When Tracy McCusker from Dusty Journal first heard of Tristan J. Tarwater, she said: “That is the best name for a writer EVER!” And it pretty much is. Tristan is the author of Thieves at Heart and the upcoming Self-Made Scoundrel, the first two books in the Valley of Ten Crescents series. Thanks for the great interview, Tristan!
1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Oh wow. At the risk of sounding cliched, when I was very young. I wrote my first book when I was 7; it was about my brother. I learned to read pretty early on and loved reading and as I got older wanted to do the same thing. Write stories, create worlds. The prospect was very exciting as a child and it still is.
2. What is the meaning behind the phrase “back that elf up”?
Back That Elf Up is a pun; when I first started writing the stories of Tavera and the Ten Crescents I was still used to saving things on disks and those disks inevitably getting corrupted or just flat out destroyed. The netbook I was writing on at the time didn’t even had a disk drive and I was worried about my computer dying so at the suggestion of my Admin (and spouse) I posted all the stories on an invite-only blog to archive them. I figured, Blogger isn’t going anywhere. My computer could get hit by lightning. So they were ‘backed up.’ The elf part is kind of obvious. I’m obsessed with elves, probably from a very early exposure to Zelda when I was younger. This blog was called ‘Back That Elf Up’ to reflect the nature of the thing and when we had to think of a name for the official site I thought, ‘well, this is easy to remember.’ And it is more related to ‘backing up’ other writers and creators, supporting them. So basically, it’s a lot of things.
3. Supporting other indie authors seems very important to you. What do you do to support your fellow indie authors, and what has been your greatest source of support?
I think the biggest support I have been given and have been able to give is advice from other authors. Connecting people however I can and sharing my experiences. Being indie means you can sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the waters of publishing, trying to find an editor, a cover, where to print, etc. and getting a bit grounded and being pointed in one direction can save you a lot of brain flails. My greatest source of support has been my spouse who has encouraged me to write and celebrated with me every step of the way. My friend Nathan who has read ALL the beta and is probably the only person who knows how Ten Crescents ends. MeiLin Miranda who told me that I could be better, which was kind of a lifesaver. And my editor, Annetta Ribken who is just fabulous.
4. What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Hmm, it’s a toss up between ‘Just keep writing’ and ‘Get an editor.’ If you don’t keep writing, you’ll have nothing to edit and you’ll never get better. But editing is important. Another brain needs to take it in and let you know what’s up, to put it lightly.
5. You were born and raised in New York City. What sensibilities, if any, have your surroundings brought to the Valley of Ten Crescents series?
When people find out that I grew up in NYC the reaction I generally get is ‘Man, it’s so busy! How did you deal with all those people?’ And people fail to realize that it’s very easy to keep to yourself, to get lost in a sea of people and be alone with your own thoughts. With that many people and neighborhoods, it’s very easy for enclaves of people to follow their own rules, set up their own norms. It’s a place where a lot of people can believe very different things and live very different lives adjacent to one another. Yet with all the dissonance, things keep going.
6. What are the most formative books in your personal library?
Probably the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart. I read that as a young person and to this day, I still don’t think of it as fantasy? It takes Merlin who damn near everyone knows about and turned him into a person, which I thought was awesome. It shows the power of time and story by giving accounts of how things really happened as opposed to the flash and bang of myths. I must have read that book so many times. I kind of have a bit of an investment in Arthurian Legend, given my name and all.
7. Tavera, the main character of Ten Crescents, apparently started as a character in a role-playing game. How has she evolved in her transition into prose?
Well initially I heard we were going to play a game so I thought, ‘What would be fun to play? Okay, a rogue, make her a half-elf. One of her ears is cut.” Then you get your stats and try to fit them to the character, trying to think of back story to have the numbers make sense. At some point they diverged because well, characters in books don’t have stats. Their limitations and abilities aren’t numerical. The back story gave her more history than was necessary to kill things and her journey is definitely more emotional than in the campaign. Especially because the party died in a TPK. HA!
8. Who is the titular “Self-Made Scoundrel” of the second Ten Crescents book, and what’s behind the title?
Tavera’s adopted father, Derk, is the Self-Made Scoundrel. It’s a prequel to Thieves at Heart and talks about how Derk goes from being Dershik, the son of a Baron to the man who kidnaps Tavera at the beginning of Thieves at Heart. Like Tavera he spent his childhood at the mercy of other people but starts his story in a very different place. He has help along the way to scoundrelhood but unlike Tavera, he gets it much later on in life and he has his own weaknesses and strengths to work with.
9. Who does your cover art for Ten Crescents?
Amy Clare Learmonth aka Ruby Saturna does my covers and she is just fabulous. I found her on Twitter and I really dig her style, in addition to her just being a great person in general. She actually does a lot of awesome cyberpunk illustration. She’s in DeviantArt as well.
10. What has been the biggest challenge in writing and self-publishing the Ten Crescents series?
Getting attention is very difficult. Especially for myself and my personality. Believe it or not I’m pretty introverted and publicizing the book and the series has been really hard. Getting people to review and take you seriously after all the work you’ve put in is hard. I’m glad I have help from my Admin and for the internet. It’s made getting info about what we’re about and about Tavera way easier.
11. What songs are in your writing soundtrack?
I find that I write best in silence for the most part to be honest. But sometimes when I need to get my brain in a good spot I listen to PJ Harvey (Uh Huh Her) or The Black Heart Procession (anything but the 3rd album). I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues specifically) when I first started writing the series so I listen to that as well. And Blonde Redhead is another good one. Kind of moody, stuck in your brain kind of tuned I suppose, heh.
12. What are your top five “desert island” books?
Wow, well. Haroun and the Sea of Stories would have to go on their. It’s one of my favorite books. An illustrated William Blake anthology because I love how he combined his poems and art. It’s just glorious and he himself is such an interesting person. I would bring Sky Doll which is technically a comic by Barbara Cenepa and Alessandro Barbucci because it’s such a killer story with great art as well. I love the mixture of religion, faith, sex, technology. It has a lot. Principia Discordia. And the complete works of HP Lovecraft because I love his writing style and when you’re on a desert island surrounded by the ocean, you need to be totally freaked out by Cthulhu.