Check out this author spotlight for fantasy writer Tiffani Collins!
You can find all the links for where to find her furthest down the page, and don’t forget to check out her books!
1. Hi! Welcome to my humble blog of all things bookish! I would like for us to start by getting to know you. Give us a short bio, please!
I’ve always been terrible at running, so I learned to ride horses. I was even worse at dancing, so I studied martial arts instead. A banshee sings better than I do, so I picked up the violin – and didn’t fare much better, truthfully. When asked what I wanted do when I grew up, I always said “Work with animals,” so I became a Veterinarian Technician and did that for fifteen years. When I got tired of wrestling dogs and herding cats, I got a job at my local library where I get to talk about books with other bookworms all day long.
I read to keep sane and I write… well, I write because what’s more fun than that? My name is Tiffani Collins and I live in a small rural town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California. When I’m not braiding hair at Renaissance Fairs, spending time with friends, or helping library patrons find their next favorite read, I’m working on my next writing project.
2. To get to know you just a little bit better, I’d like to ask you some this or that questions. Answer 5 of these (or more) and explain why you chose this or that, or maybe an entirely different alternative!
Winter, spring, summer or autumn?
I’ve lived in Northern California along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains my entire life, so I’m probably biased, but I am Winter all the way baby! Drought and forest fire season is a huge source of anxiety and paranoia around here, so we never really take our first deep breath until the first rains of the season, which usually start late October / early November. Even then, we only really relax and feel easy in our homes after December has ushered in winter.
Plus, I’m really hot blooded. It has to be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, rainy, and windy before I trade in my sleeveless shirts and light cotton capris pants for jeans and a top with three quarter length sleeves. Anything over 80 degrees and I’m dying! You can always add layers of you’re cold, but you can’t take anything else off if you’re down to skin and still pouring sweat – never mind that you’re going to have issues with public decency laws of you’re walking around town naked!
Then there’s the aesthetics – I love storms! Well, except when they knock down thirty-foot trees on our houses and cars, but other than that, I love how the world smells with snow on the ground and after a good soaking, listening the to the wind and rain, watching a thunderstorm roll through the canyons and light up the night skies like fireworks on the fourth of July.
Mountains or beaches?
I am so mountains and so not beaches! I have a Love/Hate relationship with the sun (I’ve had five skin cancer tumors removed and I haven’t even hit forty yet!) and I loath sand. On the flip side, I love me some cool shade and moss and green growing things and rivers and lakes and snow and high places and the smell of a forest just after a rain, which pretty much guaranties that I will always live on the rainy side of a mountain range.
Plotter or pantser?
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 world 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.
Standalone or series?
Standalones are great, but they always feel like a tease! You fall in love with a character or a world or a story, but you only get three hundred measly pages to enjoy them?
Give me a series; the longer, the better, man! And make those books Super-Sized! I want to hear a nice solid thump when I drop that sucker on a table. Anyone ever read Diana Gabaldon or Robin Hobb? They’ve got the right idea.
Hero or anti-hero?
Way more interesting! Case in point: Kaz Brekker from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. If you haven’t heard of him, then how about Naomi Novik’s Galadriel from A Deadly Education? It always amazes me how a great author can take a character that lacks many of the qualities we associate with a likeable/relatable protagonist, someone we want to root for, and write them so that despite being disagreeable or even doing some pretty horrible things we still think of them as the good guy of the story and want them to prevail.
Next to a really good anti-hero, the traditional hero becomes flat. Boring. Sickeningly Goodie-Goody. In fact, with all their flaws, an anti-hero becomes more relatable, whereas by comparison the typical hero almost becomes annoying because they begin to seem too good; an unrealistic example that no one, including yourself, will ever be able to live up to in real life.
And let’s be honest – the anti-hero is only doing what we all wish we could do ourselves.
Long live El and Kaz!
3. When you look for books to read, what trope or type of story will always catch your attention?
I can practically see all the heads tilting in a Huh? reaction here, but it’s true. I know competence isn’t exactly a trope, per se, but any story that hints at a protagonist who is highly competent and capable will be an automatic buy with me. I love a really clever character that is already at the top of their game, then sit back and watch them do their thing with panache and style.
A good type of story with these kinds of characters is the heist, which explains how I discovered Six of Crows, but another one is military SciFi. The most competent and capable character I can think of that I’ve read is Tanya Huff’s Torin Kerr from the Confederation of Valor series. One of my all-time favorite series and I am so sad Huff’s wrapped it up for good!
4. What do you write? Tell us about your current projects and the latest happenings!
I’m writing an epic fantasy series set in an alternate history universe where magic is not only real but as pervasive as technology is in our world.
Actually, the story takes place in a whole series of alternate versions Earth strung together in what my main character, Danny, calls the Related Worlds. She’s writing to Alice, who lives in our world, telling her all about her life as a Conduit, an individual with great capacity and affinity for magic that the rest of society uses to increase their own power – a kind of human familiar.
The first book in the series was about how Danny managed to liberate herself from her very powerful family who were exploiting her terribly. My second book, which I am about to release, is about her struggles to find a new home for herself and a base of operations as she sets out to free others like herself. This second book was a lot of fun for me to write because I got to introduce everyone to the circus and all of the cool people who call that town-on-the-rails home. This is book where Danny really gets to start spreading her wings (figuratively and literally) to see just what she’s truly capable of.
5. What real-life inspiration do you draw from, and what are your primary fictional sources of inspiration (books, authors, films, music, etc.)? Name a few!
Wow, um, big question! But an important one to be sure, so it’s worth taking the time to unpack this and address each one properly, so here goes!
a. Real-life Inspiration:
v Historical events and people –
I read a lot of book on history, especially of the American Civil War because I am a lazy author who knows nothing about military operations, war, or conflicts in general. Yeah me, because that means I’ve been very lucky and sheltered in my life to have never even been near any kind of fight on any scale, but it does mean I have a lot of homework to do and I have to make sure my chosen subjects have been well-covered. Once I realized slavery was going to be a major driving force in Danny’s story, that there was going to be a war over it, I thought to myself “where can I find source material that covers how a society structures itself around slavery, the problems that arise in such societies, how these societies build up to civil war, how these wars are fought and won, then how they rebuild?
The Civil War! And, bonus: the American Civil war has probably been documented better than any other conflict on American soil, so I will have tons of material to use for every aspect of my series, including plenty of historical people to base my vast cast of characters on. Danny and her role in these events is actually heavily inspired by Harriet Tubman. If you’re a history buff, then that’s a bit of a spoiler, so sorry about that!
v Mythology and Ancient Cultures –
So much of my world and its denizens are based on ancient mythology and cultures. The pivotal point that split Danny’s world from ours was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Danny’s world, Judas never betrayed Jesus, who went on to lead a long, highly influential life preaching his important lessons to the masses… but he never died on the cross and was never resurrected. In Danny’s world, Christianity never gained the following it did in ours and so never gained the kind of influence that prompted the Romans to take it on as their official state religion. Because of that, Danny’s world still has a lot of Old-World influences from the Celts and the Norse and Native Americans, etc.
I’ve tried to stay as close to the original legends and those ancient cultures as I can get, meaning I’ve done massive amounts of research and note-taking. Of course, there will always be debate over which versions are the correct ones amongst the myth and legend nerds out there, but I don’t really have to worry which is right and which is wrong in the end. If I’ve done my best to research a myth and still stir up controversy, then I can always remind people that I’m writing an alternate history fantasy series – I’m the author, so my version is the right one! Nah-nah-na-Nah-naaah!
And besides, those stories were only the leaping off point. A lot can happen in two thousand years to change a culture! I mean, just look at how much the English have changed over that span of time?
b. Fictional Inspiration:
v Books –
If the phrase ‘related worlds’ sounds a mite familiar, it’s because I robbed Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomancy series blind when I was coming up with how the multi-verse works in my story. I tend to take Aaron Sorkin literally. He’s the one who said “Good writers borrow from other writers; great writers steal from them outright.”
v Authors –
Dude, Jim Butcher!
Everyone is always – and correctly – impressed with how J. K. Rowling plotted out the Harry Potter series. She imbedded vital details in the first part of chapter one that you don’t even recognize as important clues until book three or six!
Ok, that’s cool, but that was only a seven-book series.
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is a 20+ book series that will be capped off by an epic trilogy where each book is George R. R. Martin sized. That is what I’m aspiring to with my own long-running series.
I want to be Jim Butcher when I grow up!
v Music –
I listen to a lot of music when I’m trying to come up with my character and scenes. As a general rule, Lindsey Stirling is my go-to idea generator. I own every bit of music she ever came up with or collaborated on and I put all of them on a loop when I really have to buckle down and get worlds on the page.
But there are a few standalone songs that really personify Danny as a character and they are:
- Nine Inch Nails’ The Hand That Feeds
- Halsey’s Gasoline
- Halsey’s Castle
- Lorde’s Yellow Flicker Beat
- Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound’s Ne’er Do Wells
6. What is your writing routine? If you have one, give us the run-down!
For getting out a book, it’s easy – you write! Sometimes you can’t wait to start typing because your head is bursting with everything already put together, the scenes and dialogue just has to get on the screen, and other times writing feels like the worst kind of slogging chore. Doesn’t matter what mood your in or if you have ‘writer’s block,’ if you don’t get words on the page, you will never finish your book, let alone get a chance to decide if it’s good or bad.
Because I am a slow writer who tends to agonize over every narrative choice, descriptor, and word usage, I’ve given myself the goal of writing 1,000 words in two hours, five nights a week. Sometimes I get more, sometimes I’m up past eleven o’clock forcing myself to meet that quota before I let myself get some sleep, but since I’ve started doing it, I’ve gone from taking six years to write a book of 260,000 words to writing a 230,000-word book in nine months. The best part? So far, my beta readers all come back with favourable reviews and can’t tell the difference in the quality of my writing.
The moral of this story, therefore, is that if you want to write a book, then you have to put your butt in the chair and write the book!
7. Last but not least: where can we find you? Drop those links!
You can find my books in just about every online retailer’s website for both physical books and ebooks. Everyone from Amazon, to Barnes & Noble, to Kobo. Just remember that my name is Tiffani with an ‘i’ at the end when you’re looking for them.
If you’re looking to talk shop with me online, well…
Ok, so I have a confession to make – I hate social media. Biggest times-suck ever! I don’t even have accounts on most of them and the two I AM on are always on the shaky edge of being shut down for lack of use. I would just much rather be reading, or writing, or researching for my writing, or going to Ren Fairs where I do really cool things with hairbraiding, or doing art, or walking my dogs, or hanging with friends, or playing Skyrim, or, you know… living my life.
But I do have a website, tiffani-collins.com, and a blog and a contact page, so I am reachable and I do love talking with people and being totally nerdy about books. Hard to get me to STOP talking, really, and I enjoy nothing more than to gush with fellow fans of the same books or learning of new series I might be interested in. So, please, by all means, come visit my website and drop me a line!