Tiana Warner is the author of the multi-award-winning Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy. She has a computer science degree and is a professional nerd working in the high-tech industry. She lives by the beach in Vancouver, Canada, and spends her free time riding her horse, Bailey.
TBL Author Q&A Series: Tiana Warner
This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!
How would you say your writing career began? Was there a certain event, person, or intuitive impulse that guided you to forge your own literary path?
I could get into a nature-nurture debate with myself over whether I was born with the need to write or learned to love it, but it’s probably both. Inherent introversion aside, if my parents hadn’t provided me with an endless supply of books, and if teachers and family hadn’t said “Good job!” whenever I wrote something, I doubt I would have been so motivated to keep writing. A word of encouragement is huge for kids. I guess the moral of the story is to recognize when kids have worked hard at something and to tell them when they’ve done a good job. It could make a positive impact on their whole life, like it did for me.
Can you discuss the themes and topics that entice and inspire you most? In what ways has your writing evolved throughout your career?
There was a clear turning point in my writing at about eleven years old. Until then, I wrote happy stories about horses and unicorns, and my poems got endless praise at school. Then, one day, a girl in my class out-poemed me. She wrote a verse about a girl who got killed by a ghost, and the whole class was like, “Wooow you’re sooo talented!” And I was sitting there like, “Um, excuse me? I thought I was the class poet?” My brief jealousy turned into an epiphany: stories with suspense and shock value do well. I went home and wrote a poem about a girl who gets killed by a ghost (sincerest flattery, ok?). After that epiphany, my stories got a bit darker. Today, stories with a dark side entice me the most—for example, not just mermaids, but mermaids that will kill and eat you.
What/who are some of your greatest literary influences?
My favorite author of all time is J. K. Rowling (says the girl with a Ravenclaw banner hanging behind her). I’m also inspired by YA authors with strong voices, like Maggie Stiefvater. In terms of writing craft, Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, was a game-changer. I also learn a ton from K. M. Weiland’s website, Helping Writers Become Authors. For anyone wanting to be a writer, those two sources are my top recommendations.
You started your own press, Rogue Cannon Publishing, and self-published your books. Can you tell us about your decision to become an independent author and your publication process?
What I love about self-publishing is that you have total control over your book: editing, cover design, price, promotions, timeline. The downside is that it’s harder to get noticed by the media, bookstores, and the general public, because there’s no “gatekeeper” to decide whether your book is good (until you get reviews!). You have to work to prove yourself and be patient. But it’s worth it. Overall, I highly recommend self-publishing. It gives you the power to make your writing a rewarding and profitable business. As for the process, it’s easier than it used to be. I wrote a step-by-step guide to self-publishing a book. A lot of people have found it helpful, so if anyone’s curious, check it out!
As an indie author who reached #1 on Amazon bestseller lists, what advice do you have for writers who want to self-publish?
Hire a professional editor and cover designer and then go forth and get reviews. Reviews are the best form of marketing, more than social media blasts, ads, book signings, and anything else I can think of.
To get reviews, you’ll have to give hundreds of copies of your book away for free. Find book bloggers and offer them free advance paperbacks. Run free eBook promotions (InstaFreebie or KDP Select are good for this). If some kid from the other side of the world emails you, wanting a free copy to review, give them one. The benefits of a good review outweigh the few dollars you’ll make from someone buying a copy.
The setting and culture in your trilogy, Mermaids of Eriana Kwai, is based on Haida Gwaii and the indigenous people living in the Pacific Northwest. What was your research process like? What boundaries did you set for yourself when using an indigenous culture to inspire a part of your trilogy?
The Pacific Northwest is my favorite natural setting in the world. Spending time in British Columbia’s forests is the most humbling, transcendental experience a person can ask for. I put Eriana Kwai in the Pacific Northwest for this reason. In that location, I imagined many families would have immigrated from adjacent countries, but the core of its culture would be similar to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. From there, I knew I had to do research, both online and in person (I went to Haida Gwaii!).
I wanted to ensure the aspects I was representing were done properly. In terms of boundaries, I kept the setting fictional and didn’t set the story on Haida Gwaii because, as a writer, I wanted to imagine my own scenarios for the island’s history and way of life. Writing about a culture other than your own is tough and there’s no clear line as to what is acceptable, but I think intent matters. My intent was to pay homage to Canada’s indigenous people. I wrote about a young indigenous woman and her family because the culture and wilderness of the Pacific Northwest are so vibrant and beautiful. I hoped to share some of that beauty with readers.
What can writers do to portray diverse characters authentically, especially if an author is writing about a character they do not share a cultural background with?
There’s no better way than by talking to people with that background. For any character, no matter how different they are from you, part of the writing experience is to immerse yourself in that person’s life. Even the simplest things are worth asking about. In the book I’m working on now, my protagonist has glasses, and as someone who doesn’t wear glasses, I had uncertainties! So, I asked others what I should consider. I learned a few things about the daily struggles of wearing glasses. Same applies for anything. It’s also critical to be aware of stereotypes and overdone tropes when writing diverse characters. I’m part of a Facebook group, Writers for Diversity, which is a great place to ask questions and have open discussions about anything you’re unsure about.
You’re currently working with artist April Pierce to adapt your novel, Ice Massacre, into a graphic novel. How did that project come about? How is working on a graphic novel different from writing fiction?
A few months ago, I got an email from a stranger asking if I wanted to meet up and discuss my book. Having no sense of self-preservation, I said “Sure!” Just kidding––she was really genuine and we’re both Vancouver-based indie authors. I met April at a cafe and we talked about writing a bit, and she proposed a comic adaptation for Ice Massacre. It just so happened that I’d been thinking about doing a graphic novel for the last month or so. Destiny! She showed me her art and I fangirled over how amazing it was. Soon, we made a contract and got to work on the pitch pages.
Writing a graphic novel feels more like writing a screenplay: conciseness is key. An entire dialogue in the book must be shortened to two lines, entire chapters must be condensed into a couple of pages, and the entire plot reevaluated for key story beats. Yet, all of the important events, settings, and conflicts need to stay. It’s a big challenge but a fun one.
After having successfully accomplished so much, what are your goals? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication?
My next project is a science fiction novel about a young woman who gets an internship at an aerospace company and discovers her boss is a supervillain. My goal is to be a hybrid author––that is, one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes books, so I’m going to pitch this one to agents and see what happens. Beyond that, I intend to write more novels and perhaps some screenplays. My career as an author has just begun and though I might try different genres and styles, my plan is to never stop writing.
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