy world-building.  Which leads us to…

·         The Unnaturalists is set in a wonderfully imagined world where science is harnessing the power of myth.  The Litany of Evolution, the Night Emporium, a jam-eating sylphid, the “kobold on display at Miss Marmalade’s Seminary for Young Ladies of Quality” – there’s so much to relish here!  Can you tell us more about your process of world-building?  How much do you work out up front, and how much comes through the writing itself?  Are there any rules or principles you try to adhere to?

When I began writing The Unnaturalists, I knew it needed to be like nothing I’d ever written before. I spend a lot of time on my world-building; it’s really one of the most important and fun things about writing fantasy to me. I strive for rich, complex worlds that linger with the reader long after the book is closed. The world is always just as much a character to me as any person.   

Much of the world-building is discovered in the first draft. After that, I build the rules and decide how I’ll continue to shape things. Sometimes I’ll write little side stories or vignettes about various aspects of the world to help solidify those things in my mind. My biggest principle comes from Rod Serling: “Fantasy is the impossible made probable.” It’s my job to make you believe, even if only for a moment, that a city such as New London could exist. I do everything I can—from jam-eating sylphids to the Night Emporiumto help readers believe.

Your heroine, Vespa Nyx, has a delicious name and an unusual goal:  She wants to be the first female Pedant, so that she can catalog and study the Unnaturals just as men do.  Did anything in your own background influence that side of the story?  
A love of learning is one of the areas Vespa and I share. And I do have a deep and sublime love for museums; they’re beautiful, poignant, and terrifying all at once.  I also feel that women can be more than wives, if they so choose, and I like the Vespa embraces that in a time and place where such thinking really is dangerous and different.

How would you define the term “steampunk”?  In what ways would you like to see the genre develop?

Steampunk for me is very much about a past that never was and a future that might have been. I see it developing already into a rich, varied subgenre that stretches the boundaries set for it by writers like Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. While I’ve seen some writers say that it really has no future because it focuses so strongly on the past, I think the continued and growing interest in it suggests otherwise.

I really enjoyed reading about Syrus’s people, the Tinkers, and their relationship with the natural (and unnatural) world – and I was fascinated to learn that your time in the Sichuan highlands of China had a lot to do with that strand of the story.  Could you tell us more about your experiences there and how they influenced you?  

I went to live in Sichuan with my husband in the summer of 2005 in Tangjiahe Giant Panda Reserve. While there, we visited Wanglang Reserve at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, which is the ancestral home of the Baima people (aka the Duobo). They have many beautiful customs, among them patchwork dresses and clan belts woven on foot looms by the women. All the matrons wear a flat-topped hat with a chicken feather to commemorate the white rooster who woke them at dawn and saved them from an ambush by the Han Chinese centuries ago.  They give songs as welcome gifts; I still remember the song they sang for me about the green mountains of home when they learned that I came from beautiful mountains, too. 

I met with a shaman who was the last person able to read their sacred language and perform their rituals—that made me unutterably sad, that such a rich tradition will probably be forgotten by the current generation.  The land there was also wild and beautiful—steaming streams winding through fields of electric flowers on the glacial plateau, the whisper of pandas passing through bamboo cloud forests, mineral pools so brilliant blue and green you’d think they were made of gems rather than water.  I could well imagine the door to another world in a place like that. The Tinkers were definitely a result of that all too brief visit.  

You won the 2008 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Travel Grant and used it to travel to England.  How did that trip help shape the book?

I was actually researching a different book about Darwin then, though I’d already written The Unnaturalists the previous year, had gotten a new agent, and had received my first round of rejections by the trip.  I decided that maybe the trip could serve as double-duty for both books, since they seemed closely aligned in many ways.  Very glad I was right!  I spent lots of time in the British Museum of Natural History and also visited Down House, where Darwin and his wife Emma settled after their marriage.  It also helped to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, because while I knew I wanted many Victorian elements, I certainly also wanted Baroque. Walking into a fully-appointed Baroque-era room was such perfect inspiration!

It sounds like that Travel Grant went to just the right person.  Congratulations!  Now for a more general question: What do you love best – writing the first draft or revising?  Any tips on either one?

Honestly, I waffle between these two a great deal. I love it when I’m really in the story and the words just fly out during first drafting.  That used to be my favorite part and I really used to hate revising. On the other hand, there is nothing worse than trying to craft the perfect opening for months and feeling like nothing is coming.  These days, I think I enjoy revising more, because I like having the raw lump of clay of the first or second (or third or fourth) draft and seeing it take shape.

The Unnaturalists works beautifully as a stand-alone novel, but it’s thrilling to hear there’s going to be a sequel!  What can you tell us about it?

The second book (which is still untitled) has Syrus and Vespa as its main characters, but focuses on Syrus. That isn’t to say Vespa’s journey here won’t be important, but Syrus is in the foreground. And we’ll learn a bit more about Bayne’s family, too. And Olivia’s. J  So many secrets I can’t tell!! 

That sounds exciting!  Thanks so much for stopping by, Tiffany.  

You can read more about The Unnaturalists on Tiffany’s website:


Amy Butler Greenfield was a grad student in history when she gave into temptation and became a novelist. She loves music, romantic adventure, strange science, alternate history, and twisty plots, which explains how she came to write her first YA novel, Chantress, due out from Simon & Schuster in 2013. You can visit her at

Monday, August 27, 2012

What We're Reading

One of the truly great things about being a writer is that reading and discovering new books is just part of the job. Could there be any greater reason to become a workaholic? Here are some of the books the Inkies are enjoying, er, working hard at - right now…

Jennifer Nielsen (your host for today!)

Much of my reading right now is for research on two upcoming books I’ll be writing. But just for fun, I’m about to dig into Shannon Hale’s PALACE OF STONE. I loved PRINCESS ACADEMY and this one looks even better!

William Alexander

Right at this moment I'm reading Tiffany Trent's THE UNNATURALISTS (grand so far) and Ted Naifeh's COURTNEY CRUMRIN comics (delicious).

Erin Cashman

I just finished two fantastic inkpot books! I loved THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen! This thrilling novel has wonderful characters, a suspenseful plot and great writing. I couldn't put it down! 
And THE LANGUAGE OF SOULS by Lena Goldfinch. This wonderful novella has it all - mystery, suspense and romance. An enchanting story I hated to see end!

Laura McCaffrey

I'm reading Paolo Bacigalupi's THE DROWNED CITIES, which is a companion YA novel to SHIP BREAKER. This is a dark, gritty novel, and 
yet I can't put it down. It resonates particularly because of the orphaned children struggling to survive in a war-torn country, with few adults to protect or guide them – like so many of the orphaned children in war zones we see on the news.

Lisa Amowitz

I am reading THRONE OF 
GLASS by Sarah Maas and totally loving it. I also read Maggie 
Stiefvater's RAVEN BOYS and think it is the best thing she has ever written and consider it YA literature of the highest order, not just a good read. I also have on my to read list THE DEMON KING by Cinda Chima, and SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo.

Phillipa Bayliss

I'm absolutely loving A YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY by Barbara Abercrombie. Anne Lamott's BIRD 
BY BIRD is going to have to make space in my heart for my new best friend. I've also just started Kenneth Oppel's THIS DARK ENDEAVOUR and 
am in reader-heaven.

Keely Parrack

I've just finished reading HEART OF DARKNESS, and am halfway through WOLF HALL - some adult reading for a change!

Shelley Moore Thomas

I am reading SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman.  It is a lyrical almost poetic take on dragons filled with intrigue and wonder. So beautifully imagined!

Ellen Booraem

I just finished GREGOR AND THE CURSE OF THE WARMBLOODS, the third book in Suzanne Collins's highly adventuresome Underland Chronicles, the fifth and last of which came out just before THE HUNGER GAMES. I pick them up as I see them, and they never disappoint. Right now I'm reading A CLASH OF KINGS, second in the Game of Thrones series. (Hey, it's August.) Next up is Paul Doiron's THE POACHER'S SON, a murder mystery set in my home state of Maine--I've had my eye on it for a while.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I am so thrilled today to feature not only a fellow Austin (very talented) writer but also one of my friends!


Nikki's debut novel has just been released this week! Woo hoo!

THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill , August 21, 2012)


1) It's middle grade.
2) It's a Hansel & Gretel retelling.
3) It's creepy and cool and clever and unique.
4) Don't let the title scare you.
5) It's amazing! A fun read that will keep you turning pages until the very last minute!

And now, Nikki has agreed to join us here at The Enchanted Inkpot to answer a few questions!


Hi, Nikki! Thanks for being here!

PJH: You’ve just run into an old classmate from high school and you tell them your latest book just came out. They ask what it’s about. What do you say?

NL: Cannibalistic teachers! And then I would stop and let them talk about their kids and jobs. (I’m learning that not everyone wants to hear all the details of my precious book. What a strange thought!) But if they still seem interested, I would tell them it’s a modern re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel, set in a charter school that has everything a kid could want... plus some very hungry-looking teachers. And then we would totally dish about WHICH teachers from our past I drew inspiration from.

PJH: I love hearing happy publication stories. Can you tell us the path to publication for THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY?

NL: For one thing, although this is my debut novel, it is by no means my first completed manuscript! I signed with my agent, Suzie Townsend, on a funny “boy book,” and wrote Sinister Sweetness while that was on submission. By the time we realized the first book wasn’t going to sell (not that year, at least – maybe someday. Hope springs eternal!), I was about finished with this one. (Um, I’m glossing over the two other manuscripts I drafted in this same year. I write pretty fast.) My agent and I agreed Sinister Sweetness (called Gingerbread at the time) would be the best next manuscript to sub. My editor, Laura Arnold, had just signed on at Razorbill, and Suzie sent her the manuscript right off the bat. Laura says it was the first manuscript to cross her desk in the new office – and the first one she bought for Razorbill! There is something to be said for timing, I think.

PJH: So obviously you love fairy tales. Me, too! What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned or the thing that surprised you the most in researching fairy tales for the book?

NL: Well, I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales my whole life, so I didn’t expect to discover much new information. But I did, of course. Did you know that Hansel and Gretel is one of the fairy tales that exists in some form in almost every culture in the world? Most people know the Grimm Brothers’ version from Germany, but the story existed prior to that in similar forms in France, Eastern Europe, and Russia (Baba Yaga). I even read some strikingly similar Native American myths during my procrastinati- I mean, research.

PJH: When it comes to marketing, what do you think makes the biggest difference in whether a book is successful?

NL: Oh, I wish I knew this! I would sell the answer for a million dollars.

I think the most important thing is to write a great book. Then be willing to tell people about it, over and over, with a smile on your face and happy little fingers on the keyboard, for a few years.

I have a sneaking feeling that the real secret for a book like mine is getting it into the hands of the target readers – 8 to 12 year-olds -- and letting them do the work by telling their friends and teachers and parents about it. If they love it, they’ll spread the word with no extra urging, right? That’s why I’m planning to do some big book giveaways later in the fall to teachers, librarians, and book clubs. Let’s hope it works. I’m also working on a website for Splendid Academy ( that will feature extras: teacher bios, menus for the school cafeteria, and ominous lesson plans. I think adding something online for kids, so they can continue their adventures at Splendid Academy, will be fun for my readers!

PJH: What is next? WIPs? Future publications? Please tell all!

NL: Oh, my. There are quite a few things! First, I’m in an anthology coming out this November from Zest Books, called Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves. I wrote a very revealing essay about the most hideous kiss I’ve ever experienced (it was more like having my face stuck in car wash), and my general attitude as a teen. Which was totally awesome, by the way. (No matter what my mom says.)

Then, my second book will be coming out from Razorbill in early 2014. This one is a book I’ve been working on in some form for about five years. (For the writers out there, this one is the “book of my heart.” I cried when my editor told me that was the manuscript she’d chosen to go out with next. I am so, so grateful.)

I thought it would never be finished. I couldn’t find the right form! First, I wrote it as a picture book. And re-wrote it, ad infinitum. Over the years I attempted to re-frame it as a novel again and again, and finally hit on the right POV character last fall. It’s called Nightingale’s Nest, and it’s a modern-day re-imagining of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Nightingale.” This book is more magical realism than straight-up fantasy, and it deals with some disturbing themes, but will be middle grade as well.

I also have secret news regarding future books… but I can’t spill just yet.

Just for fun:

PJH: There are tons of books out there. Tons! What are five awesome reasons why your book has to be the one for them to read?

1. Cannibalistic teachers, people. I mean, who HASN’T had at least one teacher that you swore was trying to kill you? This book goes there, and does it in a creepy, sometimes funny, way.
2. It’s a story about enchanted food. Page after page of the best things to eat I could think up. I gained a LOT of weight doing the research for this book. Enjoy the deliciousness right along with the unsuspecting characters.
3. The playground at Splendid Academy is the best one in the entire universe. All the regular stuff, plus rock walls for climbing, tree houses, a “life-size” chess set, seesaws and merry-go-rounds, ziplines, soccer and football fields, a mini-skate park… It’s irresistible to kids. Just like a certain gingerbread house…
4. Lorelei is a strong, brave girl – but she’s a regular kid. She doesn’t have super powers or super intelligence. In fact, she has a learning disability! And her friend, Andrew, has a serious problem with weight that he’s learning to overcome. These characters inspired me – I think they might inspire young readers, too.
5. As a fledgling author, I didn’t realize MG stood for Middle Grade. I was sure it stood for… Murdery Goodness. (Insert evil laughter here.) So there are a lot of scary, gruesome bits for those of you who like that sort of thing. (Or is that just me?)

PJH: If the apocalypse came, would you still find a way to write? If yes, then how and why?

NL: I live way out in the country, and I know how to shoot a rifle. Of course, I would need to buy one first… but I could set my two kids on lookout, and when they saw the zombies, shout out so Mommy could hit save on the novel, come out, and shoot the zombies’ heads clean off. Wait, this was a zombie apocalypse, right? Because that is definitely the coolest kind.

PJH: Finish this sentence, and tell us why.

Writing is a lot like….

NL: ...telling outrageous lies while eating as much chocolate as you can without dropping too much in between the keys on the keyboard, because that gets expensive, and trust me, I KNOW. Oh, wait. I mean, writing is a lot like a sunset. Or a symphony. Or something inspirational like that. Let’s forget about the chocolate-covered keyboard. Oh, I’m no good at this.

PJH: Mummy vs. Bigfoot... Who would win and why?

NL: Bigfoot because mummies aren’t REAL. Duh.

PJH: Please share your favorite inspirational thought with our readers!

NL: My favorite one? I sort of collect them; it helps when dealing with rejection. Here’s the one closest to my keyboard, by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “We are very near greatness; one step and we are safe; can we not take the leap?”


PJH: Thank you, Nikki! And good luck with everything!


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.