Author Spotlight: Tiffani Collins

  • writer, animal lover, blackbelt, and definitely — an Aquarius

Readers, let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!

A California Native, Tiffani Collins grew up in the Sierra Mountains surrounded by dogs, cats, rats, alligator lizards, iguanas, parakeets, horny toads, horses, goats, king snakes, ferrets, chickens, fish, ponies, and hamsters – is it any wonder she went on to be a Veterinary Technician for fifteen years or to write about talking animal people? As an adult, she’s found her second home braiding hair while wearing tight bodices and voluminous skirts among many other history geeks all speaking Elizabethan English and wishing it was still 1593. Now she is a library clerk and helps people find their next favorite book. She’s also earned her black belt in Tai Kwon Do and an Associate of Science degree, studied the violin, and nursed a voracious addiction to the written word.

She is the author of Reflections of a Runner, the first book of the epic fantasy series The Traveler’s Journal. It is set in a series of related alternate worlds where magic is real and which in each history history has taken a very different turn. Her other book, Dark Wood, is a companion novel in the same series.

Tiffani, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Dude!  A hippogriff!  Good for home security as well as getting around!

A lovely selection.

What do you write? And how did you get started?

I wrote my first story for an 8th grade English project.  I must have really enjoyed the experience, because in my freshman year of high school I joined an online fan-fiction writers’ group and played with the fine writers of Sanctuary until I graduated in 2001 and went off to college.

Currently, 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 North Star, calls the Related Worlds.  She’s writing to Alice Sinclair, 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 is 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.  The second book, which will be released in August, 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 will be the book where Danny really gets to start spreading her wings (figuratively and literally) to see just what she’s truly capable of.

What a fun world. I’m a fan of world-building, too.

What do you like to read?

Well, it kind of depends on what I’m doing at the time and my mood, but generally speaking, if it’s fiction I like urban fantasy, fantasy, and epic fantasy, then science fiction and historical fiction, some horror but I hate the ones that end in tragedy, which is at least half the genre so I’m more than a little picky.  I’m even pickier when it comes to romance.  As a general rule, I am not a fan of romance, but occasionally there are a few exceptions to my rule, like many of Ilona Andrews’ books, and then there are others that sneak past my radar, such as the Outlander series, which I didn’t even know was considered a romance until I tried to buy my own copies of the books at a Barns and Noble.

If it’s non-fiction then I like history, specifically ancient history about long ago cultures, usually European and Native American, but also of certain areas of study or culture, such as the history of the circus, the gladiators of Rome, the origin of several world religions, medicine, and then my favorite—mythology.  I also like reading books about human psychology and animal behavior.  And then, occasionally, I dip into the how-to books as I research for my novels.  Some of my favorites include a book on herbal medicines, an author’s reference guide to poisons (really, really cool—and likely to get me arrested), and how to survive naked in the wilderness.

My to-read pile has a few of those things on it, too!

What’s one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you?

Don’t take more than 3 months to write.

I’ve heard it said that Stephen King believes no manuscript, regardless of word count, should take more than three months to write.  I guarantee, that will never be me.  Even if I were a full-time author—which I’m not—my very best words/day record was 7,000 once Sunday, but my average writing pace is ~1,000 – 1,500 words hammered out in two hours every evening after work.  That means it takes me at least nine months to complete a novel of the length I usually do, which is between 130,000 to 200,000 words – or 400+ to 600+ page fantasy novels, all needing extensive world-building and research.

Imagine telling Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Diana Gabaldon, Jacqueline Carey, or George R. R. Martin they should be able to write their books in three months!  Laughable, right?  Therefore, this is the most unreasonable piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard.

You’ve got some long books, and I’m sure there are people out there who would say that George RR Martin might should hurry it up a bit, but yeah. Writing long works takes a while. While I can usually draft in 3 months, that doesn’t count revisions!

What’s one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands?

Ok, so I have two pieces of advice that I fall back on regularly every time I hit a bump in the road.

There’s no ‘right way’.

The first is that there are as many different writing styles as there are writers.  That there is no one ‘right’ way, only the way that works best for you.  This becomes important when I worry that I’m writing too slowly, as Stephen King would have it, or that I can’t just skip around to other scenes when I hit a roadblock on the one I’m currently working on because I’m very linear thinking.  When I despair that my style of writing never seems to measure up to others’ standards or match the advice I find surfing the web, I take a deep breath and remind myself that skipping from scene to scene or pouring out words all willy nilly as fast as one can might work for them, but it doesn’t work for me—and that’s okay!

Writing requires butt-in-chair.

The other is equally important.  It amounts to this: put your butt in the chair and words on the page until you get to ‘The End.’  That’s the only sure-fire way a book ever gets written.  Doesn’t matter if you’re feeling inspired or have hit “writer’s block,” if you put words on the page, even if you think it’s an utter pile of dog’s vomit, you’re making headway and it’s better than not writing anything at all.  You can clean up the steaming pile of puke during the editing phase.

I have done this and in the past two books, I’ve learned that what I thought were the worst bits of my book were actually the favorite parts of my editor and beta readers.

…and I lied, there’s three, but this one’s easy and small.  Ilona Andrews had this advice for one of her readers who is also a writer who wanted to know how she and her husband were able to write humor so well.  Andrews said you basically write what makes you laugh.  I try to remember that, though I have a feeling I have a long way to go before I’m in the same league as her, Butcher, and Huff.

Great pieces of advice, that my readers should recognize from me harping on them. All The Time.

Now, tell us something funny from your adult life

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, its 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.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Reflections of A Runner (The Traveler’s Journal Book 1)

“It’s no secret that people got hurt. That some of them were arsewipes. That I was betrayed or did the betraying. That I pulled off the first escape from the most powerful family of enchanters in over a century—how else would I be here to tell you my story?”

So says Danny North Star (a.k.a Danika Anna O’Connor Ó Griohtha); fugitive, thief extraordinaire, and the woman Alice Sinclair finds herself writing to through a magical journal—though it, and Danny, could just be a sign that Alice should go back on her meds. She’s sure that’s what her psychiatrist would say if Alice admitted her new pen pal was a woman who claimed to live in an alternate reality and who belonged to a rare breed of human, called a Conduit, who can do miraculous things with magic.

Alice has spent her entire childhood wondering if she was insane or if all of the weird things that happen around her are real. She knows she didn’t start that fire and she wasn’t the one who almost killed the neighbor’s boy, but she’s never had proof and no one has ever believed her side of the story. So when Alice suddenly finds herself hiding out from an underground magical society its inhabitants call Wonderland, she still isn’t one hundred percent certain if her fears are another check in the crazy column or a very real threat.

One thing she does know is that the only one she can turn to for help is Danny, who says she has a contact in Alice’s reality who might be able to go to her aid. There’s just one problem. It’s going take a few days for this mysterious contact to get to her.

To keep all her worries and self-doubts at bay, Alice loses herself in Danny’s story of how she gained her freedom in the face of impossible odds. It’s a cautionary tale of just how far those in power will go to keep their place on top and the steep cost for those the powerful exploit who strive to change their fate. Reading Danny’s accounts of enslavement and torture at the hands of one magical society, Alice realizes she shouldn’t be asking herself if she was crazy or sane…

…but whether or not madness was better than the alternative.

Reflections of a Tigress (The Traveler’s Journal Book 2)

“Cheater” is a word only used by those who’ve lost the game.

Alice isn’t crazy and Danny is free.

Now, both Alice and Danny must try and find their places in a wider world they know almost nothing about. That means it’s back to school for Alice, who might have graduated with honors amongst the mundanes but now finds herself playing catch-up to the preteens of Wonderland. As if that wasn’t enough, the Knave, the head of Wonderland’s law enforcement, has gone missing. To find him, Alice will have to break the rules and enlist the help of a foul-mouthed teenage miscreant to find him.

For Danny, freedom has come at a price. No home. No resources. No one to trust except her cousin Bran. They fled their powerful family together, forced to fake their own deaths or die in truth. Now, Danny can’t even wear her own face let alone use her real name. It also means she’s finally free to pursue her burning passion—to liberate other Conduits still trapped in the nightmare she only recently escaped. But can she get her newly rescued fugitive to safety without being discovered herself?

Dark Wood: A Traveler’s Journal Companion

Bitter and disillusioned, Nící, a member of a race of fox people known as Kitsüns, has been running from her bloody past and her sister’s ghost for almost twenty summers. In her travels through the Lochren Range with the Tenjic, a clan of fierce fighters and clever misfits, she thought she had seen it all. Every nightmare and horror story monster the Range threw at them, Nící and the Tenjic had faced down. Nící even had trade arrangements with a few of those monsters.

But when a pack of rogue werewolves abducts Ruse, her brother and only remaining family, Nící learns that there is something far worse than water demons and trolls lurking in the Range. Nící will have to face her past if she stands any chance of saving her brother from an ancient threat that hasn’t been seen for generations.

Check Tiffani Collins out across the web!

Website | Amazon | Goodreads


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