Author Interview: GL Tomas ("The Sterling Wayfairer Series")
Hello my lovelies! Today I'm sitting (so to speak) with two long-time blogger friends who have recently made a break into the writing world. Meet Guinevere and Libertad Tomas - or, more concisely, GL Tomas - proud owners of the Twinja Book Reviews and Rebellious Cupid Book Reviews blogs, and even more proud champions of all kinds of diversity in books (which inbues both their blogs anyway!). GL Tomas have just self-published their first novel The Mark of Noba, which is also book 1 in The Sterling Wayfairer Series. With them, I'll get to talk about not only the aforementioned saga, but also the whole writing process, the path to self-publishing, and diversity of course!
Out in Spring 2016!
Before we get to know GL Tomas a little better, here's a spotlight on their ongoing debut series...
Title:The Sterling Wayfairer Series (4 books) Authors:GL Tomas Genres:Portal Fantasy (though fans refer to it as Sci-Fi too), Time Travel Year:2015+ Age:14+ Available on:Paperback and Kindle The Mark of Noba (book 1 in The Sterling Wayfairer Series) on Amazon |on Goodreads The City of Fallen Stars (book 2 in The Sterling Wayfairer Series)on Goodreads
Blurb for The Mark of Noba:Sterling Wayfairer has one goal for his senior year: make his mark. He’s been slipping into the background his whole high school career - distracted by his mother’s mental health, unsettled by the vivid dreams that haunt him at night, and overshadowed by the athletic accomplishments of his popular best friends. But this year is going to be different. He’s going to break a few rules, have some fun, and maybe even work up the nerve to ask his crush out on a date. But things don’t go exactly as planned. Students are disappearing, Sterling starts losing time, and it all seems to center around Tetra, a girl no one else seems to notice but him. When he finally tracks her down for answers, they aren’t what he expects: he and Tetra hail from a world called Noba, and they’re being hunted by a Naga, a malevolent shapeshifter that’s marked them for destruction. Tetra and Sterling have distinct abilities that can help them fight back, but their power depends heavily on the strength of their bond, a connection that transcends friendship, transcends romance. Years apart have left their bond weak. Jumpstarting it will require Sterling to open his heart and his mind and put his full trust in the mysterious Tetra. If he doesn’t, neither of them will survive. (Amazon excerpt)
Interview:The Sterling Wayfairer Series is your first foray into fiction - but is The Mark of Noba the very first book you conceived? How long did it take to write? And what made you decide to split the saga in a total of four books?
It’s funny! The Mark of Noba is quite a new idea compared to other projects. We always had it in our head, that the first book or work we’d publish was a Adult High Fantasy (that we’re actually still working on! lol) but years of going through things have changed a bunch of the plot around.
The Mark of Noba only came a few years ago, in comparison to most our WIPs which we’ve had since teenagers. It did take a 2.5 years to write, but only because we greatly disagreed how the plot should go, how much back story we should include, which characters to focus on most, and many other dirty factors readers have no idea about!
A lot of your upbringing teaches you to think a certain way, and when we’d finished a 1st draft of The Mark of Noba, many of the characters were a little sexist. We couldn’t believe reading it back to ourselves, considering how much we try to combat sexism in our writing! So it was great that we sat on it for as long as we did.
The decision to split it into four books is based on how Tetra and Sterling’s story arc weakens or strengthens. What we have in store for them will make them see the world in new ways, and while we considered making it a trilogy, we would’ve crammed one of the most important parts about their past in Book 3, and it would feel very info-dump, lol.
Tell us a little about your path to becoming writers - when and how did you make a conscious decision about that? And why did you decide to go self-pub?
I think all writers become writers when they’re kids. Even when your work sucks, you think it’s clearly genius =D
But seriously, Sailor Moon fan fiction was like, so what made us want to write speculative fiction. We were so corny when we were 13. We’d write these elaborate stories for all the characters, and canon them different races, so it could be more diverse than it was XD
We’re horrible, we know! But that started the bug. What started the journey was seeing the lack of different narratives in books.
I read The Fold by An Na when I was 18 years old. It was the first time I’d read a book that featured a cast solely of all Asian American characters, that navigated through a world with Eurocentric beauty as its norm. I’m clearly not Asian, but there was just something about a book addressing these issues of beauty, when you’re not the standard of it.
I never knew you could address things like that in books, because the books we’re given in school weren’t really diverse, and when they were, they’re problematic. It’s not easy finding books that speak a narrative that can relate to everyone that reads it, but it was the first time I thought my narrative mattered enough to consider writing my own stories.
Self publishing took a lot of thought. There are fears you have going into either route. Traditional publishing isn’t an easy route to make money, and neither is self publishing. Both have equally tough challenges and rewards, but after a 3 years of researching agents and publishing houses that might be good fits for us, we decided to self publish for creative control.
Authors often get to write their dream stories, but they don’t always have control over things like cover, or making unconventional heroines, which isn’t a bad thing. Conventional heroines push books. You have to be really serious about wanting heroes and heroines that don’t fit a certain norm, because they may not connect to lovers of the genre you write for.
My biggest fear was that one of our main characters, Tetra, wouldn’t be well received. She’s not a typical damsel in distress, but I wouldn’t say she’s “badass” either. She’s smart, and is capable of many things based off hard work, but she’s not very conventional. I wanted to keep that about her. It’s a selfish reason, but I’m so used to Black girls in books being written a certain way, that I just wanted to see something different.
Our biggest fear turned out to be silly in the end. For all of her brashness, she happens to be the most well received character. I'm not sure if we could’ve sold that kind of character to a publisher.
But self publishing is very expensive if you want to take it seriously. There are no advances, so most of the work is on you. We’ve dished out thousands of dollars on cover design, editing, formatting, promotion, swag, blood, tears, sweat. And we’re not likely to make any of that back until our audience grows, or we come out with more books.
But that cover. Do you think we would’ve got a slamming cover like that if we hadn’t paid for it ourselves!
There are several authors who work in tandem, but very few are siblings, not to mention twins. Does it guarantee you see things eye to eye, or do the two of you have a different approach to your material?
Absolutely not. Writing with Guinevere is just about the worst partnership one can think up XD
All jokes aside, it’s challenging. Most people assume just because we’re similar and join our ideas together, that we must also be each other’s cheerleaders too. Writing with Guinevere is difficult. Sometimes we have different ideas on endings, that make writing together harder than it has to be XD
When we’re on the same wave length, it’s golden. But when we’re not, it’s downright depressing. I guess because we’ve spent our entire childhoods together, she’s not afraid to hurt my feelings and vice versa. There are times I’m really passionate about something that she isn’t and it slows down our writing process. There are times when I’m firm on things I want to see happen in a project, that she thinks sound absolutely ridiculous.
Writing by yourself is hard, but you have complete control. Co-authoring with someone means you share the control, so if something doesn’t work for the other, it requires a lot of give.
We both stopped writing for a month when we had very different ideas on how we wanted Sterling and Tetra’s story to end throughout the entire series. We couldn’t see eye to eye, and it was hard, because it was her initial concept, but I thought how she decided to end things were a bit corny and a little redundant.
But overall, we give each other feedback on why we don’t think things work for us. Since we also review books, we’re both looking for situations and characters that won’t make us put a book down. We both put down books for different reasons, so the critique is helpful, because as a writer, you need more than just someone telling you how great you are.
Being told you’re writing is amazing is awesome, but it doesn’t really help your writing grow. Being told you suck, and why you suck, definitely helps XD at least for us it does!
You are strong advocates for all kinds of diversity in books. From what I've learned, the book community is a bit wary of white authors writing from a non-white POV. I would assume that the reverse is also true. What prompted you to have two lead characters one of which is not a POC? Why did you decide to actually name the saga after him? How did you feel about writing in the POV of a male white guy? (Which I think you totally pulled off, by the way).
I do believe there’s a sort of resentment towards white authors who choose to write a diverse book filled with poor representations and then go on to become best sellers. Writing from a narrative that’s different from your own is so daunting but it must be done respectively. I don’t know how I feel yet about white authors no longer writing characters of different marginalizations. I do agree, until the playing fields are level, it’s not hard to feel some type of resentment, but I also think writing from a different narrative is fun, and you learn a lot from it. There’s a blog post by author Justine Larbalestier swimming around. As a white author, she’s choosing not to solely write from POC main characters unless there are dual narratives. I think it’s interesting where the conversation about diversity has gone by actually addressing it head on.
I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t know what’s the real solution to this dilemma, because as a lover of diverse narratives, I'm less likely to read books that don’t have a marginalized main character (it goes further than race. Disability, religion, national origin, gender, size, and many other different voices), so it somewhat pains me to know authors who I like, who happen to be white, are now afraid to write marginalized voices, but maybe it’ll boost works from said marginalized voices better. But since we’re nowhere near that point, it’s hard to say what’s the solution!
As far as The Mark of Noba? The truth about the dual POV was that the book started out only from Sterling’s POV. When we did have chapters from Tetra, they were 3rd person and just did not work out at all. Guinevere was the one who first came to me about this idea and Sterling in her head had always been white and Tetra had always been black. I think it was just interesting to write these two characters because often when you see people who are best friends of two different sexes, they’re usually the same race and to avoid them coming off as siblings, we tried to make them as different in appearance as possible.
We considered what it might be like to reverse their roles, and make Tetra the true traveler, and Sterling the experienced one, but it felt like the typical “Strong Boy meets Weak Girl” story. Sterling is the least exposed to the “other worlds” knowledge, so he makes a better student for their journey ahead. This is too far down the line, but Sterling won’t be the only True Traveler headlining this series. He happens to be the first True Traveler (for those not familiar with the terms, a true traveler is someone Noba “calls” to Noba, they don’t necessarily have to be born there) we highlight. I agree, that’s a bit confusing, especially because he’s white, and a boy, narratives that don’t seem to have trouble finding books about.
But we typically highlight different relationships in our writing, including interracial ones. Making Sterling white isn’t very brave, but it mirrors Guinevere’s relationship with her boyfriend of 5 years, so it didn’t seem like a big deal when figured out the details 4 years ago.
In terms of writing from the POV of a white male, it was really the simplest thing in the world to do. I think the biggest difference between POC and white children is that from Day One, children who aren’t part of the majority are unknowingly force fed images that being white is the norm. Growing up we watched more shows with white families than anything else because that was just what was being offered. In school (I’m only speaking for American schools, not the entire world) we spend a whole 12 years learning about white people, with exceptions for Black History month in February, and reading about straight white people. It’s hard not to internalize that as the typical American experience so I definitely think most POC have an idea of what it’s like to be a white person from a general standpoint.
Writing Sterling was never hard because I grew up seeing boys like him on TV, the only difference is that Sterling doesn’t have any privilege being from the world he’s from. Being “white” isn’t a thing in Geo and neither is being “black” so of course being non-white in his world isn’t really note worthy because being white isn’t the “norm”. Plus Guinevere’s been dating the same white guy for the past 5 years now, if that’s not research, I don’t know what is lol.
The Mark of Noba displays a variety of skin colours, but apart from race, it features a wide spectrum of other diversities. Would you like to tell us a little more about it?
It’s interesting, because not all of the diversity is in your face. The racial diversity is obvious, based on the Types (they’re slightly based off of the Fitzpatrick Scale) but tried to highlight neuroatypical diversity, as well as gender.
It’s definitely a subject we’ll get to highlight more extensively in future titles as the series progresses, but Tetra, is a person in between genders. She recognizes biologically she is a woman, but gender and the way it’s addressed on Noba versus their current world Geo, are way different.
I can’t say we do everything the same amount of justice for every reader. Some have read Tetra as not queer enough, which is ok (take in mind, Tetra is a mirror image of me. I may not be queer enough by someone’s standards, but I only have to prove to myself my identity). We plan to make it much more apparent and obvious as her story progresses, but we learned a lot in the launch of this book.
Once you start meeting people like Tetra, you realize she’s not different. There are thousands of people just as blunt as her, that don’t adhere to gender, but it’s not as obvious since for now she’s the only person like her.
Sterling himself goes through his own transformation, the more he understands and assimilates to Noban culture. But you have to stay tuned to see how!
Sterling's mother suffers from schizophrenia. How much research went into this issue?
Both of us volunteered at a Hospice that specialized in patients with different kinds of neuro-disabilities. We encountered folks with schizophrenia at different stages for almost six months, twice a week for two hours at a time.
We didn’t want to highlight disability in a negative way, but it is challenging to be young and have adults very dependent on you.
Sterling’s mother having schizophrenia is new to me, but having a family dependent on you because of a disability isn’t. I won’t say it’s more, but often it’s just as challenging to be responsible for another person’s care, when all your friends get to go out and have fun, or do things you can only get away with in your youth.
It isn’t easy. It’s actually something we’re still managing, so I get Sterling in more ways than just what he looks like on the outside.
Who do you think The Mark of Noba will appeal to the most?
Definitely Speculative Fiction readers! Some people have liked it, some people haven’t. But we’re learning that The Mark of Noba has a Science Fiction feel, even though we set out for it to be a Portal Fantasy novel. Sci-fi is very jarring when you’re not a science lover, so we tried to make it appeal to people who like time travel, but fantasy more.
I think teens would and should get the most out of Sterling and Tetra’s narratives, but with so much of the YA audience being adults, we believe there’s cross appeal, especially since the characters age throughout the series.
It really appeals to readers who like girls and women who don’t require a man to take the lead. Sterling is pretty average…now. But as both characters grow, they’ll have to lean on each other to make up for their own strengths and weaknesses, and that requires viewing each other as equals.
Definitely for folks who like Speculative Fiction, but are interested in it outside of just a white straight guy’s gaze. But most of all, for readers who love to laugh! Sterling and Tetra are hilarious together!
Any other thing you want your potential readers to know?
We want folks to know that even with our best efforts, we know not everyone can connect to our book. We’re still active and avid book bloggers, who don’t enjoy every read we pick up either. But what we also want folks to know, is that we’re most passionate about diversity in books, and that we can always suggest books based on a person’s tastes.
It’s not important that you like our book. What’s most important is that you’re actively making sure that all your favorite reads don’t just consist of straight, handsome, cis, abled white dudes or written by the same.
We can suggest a ton of great books that you may enjoy that we didn’t connect to based on taste. We really, really want folks to break out of their reading normative and be a little uncomfortable sometimes.
Diversity isn’t a trend for many people. It’s the identities we can’t erase from ourselves, even when the media does.
Please seek out bloggers, authors, writers, who can help you find positive representation. We can’t stress this enough. There are NYT bestsellers out there with diverse characters that are highly problematic, but when you’re not educated why they’re problematic, you’re doing more harm than good supporting them.
Reach out to the community. Anyone with the We Need Diverse Books campaign is more than willing to suggest amazing books to readers. There are hundreds of authors who write amazing books, and bloggers willing to read more than just the new releases and mainstream books.
Don’t be afraid to unlearn. Learning is difficult, but unlearning negative stereotypes seems to be even harder, and all it takes is to sit back and listen when someone is telling you something is problematic.
Thank you Guinevere and Libertad for being my guests. Keep up the good work - both as authors and bloggers/reviewers! And for everyone who's interested in GL Tomas or/and diverse books (but not only, since they tweet/write about other media as well), see the box below...and say hi to these two sweet ladies!