United States of America
Romelia: WHAT IS A SIGNIFICANT WAY YOUR BOOK HAS CHANGED SINCE THE FIRST DRAFT?
Tiffani Collins: My last two books haven’t changed in any meaningful way from first draft to last, but the first book I ever wrote had to be significantly adjusted after several professional editors told me that a +200,000 word manuscript would never sell. I ended up hacking out over 70,000 words—an entire novel’s worth of words—and still ended up with a +130,00 word book. It meant taking out two whole scenes as well as re-conceptualizing how an important secondary character came to be in my protagonist’s havoc radius. These were important changes that made my book better, and I feel I must have learned my lessons well because I haven’t had to make any such dramatic changes to my books since. Whew!
Romelia: WHAT PERSPECTIVES OR BELIEFS HAVE YOU CHALLENGED WITH THIS WORK?
Tiffani Collins: I’d like to think that the perspective I’m challenging with Danny’s stories is the one where it’s ok to build a society on the suffering of its most vulnerable citizens. There are so many examples of a small group of people being exploited, neglected, and abused so that everyone else can have more convenience, more wealth, more opportunity, more creature comforts… just, more.
Most people don’t even know that human trafficking is woven into the bedrock of our society, such as sweatshops so we can get cheap clothes at Walmart and forced child labor in far off lands so we can have coffee with our breakfast and chocolate for our desert. Never mind the sex trafficking that happens at alarming levels in disturbingly close proximity to our own neighborhoods and with depressing regularity. The truly sad thing is, many people don’t want to know and will try to shrug it off as not that big a deal or sweep it under a rug rather than give up their “affordable” lifestyles.
With Danny’s story, I’m trying to bring more people’s attention to the modern-day slavery that is more prevalent in today’s global markets and societies than it was at the height of the Transatlantic slave trade in the 17th century. That its not ok to look the other way from one person’s suffering in a foreign country so you and yours can stay comfortable and complacent. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Romelia: WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA FOR YOUR BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: It’s more accurate to say that Ursula K. Le Guin’s story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, gave me a better grasp of the kind of story I was trying to tell. I already knew Danny was going to be the kind of character others with few scruples would seek to exploit, but when my friend told me the story of Omelas, I could better articulate the moral I wanted readers to take away after reading Danny’s story.
Romelia: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BOOK’S IDEAL READER?
Tiffani Collins: As someone who enjoys epic fantasy or alternate histories. I imagine my book’s ideal reader to be the same kind of person who likes big fat books such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Robbin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogies, Jaqueline Carrey’s Kushiel trilogies, those kinds of books. The ones you read to vacation in a world full of wonders rather than thin, fast novels that race at break-neck speeds through a plot like a greyhound, parred down to lean muscle and sinew. I like to think of my stories as a Rottweiler; a story with some meat on its bones, one that will stick with you to keep you company through a long cold winter’s night, and maybe one that can help ward away your real-world cares for a time.
Romelia: HOW MUCH RESEARCH DID YOU NEED TO DO FOR YOUR BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: Oh, Lord! Far, far, far too much research considering I’m writing a fantasy world set in an alternate version of Earth where the last 2,000 years can be re-written any way I want, practically. I mean, if I’m coming up with the rules and whatever I say goes, with magic to smooth over any bumps in the road, why do I need to have multiple documents archiving all of my research into everything from how leather can be tanned using the animal’s own brains to what currency the Romans used?
I’ll tell you why; because fiction must be more believable than reality when it comes to the every-day details or your reader will lose their willingness to suspend their sense of disbelief when it counts. I can’t remember which author gave that bit of advice, but I have found it to be true. If your story has a character who is supposed to be knowledgeable about guns, but it’s immediately clear to the reader you didn’t do your homework on guns yourself, they won’t be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when you try to introduce them to the purple flying elephant later. Which is why I am now a monthly donor to Wikipedia.
Romelia: HOW IMPORTANT WAS PROFESSIONAL EDITING TO YOUR BOOK’S DEVELOPMENT?
Tiffani Collins: Having a professional editor critique my novels has taught me to have more faith in my own writing. In my first book, especially, there were a few scenes that I really struggled with. I’d had them in my head for years and now that it had come to actually writing them, I wanted each and every word to shine, for the scenes to be perfect. Which, of course, meant that my writing pace came to a screeching halt. Nothing is ever perfect and trying to come up with the most sublime turn of phrase for the scenes you’ve been anticipating writing since you came up with the story is a good way to give yourself writer’s block.
After several years of working on that book, I’d come to a point where I was just plain sick of thinking of it and I just wanted it to be done! So, I told myself I had to just pound it out. It could be an utterly disgusting mess so long as I got through it. I’d let the editor tell me it sucked and then hopefully he’d give me some clues and direction on how to clean it up. That was what I was paying for, right?
But then it turns out that my editor’s favorite scenes were the very one’s I’d thought were a steaming pile of dog’s vomit!
Clearly, I’m not the best judge of my own work.
Romelia: WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST SCENE TO WRITE, AND WHY?
Tiffani Collins: Any scene in which I have to make my character miserable…wait, amend that—anytime I have to make a character I like miserable, it’s a hard scene for me, because in the end, I really want the good guys and the innocent people to have wonderful lives and be happy. I hate it when good people have terrible things happen to them. I hate it when good friends and family members have fights that drive them apart. That I’m the one creating these tragic circumstances and dumping my tortured character into them kind of makes me feel like a bit of a sadist, to be honest.
Unfortunately, for there to be a story most people find interesting, there has to be tension, drama, and strife. If everything was smooth sailing for a bunch of lovely people who all agreed and liked each other, there would be no story.
I’ve always wondered—what does that say about us human beings that we’re not interested unless people are suffering and miserable at least some of the time?
Romelia: WHAT CHARACTERS IN YOUR BOOK ARE MOST SIMILAR TO YOU OR TO PEOPLE YOU KNOW?
Tiffani Collins: Alright, this is kind of embarrassing, but when I first started writing Danny, I was a freshman in high school who’d just joined an Anita Blake fanfiction online writing group. I was fifteen and had no idea how you’re supposed to come up with a full-grown human being with a past and a personality and issues from scratch. So, I cheated. I basically put me into the story, up to and including giving her my middle name, Danielle. That way I didn’t have to worry about how to describe what she looked like; I just had to describe the person looking back at me in the mirror. If I had to think how my character felt in her current situation, I just imagined how I would feel if I were in her shoes and wrote that. Danny wanted what I always wanted, which was to work in a veterinary clinic. Her favorite color was blue. She loved living in forested mountains. She loved reading. She hated people telling her how to live her life.
For four years I wrote with the awesome people of Sanctuary and in that time, Danny didn’t really ever change much. After I graduated, I packed Danny away for a time while I went to college, got my degree and my license to practice as a Registered Veterinary Technician, got my black belt in Tai Kwon Do, went to Renaissance fairs and became a master hair braider, studied the violin, and a bunch of other stuff.
Then, in 2011, I decided to dust off Danny’s story, though the story I imagined for her now was a far cry from her life in Sanctuary. The new world I dreamed up for her was a whole lot bigger, wilder, better, and in many ways meaner than that upstate Maine town we had shared with the other Anita Black fan writers. I concocted a pretty nasty fate for Danny and people like her. I put this character, who was supposedly based on me, through some fairly traumatic stuff. The kinds of things a lot of people never really fully recover from, and yet Danny did. She’s come through the events and the punishments of the first book scarred, sure, but also stronger, with a sense of purpose I don’t think I have myself. I think Danny is a better person than I am, really.
So, while Danny North Star may have started out just like me, I think she’s her own person now. She’s stronger because of what she’s survived, with a whole lot more brains, grit, and courage than I’ve got, because she’s needed those qualities in ways I never have. She’s someone I can only hope I’d measure up to if I ever found myself living through ordeals half as bad as those I’ve inflicted on her.
Romelia: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: I’m a slow author who plans for a twenty-book series and yet has only completed the first two before her 40th birthday. Either I was going to have to cut the number of books I plan on writing in half—or I was going to have to pick up the pace.
The first full novel I ever wrote took me eleven years. Danny’s first book took me six. Her second book, I swore, would be written in a year, because that was the amount of time each book would have to take me to produce if I wanted to finish Danny’s story before I die.
I’m very pleased to say that I wrote Reflections of a Tigress in nine months. This, despite working full time and sharing my life with a vivacious four-year-old who really loves her Auntie and who is dearly loved by her Auntie in turn.
Romelia: HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR YOUR BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: It’s a play on words. I was trying to be clever. In Danny’s world, mirrors are a huge deal and as pervasive and necessary as modern technology is to us. That, plus the fact that Danny is recollecting her past exploits for a pen pal through the use of a magic journal, led me to choose Reflections of a Runner for the first book in Danny’s series. “Reflections” refers both to a mirror’s reflection and the act of remembering past events and stories.
Then my laziness kicked in and I realized I could just keep re-using the same bit of wit. I only have to insert a different noun for each new book. So, now we have Reflections of a Tigress, because Danny has gone from a run-away slave (what people in her world call a runner) in the first book, to someone who is trying to hide in plain sight by joining a traveling circus as a shapeshifting tiger in the second. I already have the title for the third book picked out. It’s going to be Reflections of a Gladiator.
Three guesses on what that book is going to be about!
Romelia: WOULD YOU AND YOUR MAIN CHARACTER GET ALONG?
I would like to think so, but only if she didn’t know I’m responsible for all the horrible things that happen to everyone in her world, including her.
Romelia: IF YOU COULD MEET YOUR CHARACTERS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?
Tiffani Collins: I am so, so sorry… please don’t kill me.
Romelia: WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? ARE YOU MORE OF A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?
Tiffani Collins: I’m definitely a planner and not a pantser, but my outlines often come a little after halfway through the book and more to keep track of the timeline. I start with a character who has an interesting nature. I know where she starts out, meaning I know what kind of personal issue she’s dealing with, and I know how she’ll end up, which is happy – because there’s enough misery and tragedy in the real word and I write to escape all that, damn it!
Everything that comes in the middle is a foggy mystery for the most part and I only have a bare skeleton of an idea on how my character gets from point A to point Z. I spend a great deal of time listening to music, which often conjures cool scenes in my head. The music and the scenes get shuffled into a logical chain of events as I envision the world my character must navigate.
The story’s external events evolve around the character. For instance, I wanted my character, Danny, to belong to a small group of individuals other unscrupulous people could exploit to increase their own power, a kind of human familiar. Such an arrangement would obviously mean there’s an element of slavery in the world she inhabits. That observation leads to questions that need answers:
Is it black-market slavery, like human trafficking is in our world; or is it legal and forms the bedrock foundation of her world’s economy and civilization as it did for the Romans, the Vikings, and so many other cultures throughout human history?
Are there others who fight against the status quo, or will Danny be alone in trying to free herself and others like her?
What are the difficulties she faces and how does she get free?
Once free, will she be able to build a life for herself as a full citizen of her world with rights and liberties, or will she forever be on the run, fighting to stay free every moment for the rest of her life because the system is too massive for her to ever shift or dismantle?
These questions and their answers become an If-Then sequence of events that all must culminate in a final outcome where my character is happy and the reader feels satisfied. But that’s only the skeleton. Then I have to come up with the flesh and the guts and the brains and the skin – and the devil’s in the details. I have done more research into history, science, geography, anthropology, psychology, economics, physics, etc. as an alternate history fantasy author than I did to get my GED, Associate of Science degree, and my license in veterinary medicine.
All of that reading and research generates an avalanche of notes that I keep in massive documents that I have hyperlinked and organized like Wikipedia pages so I can keep everything straight. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re building a world and cast of characters that can support an epic fantasy series that will span over twenty books, you’ve got to be organized. That organization really comes in handy as your research generates more ideas for more scenes and books that spin off from the book you’re working on now and you need to keep it all straight over the course of years.
Romelia: WHAT DO YOU NEED IN YOUR WRITING SPACE TO HELP YOU STAY FOCUSED?
Tiffani Collins: Music or a movie that I’ve seen a million times playing in the background. I swear, my brain is like a game of musical chairs—when the music stops, so do the ideas and my ability to concentrate.
Romelia: IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A SPIN-OFF ABOUT A SIDE CHARACTER, WHICH WOULD YOU PICK?
Tiffani Collins: I’ve already got a spin-off book written and another in the works. They are more process books than anything else, but they have the potential to be books that I clean up for public consumption and release after Danny’s story is done. The timing is because these books are about the Hounds and the Found of Underhill. I’ve had at least one Beta reader insist that other readers of Danny’s tale would love to know more about the denizens of Underhill, but as of right now, these spin-off process books are for my benefit.
Romelia: IF YOU COULD SPEND A DAY WITH ANOTHER POPULAR AUTHOR, WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Tiffani Collins: Jim Butcher!
I could meet J. K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin and think it was cool, but I wouldn’t turn into an incoherently babbling fan girl for anyone other than Jim Butcher. To have a whole day with his undivided attention…
On second thought, I actually don’t want to ever run into him in real life because I am deathly certain I would humiliate myself terribly and never recover from the experience.
Romelia: WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE LIKE WHEN YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I work full time. I’m a clerk in my county’s public library system, so it’s a good fit for someone who’s really into books and geeking out with other bookworms, but it does take a big bite out of my writing time. I also spend a lot of time with friends and family, which is important, but, again, it means eating even more into my writing time.
I finally had to set some ground rules for myself. Now, when I’m working on a book, I set myself the quota of 1,000 words in two hours every evening five nights a week. Basically, I come home, eat dinner with the family and hang out a bit, then I head for my writer’s lair from eight to ten, going to bed only when I’ve met my wordcount goal. Sometimes, its really tough to get those words out. Sometimes, I don’t make it (that’s what the weekends are for), but since I’ve started doing that, I’ve definitely increased my writing output and I’ve managed to up my sluggish pace to one that I can sustain and actually complete books in a timely fashion.
Romelia: HAVE YOU EVER TRAVELED AS RESEARCH FOR YOUR BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: Oh, yeah! And it was awesome! I spent the entire month of May in 2013 traveling all over England, Wales, and Scotland, spending a lot of time in places with great historical sites covering periods like the Viking raids and settlements in York, the 300 years of Roman conquests embodied by the ancient Roman baths in Bath and Hadrian’s Wall along Scotland’s southern border, and Celtic culture revivals in Scotland and Wales. And Stonehenge, of course.
I really want to go back, but I also want to go to other countries too, like Germany and Iceland.
Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WRITING SNACK OR DRINK?
Tiffani Collins: Tea. Lots and lots of tea. Specifically, English Breakfast tea, a habit I picked up during my England trip. Before 2013, I did not drink tea, ranking it as only a few steps higher on the Vile list than coffee. But then, while in England, I figured I’d go for the whole cultural immersion experience and do that English High Tea thing, in legit English tea houses. That’s where I learned that with enough milk and sugar, black tea is actually quite delightful.
Since then, I’ve decided I also like peppermint tea, Lady Gray tea, and occasionally Chai if it’s cold outside.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE WHEN YOU FINISH YOUR BOOK?
Tiffani Collins: By reading and reading and reading all the books I wouldn’t let myself read when I was trying to work on my book. If I stumble across a story I instantly fall obsessively in love with, it’s impossible for me to think about the story I’m trying to tell. I also despair of ever writing as well as the authors that published the books that are so good they make me laugh out loud or cry buckets. So, I go on what I call a reader’s diet, only allowing myself books I’ve already read a thousand times or books that are meant as research for my story.
When I finally finish my book, I get to come off my reader’s diet and binge all the books that caught my eye before, and which I then sent samples of to my Kindle. Going through my collection of Samples, I feel like a kid in a candy store who can’t decided what to buy first.
Romelia: WHAT RISKS HAVE YOU TAKEN WITH YOUR WRITING THAT HAVE PAID OFF?
Tiffani Collins: I have to admit, this is a tough question because I’m trying to think of risks that I’ve taken with my writing. I mean, how are we defining risk, here?
I guess I’ll say that I feel I took a risk letting the narrative of Reflections of a Runner take a detour into the Hounds’ world of Underhill. Here I am, trying to remember to keep my wordcount down so I don’t have to do what I did with my first book and whack out a whole novel’s worth of content when I started going over-budget and suddenly, I’m filling whole chapters of what feels like a completely different book. I really started to think that I was letting my story go off the rails, but I decided to let things develop and see where we came out.
By the end of the book, I discovered that letting Kay and Aneirin highjack Danny’s story briefly gave me the key to solving how Danny would escape her family. I’d really done a great job boxing my heroine into an impossible situation that I would have had a hell of a time figuring a way out of if I hadn’t had Underhill and the Hounds to provide me a really great exit that flowed organically from prior events in the narrative.
More than that, Underhill, Kay, and the Hounds turned out to be the linchpin to the entire series and will play a crucial role in how the last few books play out at the end of Danny’s story. Did I end up with a book that is more than double what most traditional publishers would accept from a fairly new author? Yes, I did. But in the words of my editor, books in the fantasy genre are often longer than other genres, so there you go. Besides, I’m self-published. I’ve read some books where you can totally tell the author had to butcher their story to meet the demands of their publishers. I’d rather have a whole story than the mutilated remains of one that’s barely coherent.
Romelia: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU GOOGLED YOURSELF AND WHAT DID YOU FIND?
Tiffani Collins: I guess that would have to be in September of 2017, when I released Reflections of a Runner. I was testing to see if by entering my name into a Google search bar I would get results showing my books and where they could be bought.
Happily, I could, so mission accomplished.
Other than that, you really don’t turn up anything about me personally except for what I’ve put up on my family’s website, which includes our Christmas displays and my hair braiding. I’m totally good with that too!
Romelia: WHAT IS YOUR KRYPTONITE AS A WRITER?
Tiffani Collins: Minutia. Those pesky little details that probably won’t even make it into the actual story but which will completely stall my forward momentum if I don’t figure them out. Let’s take the Hounds and how Underhill works.
Though Danny isn’t aware of most of what’s going on in Underhill, those hidden events will become pivotal to Danny’s ability to do what needs to be done in the last three books. According to one of my characters, Kay is supposed to give rise to legions of Hounds, enough that there will be one for every ten stars in the sky. Though it had nothing to do with Danny’s story in either Runner or Tigress, I had to figure out exactly how Kay and Aneirin were going to produce thousands of Hounds in a little under a hundred years. Had to.
My brain wouldn’t give me anymore of Danny’s story until I figured out how Underhill became as vast as the Lands Above with portals all over the continent, how Aneirin and Kay came up with all of those new Hounds without inbreeding and within the rules Danny laid down for them, and how all of this was hidden from Danny, who would have had a huge problem with what they were doing and would have put a stop to them if she found out.
This is just one example. Another would be the time I couldn’t meet my wordcount quota because I spent the entire evening researching which kinds of stone would make the best building materials for enchanted gargoyles that came to life to defend a home.
Another evening was lost to determining how construction would work without iron and steel and their alloys, because iron is anathema to magic in Danny’s world and since the whole society is built on magic, steel is completely out. That’s a big deal if you ever stop to think about how much of it is all around us in our modern world. You try and imagine what our world would look like if you didn’t have steel or plastic and tell me how much time you spend working out how different everything would be and how you’d compensate for the differences.
Until I find answers to all of the world-building minutia, I cannot finish a story.It sucks, let me tell you!
Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.
Tiffani Collins: Oh, wow! Man, which one? Hmm, well, the first story that comes to mind is the last time my friend Lynn tried to teach me how to appreciate wine. It happened while on the England trip, which is probably why it’s the first story that popped into my head.
Lynn and Larry are my friends from fair. Lynn owned the braiding booth I’ve worked at since I graduated high school back in ’01. They’d been to England seven times before and Lynn was a serious history buff, so it was a lot like having my own personal chauffeur and tour guide showing me around the sights.
Lynn is also a major wine connoisseur. She’s gone to classes on wine appreciation, it’s history, and how it’s made. While we were abroad, she had a bottle with every meal that wasn’t breakfast while Larry’s mission was to try every beer in every pub we entered. Larry didn’t care that I hated the taste of alcohol, but Lynn had been determined to drill at least a basic education of wine into me for years.
I think it was when we were in Bath, having lunch, that I finally convinced her I was never going to love a drink that reminded me of when I was little, standing behind my mom as she hair-sprayed her coiffure and I made the mistake of letting my mouth hang open while she did it.
As always, Lynn ordered wine with our meal. The waiter very proudly told us they had an excellent foreign vintage he was sure we would enjoy. He brought out a bottle with a bright yellow label and CALIFORNIA written in huge letters on it, with Napa Valley in smaller script below that.
Lynn and Larry live in Vallejo—that’s practically right next door to wine country. We’d flown over an entire continent and the Atlantic Ocean just to have wine we could have bought at our local grocery store. Woo-Hoo, that’s some foreign vintage right there, folks!
That cracked us up, but that wasn’t the funniest part to me. No, the best part was when the waiter automatically filled my glass along with Lynn and Larry’s. I’d taken to covering my glass so the waitstaff wouldn’t do this, because, frankly, I was done trying to understand the appeal of the stuff but hated to see anything, even liquor that burned my nose like rubbing alcohol, go to waste.
I was too slow that time, though, and there it was, already in my cup, so I figured I might as well give it one more go. I sighed, swirled the white wine around a little like Lynn had taught me. Lifted the glass to my nose so I could smell the bouquet…
Still smells like mom’s hair spray, I thought with resignation. Then I tossed back the whole thing like it was a three-finger shot of cheap Tequila. Lynn was absolutely scandalized!
“No more wine for you!” she declared, shaking her finger in my face with all the righteous fury of a nun confronting a blasphemer in church. “They pour you any, you pour it straight into my glass!”
“Sure thing, Lynn,” I told her around my laughter. I should have chugged wine in front of her ages ago. Would have saved both of us a lot of money and exasperation.
And that was the end of my wine tasting adventures.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Tiffani Collins: Ok, it’s not as if I go all in on Astrology or anything, but whatever it is or isn’t, the description of a typical Aquarius fits me to a T, so if you want to know about me, read a really thorough analysis of people born under the sign if the Water Bearer.
As to something you don’t know about me… well, there’s tons, really, but the thing that I would want anyone who hasn’t met me before to know is that I detest hypocrisy. I’m not saying I’m never a hypocrite, only that I can’t stand it and try to avoid it wherever I can. Personally, I think that if everyone tried never to be a hypocrite, we could all avoid most of the other sins out there and the world would be a much better place.
Which pretty much ties right into what I hate about the world. How much hypocrisy is out there and how little most people seem to care about it.