Interview with Tabitha Lord, author of Horizon.
Bouncing Tigger: Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
Tabitha Lord: I’ve joked that I currently write science fiction because of Star Wars, but there’s actually some truth behind this! I was seven years old when I saw the movie for the first time and it impacted me in countless ways—from my toy collection, to the books I chose to read, to my later love of astronomy. My tastes in reading are diverse, and some of my other works-in-progress are varied and span different genres, but sci-fi is like the default setting for my imagination. It’s where I go when I want to be inspired, to play with possibilities, to ask what if, and then create brand new worlds where I can explore the answers. For me, the sci-fi genre is also a place to consider serious, meaningful issues in a different context, slightly removed from the real world.
With Horizon, I wanted to explore the idea of what would happen if one segment of an already small isolated population evolved differently (either naturally or by design) from the other. What if some had gifts that enabled them to imagine a different kind of future for themselves and their world? What if they were empathic and could sense each other’s emotions and thoughts? What if some of them could heal with their mind? How would the unchanged people feel about their neighbors? It created such an interesting premise I knew I had to find a way to make it into a story. In many ways, Horizon is a traditional space opera, complete with battle scenes, adventure, and romance, but I think this initial concept sets it apart and gives it a unique flavor.
Bouncing Tigger: How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a notebook where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
Tabitha Lord: For Horizon, the idea mentioned above swirled in my head for years before I started writing. Once I had the first chapter down, I created a rough outline for the rest of the story, and then for the whole series.
When I’m in the middle of a draft, I keep a notebook with me everywhere. Sometimes an idea for a scene will come to me while I’m driving or cooking or folding laundry. I have to stop whatever I’m doing and capture it! Sometimes other ideas for completely different projects will sneak in, and I write these down as well, but then I warn them they have to wait their turn!
Bouncing Tigger: How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
Tabitha Lord: I research as I go along. It’s fun to write sci-fi because you get to invent things! I love naming planets and imagining cool new pieces of technology my characters can use. But readers still have to buy into the world you’re creating. It has to feel authentic and consistent. Caeli’s planet, where the novel opens, is recovering from a devastating war that took place a thousand years ago. Nature has reclaimed most of her world, and when we meet Caeli, she is alone and on the run in the wilderness. I used my own experiences camping, hiking, and growing up in a rural area to bring a credible feel to these scenes. I have actually carved my own utensils from chunks of wood with a pocketknife!
Bouncing Tigger: What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
Tabitha Lord: For my writing, in general, I regularly use a thesaurus! The internet is also my friend. When Derek’s spaceship crashed, I looked up schematics for fighter jets so I could understand a little about the systems at work in the engines and controls. My anatomy background is pretty strong, but when Caeli heals Derek, I still called my brother-in-law, a doctor, to make sure she was treating his collapsed lung correctly.
Bouncing Tigger: How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
Tabitha Lord: Ah, rejection letters! I think I accumulated about twenty-five. The thing about rejections, once you recover from the sting, is that they can sometimes be helpful. If your manuscript isn’t polished enough, you may need to work with an editor. If the story isn’t pulling people in quickly, you may need to spice up your opening chapters. Usually there is a common thread, and if you are open to hearing it, you can make adjustments and move forward. My first round of rejections, which included one R&R (rewrite and resubmit), suggested that I had a good story, but the manuscript needed more work. I hired an editor, and after months of rewriting, I queried again. This time I had more success and was offered contracts from two small presses.
Bouncing Tigger: Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?
Tabitha Lord: No. But after receiving the offers, I opted not to sign, and began to seriously look at independent publishing. At this point, it became mostly a business decision. For a modest investment on my part up front, I could surround myself with professionals of my choosing, bring my own book to market on my own timeline, and create more of a partnership type relationship with the people I worked with. I signed with Wise Ink Creative Publishing and they provided me with an amazing team. I had control over things like who to hire as a cover artist, when I would release the book, and printing and distribution options. And because they are all industry professionals, they wouldn’t let me out the door, so to speak, until my book was in its best form.
Bouncing Tigger: Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
Tabitha Lord: I think there are compelling reasons to self-publish. But if you choose this path, it’s an investment. You are essentially starting a small business and you have to treat it as such to be successful. First and foremost your product has to be good, and you have to be willing to invest the time, energy, and funds to make it so. You also have to build an audience, and then promote and market yourself, or be willing to hire others to help you do it. You have to take ownership of it all. For some writer’s, like me, this is exciting. For others, it’s terrifying.
Regardless of whether you are publishing independently, traditionally, or some combination of both, building an audience is key, and, in most cases, this task falls to the writer. Long before Horizon’s release, I established an online presence by creating a website and blog, choosing a few social media platforms and really working them, attending conferences, and joining writing groups. I was building an audience, while at the same time creating a community for myself and learning as much as I could about the publishing industry. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but the writing community is supportive, vast, and surprisingly social!
Bouncing Tigger: Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
Tabitha Lord: I’m planning it will! But I have no illusions that it will take some time. Ask me this question again in another year or two!