From the Page to the Screen: An Interview with Tamsin L. Silver

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Photo courtesy of Tamsin L. Silver

Tamsin L. Silver writes a YA urban fantasy series, the Sabrina Grayson novels, and speculative fiction short stories. She not only writes but directs the New York City-based web series, Skye of the Damned. Tamsin holds a BA in Theatre and Secondary Education, with a minor in Creative Writing and Shakespeare, from Winthrop University in South Carolina.

Daily Dragon (DD): You recently launched a new series, the Sabrina Grayson novels. What are those are about?

Tamsin L. Silver (TLS): This is a new world and I’m really in love with it! The books revolve around a girl, Sabrina Grayson, a girl from Connecticut living in NYC, who gets killed on page one and wakes up in a hotel in Times Square with some guy on the second bed playing solitaire who won’t tell her anything. She eventually recognizes him as someone from her past (Alex Price), learns why she isn’t technically dead, figures out that someone is out to kill her, and thus the adventure begins!

The first book, Mark of the Necromancer, is written from Sabrina’s point of view, and so we follow her through the twists and turns as she learns who she really is and that she’s a Necromancer unlike any other from history. This is because she can both walk on the Earth and travel the Death Highway. Using these two talents, and her friends (both the living and the dead), Sabrina and Alex investigate her murder and those of her friends to uncover a plot that, if they don’t stop it, could destroy New York City.

Each book in the series will be a standalone novel and will continue to follow Sabrina, Alex, and her team as they become the first official Supernatural Homicide Division of the NYPD.

DD: What inspired this series?

TLS: I’d just returned from my trip to Charlotte, NC, for ConCarolinas with a copy of How To Write Magical Words (this was before I wrote for the website this book is derived from: www.MagicalWords.net) and a new puppy. So I was jazzed from my time at CC, and sleep deprived… where my only real alone time was on the subway to and from work. It was maybe two days after I got home and I was reading the aforementioned book on the way to work, when suddenly I heard this character’s voice in my head with snarky commentary. I set the book down, snagged my cell phone, and began typing up this “short story” in the Notes section. I think the working title was, “Dead and Single, It Sucks,” because I planned for it to be a comedy about a trust fund baby from Connecticut who ends up undead after an oh-so-dramatic walk in Central Park after her crappy boyfriend breaks up with her. A hundred and twenty thousand words later, that “short story” is Mark of the Necromancer. And yes, I write on my phone all the time.

DD: You also write YA urban fantasy, the Windfire series. What’s the premise?

TLS: Windfire is a serial series written from an ensemble POV (men and women, good guys and bad guys) but centers around a woman by the name of Atlanta Hart and her two best friends, Gray and Jensine. Early on in the series, Atlanta learns that her unusual talents aren’t unexplainable anymore. She’s a witch, and more specifically, she’s an Air Witch, the first born in over 250 years, thus triggering a prophecy for war between the two factions of the Clandestine World. Atlanta and her friends have to learn what side they believe in and not only try to stay alive, but prepare for a battle that looms over them like a terminal diagnosis.

I wanted to write about a group of people like you and me, who are thrown into unworldly situations that mirror issues we deal with in the real world every day, and have them navigate it like we do our lives. It’s messy. It’s full of death, and pain, love and sex, and trials and tribulations that lead them on a journey not only to understand what they believe in, but why, and how far they’ll go to defend that. Because in the end, it’s about the love or hate you have for your brother… and if you can overcome that and unify to save the world.

Books 1 through 5 are out, and book 6 is halfway written. So it should be out in the next year is my hope. Two at most.

DD: How did you go about structuring this group of characters, and how do you keep the details straight from one book to the next?

TLS: There are a lot of characters, I know! I think there are around 33 at this point in the Windfire world-build. They’re not all main characters, obviously, but they play their part. The world is very complex, with political intrigue and multiple factions fighting for control. And to be honest, I came up with this structure based on all the RPGing I’ve done and all the Shakespeare I’ve read, seen, and directed.

DD: Should the Windfire books be read in a particular order?

TLS: I would recommend they be read in the order they came out. Much like Game of Thrones (not that I write like George R.R. Martin), there are a good number of people and political alliances that make the most sense if read in order. I think it also helps the reader become invested in certain characters and pick a side to root for. It’s written in a way where the reader learns the world as Atlanta does and can decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong. I’ve had a good split on this from readers I’ve spoken to as to what faction they side with. So I’d recommend beginning with the title book, Windfire, and then Living Dead Girl, Metamorphosis, Cydonia, and Identity.

I will say that if you were to pick up Book 5 (Identity) and read it, you’d probably get along all right without the other four, but the back story on who these people are, who and what they love (or hate) and why, won’t be as profound, nor will the surprises along the way of information dropped be as fun.

DD: What is the Clandestine Conflict series?

TLS: This is to be a short story series (the first one is out, the next two are written and being edited) that take place in the same world as Windfire. However, as we learn in the first story, Heroes Square, there was an apocalypse of sorts in 2131 that darkens the sky enough that vampires can roam about whenever they want. The air is so bad, only the supernatural can breathe without wearing a special apparatus. Because of this, the Clandestine World steps out from the shadows to save the humans, as it is their job to do, and take control of the planet.

In the short story series, we follow a group of four friends in the year 2144 in New York City. All of tehm are grandchildren of main characters from the Windfire series, and they are trying to keep the peace between the humans and the Clandestine World while attempting to figure out who is behind the riots and the bombings so as to stop another war from coming to fruition. There is a lot of racial hostility on both sides and within the Clandestine World still, and it is tearing apart the harmony that Atlanta and her friends worked hard to build so many years ago. I wrote it a couple years ago and yet, as I type that, it feels very poignant to today.

DD: What are the most challenging and the most fun aspects of writing a series of short stories?

TLS: The challenge is that I’m a novelist. In fact, I’m a wordy novelist. I write big stories with a lot of characters and do a tremendous amount of world building. All of which are not good for writing short stories! However, the fun part is that since the world was already built in my other series, I don’t have as much work to do and I can focus on the characters and cool missions where we fight and blow up stuff. I often recommend Heroes Square to men (young to old) as the pace is quick, I blow up stuff, and the characters are fun, witty, and it’s a military atmosphere for a good part of it.

DD: What is “The Curse of Scáthach” and why is this different from your other work?

TLS: I tend to write Urban Fantasy that revolves around strong, female characters. The Curse of Scáthach is a Weird Wild Western short story that is becoming a full novel. More specifically, it’s a historical fantasy novel based on Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War. So it’s a lot of cowboys, guns, horses, and no cell phones. There are two strong women in the story as well, but they are not main characters.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been devouring history books by Frederick Nolan and others concerning this war. By the time Dragon Con begins, I’ll have been to Lincoln, NM, three times (since July of 2015) doing research. I’ve both talked with historians like Drew Gomber and working with members of the Lincoln County Historical Society so that I get the history as right as I can while weaving my fantasy story through it. For anyone who thinks this sound fun, they can see/read more about it, if they go like the page I created for it with pics, video, and history. This is the biggest thing I think I’ve ever taken on as a writer and I’m just over the moon at how it’s turning out so far.

DD: Who is Skye McKenna?

TLS: You do your homework! Wild West to Urban Fantasy film with a Goth/Industrial vibe! Skye McKenna is my heroine of a web series I created and wrote for VampireFreaks.com called Skye of the Damned, and season one should be free online at the moment. You can find them on YouTube or at www.skyeofthedamned.com.

The premise of the show, as you can guess from the producing entity, deals with vampires. However, in this world, they aren’t a secret. They are like rock stars; attractive, rich, and famous. They thrive in large cities where they build their own political web of control, governing themselves as they see fit while interacting with the humans. Currently they run NYC, but they aren’t the only supernatural creatures in this world. There’s also the FAE (Fallen Angel Errant), descendants of the angels that fell from heaven when Lucifer fought for control and lost. They want control of the city, and the question is, how far will each side go to keep/gain control? Enter Skye and what that brings to the table and people start dropping like flies… but who is killing them and why? That is the real question.

DD: Why did you decide to develop this concept as a web series?

TLS: Jet Berelson, owner and CEO of VampireFreaks.com, came to me and asked if I’d be willing to write a web series for his website. He’s a friend so I said yes and then worked with Lauren Steinmeyer (the actress who plays Skye) to create a fantasy world for film instead of for books.

DD: How does writing for a web series differ from writing novels and short stories?

TLS: There are three big differences.

  1. It takes less time to write a first draft for me in comparison to writing a novel or a short story. I could sit down and get a first draft done of an episode in a few hours. I feel like that’s my one reprieve, because from that point on things get complicated. But that’s because I wore more than one hat on the show.
  2. You can’t just do whatever you want with your fantasy world. You have limits. Those limits are created by your budget. We had no budget for special effects or costly locations, so that limited me in ways I had never had to deal with before. Such as what supernatural beings could be in the story, weather restrictions, and time of year continuity for starters.
  3. You are dealing with the film world now. Even though I have many years working in professional theatre, the film world is different. As are the personalities, rules, and the name of jobs (and their hierarchy). Learning to deal with all of that was probably the most different of it all.

DD: What were the biggest challenges in launching a web series?

TLS: Raising the money. Unless you are a big name or have a big name attached to a project, or have invented something so new and amazing (like those winter jackets designed for the homeless that are also a sleeping bag) that the everyday joe is throwing money at you, raising money via a crowd funding platform is really hard. We were only able to raise enough to shoot six episodes so that became season one.

DD: Did you face any unexpected challenges when you started directing?

TLS: As my directing degree is in theatre and I tend to think about what the audience sees, and I had a very talented DP/Editor (Nyle Cavazos Garcia with Small Town Pictures), the item that should’ve been difficult wasn’t. Thinking in camera angles vs. all audience wasn’t the challenge I thought it would be. However, there were three things I’d not thought would be difficult, that definitely were a challenge. But that stemmed from that fact that I wore more than just the director hat. I was also the casting director, costume designer, producer, last minute make-up artist (once), props director, and twice I was the caterer.

So the three things were trying to find locations that were in budget and worked for what we needed hard (hats off to people who do that for a living!), filming in public spaces outdoors (airplanes, children, and rude adults), and the time it takes, which is both emotionally and physically draining. With theatre it’s rehearsals a few hours a night for four weeks, then you tech, do a show for two to three weeks, and then strike… it’s a formula. There is a new formula/plan each day when on set and you are at the mercy of the weather, parking, health, actors’ schedules, public transportation—or if the Universe is out to get you and your assistant locks the keys to the van in the van while we’re on location and without it we can’t finish the shoot. Often the crew would get to set as early as 7AM sometimes and not leave until midnight. I have a day job, so when we’d film—we’d shoot one episode in two days, Saturday and Sunday—it would be hard to be at work on Monday morning.

DD: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

TLS: I am a certified teacher so I actually have a list of my top six.

  1. Write what you want to write. Don’t let someone else tell you what you MUST be writing.
  2. Write everyday if you can, even if it’s for an hour.
  3. Find a writers group to be a part of either online or in person.
  4. Never stop dreaming for where you want your writing to take you!
  5. If you want it, you’ll have to work for it. And even then, it’s not a big paycheck, so love what you do. If you don’t love writing, find something else that makes you happy.
  6. Check out www.magicalwords.net, it has great writing tips for authors new and old, and archives of topics from years of posts!

DD: What’s next for you?

TLS: A lot is in the works at the moment. SKYE wise, we are working toward putting season one out on DVD, as well as releasing two albums: a score and a soundtrack. Plus, just before Lauren Steinmeyer (who plays Skye McKenna) leaves New York for Dragon Con this year, she will be filming with the band Plague of Jackals for the music video to their song, “Sky of the Damned” that was written for the show.

Writing wise, I have two short stories coming out in 2016. In October, The Color of Love will premier in the #WeAreNotThis anthology from Falstaff Books (all proceeds of which go to help the LGBTQ Community in NC). Then I have “Mettilwynd” coming out with Lore Seekers Press, a brand-new fantasy line out of Bella Rosa Books, as part of their end of year release of five new projects. That short is part of a two-book anthology set where all the stories take place in Faith Hunter’s Rogue Mage world. So needless to say, I’m extremely excited about both of these shorts and the homes they found.

Convention wise, this is my last one as a guest/attending professional for the year so after this I get to really hunker down and write, which to me, sounds like heaven. But I can be found at www.facebook.com/tamsinlsilver or www.tamsinsilver.com all year round!

DD: Thanks for your time.

TLS: Thank you so much for having me on the Daily Dragon! These questions were amazingly awesome!

About the author

Nancy Northcott is a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. She's the author of the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy, which launches this fall with The Herald of Day, and the Light Mage Wars paranormal romantic suspense series. Her debut novel, Renegade, received a starred review from Library Journal, which called it "genre fiction at its best."

Website: http://www.nancynorthcott.com

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