Author Tabitha Lord is a woman who wears many hats. Not only is she a science fiction author, but she is also a senior editor for Book Club Babble and working on a non-fiction collection of stories connected with an awareness campaign for children with pediatric cancer. I am honored to feature her here on No Wasted Ink.
Hi Wendy! Thank you so much for having me on No Wasted Ink! Let me take a moment to introduce myself. I currently live in Rhode Island, a few towns away from where I grew up. I’m married, have four great kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable lab mix. My degree is in Classics from College of the Holy Cross, and I taught Latin for years at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School. Yes, I’m a dinosaur! I also worked in the admissions office there for over a decade before turning my attention to full-time writing. It’s worth noting that I didn’t publish my first novel until after I turned forty, so for anyone thinking of a career change, it’s never too late!
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I loved to write stories as a child. In fact, when I was sorting through some of my grandma’s things after she passed, I came across a whole collection of poetry and stories I’d written. It was very sweet. In my professional life I’ve written some ad copy, blog posts, and done some editing for school publications, but I had very little time or energy for creative writing.
When my children got older and the dynamics of my family shifted, I began to consider changing careers. While I pondered what was next for me professionally I took on a yearlong writing project at work thinking it would give me the change of pace I needed. Turns out it was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done in my career. Since I was in the habit of writing every day for work, I challenged myself to write creatively every day as well. Lo and behold, when the report was finished a year later, so was my first manuscript.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
I’ve been asked to describe my book in ten words. Here’s what I came up with: Science fiction meets romance meets survival fiction meets military thriller!
What inspired you to write this book?
Thoughts for my stories come to me in different ways. Sometimes it’s a character that appears in my head, fully formed – personality, career, physical appearance, and name – ready for me to create a story around. Other times, there’s an interesting scene that builds up in my imagination over time. Or sometimes there’s a theme or idea I want to explore.
With Horizon, I had two distinct parts of a story floating in my head. The first was the opening crash sequence. It was more basic at the time of its inception – just a pilot who crash lands on a planet, and a young woman, in some kind of trouble, who saves his life.
The second part was more complex. I was playing with 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.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
There’s a big chunk of survival fiction in the first part of Horizon. Caeli is living alone in the wilderness, fending for herself, and living off the land. I grew up in a rural neighborhood until I was twelve years old and spent most of my playtime outdoors, in the woods, exploring and climbing trees. I distinctly remember the smell of pine, the quiet in the forest after the first snow, the taste of wild blueberries. I tried to call on my own childhood memories to give Caeli’s experience authenticity. And as an adult, I’ve had a few adventures that influenced this particular aspect of the story! Over the years, I’ve accompanied students on several class trips. We’ve hiked the rain forests in Costa Rica, paddled dozens of nautical miles in the open ocean off the coast of Maine, and camped in the mountains of West Virginia. I have actually tended a cooking fire, carved utensils, found edible plants, bathed in the ocean, and slept outdoors.
I’m also a medical school dropout! But my experience in medical school, and for years as an EMT, I think gives Caeli some authority as a healer. And when I wasn’t sure about a particular treatment, I’d call my brother-in-law, who did finish medical school and is a practicing physician!
What authors or books have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
This is a tough one. I love genre fiction and my shelves are filled with everything from horror, to military thrillers, to historical romance. I also appreciate good literary fiction with characters I remember long after I turn the last page. I just enjoy a good story, no matter the genre or style!
Some of my all-time favorites include The Stand by Stephen King. To me this is the ultimate apocalypse story, full of disquieting horror. Harry Potter is at the top of the list. Such incredible world building and rich characters! Outlander is fabulous. Diana Gabaldon’s dialogue is beautiful, and the relationship between Jamie and Claire is so complex and lovely. Recently I read, and loved, The Goldfinch. Literary fiction at its best! The Snow Child also really stayed with me after I finished reading. As I write this, I am staring at my library shelves and thinking, how can I leave off Barbara Kingsolver or Isabel Allende! Or my favorite Steinbeck novel East of Eden! I learn something different from each of these writers, but mostly I’m just incredibly grateful for the pleasure of reading their work. If someone asks me this question next week, I’ll probably have an entirely different list.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
The immensely talented Steven Meyer-Rassow did both the cover art and interior design for Horizon. I wanted to collaborate with someone whose style and artistry resonated with my own. Every single image of Steven’s that I could find was stunning, and when we discussed my project, I knew he really understood my vision. One of the things we talked about initially was the fact that Horizon would be a trilogy, and we’d like to “brand” the series somehow. So in addition to amazing cover artwork, Steve created a title treatment that will carry through and give all the future Horizon books a cohesive look.
Another thing we discussed was that while Horizon firmly belongs on the shelf with other sci-fi novels, it definitely crosses genres. The cover, therefore, needed to have wide appeal. It needed to be intriguing and eye-catching enough for non-sci-fi readers to pick it up, yet stylistically still fit in with its main genre.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Oh, for sure! First, finish something. A bad draft is better than no draft. Second, keep writing even when you feel stuck. Good habits will help you work through the blocks. But if I had to pick the most important thing for new writers it would be this: a first draft is nowhere near the finished product. This was shocking to me as a first-time novelist – although it shouldn’t have been! I knew edits were going to happen, but I had no idea how much work they would be. If I had to estimate, I would say that writing the first draft was only about one-third of the work. Editing and working through the business side of publishing made up the other two-thirds. What’s fun though, or at least what’s satisfying about the post-first-draft phase, is transforming the story from a rambling, exhaustive, stream of consciousness manuscript, to a work that has structure, flow, and even some artistry. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing through editing.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
The most important thing for me, as a writer, is to tell a good story. I write because I have to get these stories out of my head and onto the paper, but I also write for my readers and fans. I hope people fall in love with my characters and lose themselves in the plot. I hope they’re transported to different worlds. I hope they open my book and time flies away. This is what I want when I read, and I hope I can provide that experience for my fans!
North Kingstown, RI