Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome T.K. Toppin, author of The Lancaster Trilogy.
T.K. was born in Barbados and the thing she loves the best about it is that it's home.
"I’ve traveled around, even lived in Brazil at one point, but there’s nothing like the place you were born. Yes, it’s got its issues, the heat, the bugs, the heat (oh, said that already), the limitations…but what country doesn’t, right?" she said. "Besides, my bed also lives here, and there’s nothing like your own bed at the end of a long day."
I asked her if she used a pen name and she responded, "Yes, I do. However, T.K. Toppin, even though it’s a pen name, it’s also my real name. The ‘T’ is my first name, the ‘K’ is my maiden name. It just made sense for me to 'shorten' my real name and make it user friendly (and easier to pronounce). After all, Tomomi Kaharabata-Toppin is a mouthful! Hey, I’m Japanese too, did I forget to mention that?"
T.K. is a graphic artist by profession, and she's always doodled ("and graffitied walls in the house with crayons as a kid, usually behind open doors so no one knew-- until the door was closed, and then…surprise!") or scribbled stuff on scraps of paper.
"I suppose writing is an extension of that…another way to express myself," she said. "I knew I always wanted to write, just never found the motivation. I used to draw comics, with dialogue bubbles that later progressed into half-hearted stories so I could embellish on them. Then I stopped with the writing doodles and concentrated on graphic arts as a career, but always thinking that, one day, I’d write something proper."
She's always loved to read, from the Narnia Chronicles to The Little House on the Prairie series, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna --standard reading materials at school. She later progressed to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and many more from the Dune series to Harry Potter.
"The list is long," she admitted. "After reading these great books, you can’t help but feel compelled to write something yourself, something amazing, that takes you deep inside the book, drawing you in. I wanted to be able to do that, create something amazing, epic, consuming, full of adventure and excitement with unforgettable characters. Soon, I started scrutinizing the spine (of the books), wondering who published these amazing writers, and thinking, again: one day. And then one day, I read a book touted as critically acclaimed, best selling, fantastic debut novel…I grabbed it and began to read, and fell fast asleep before I could finish the first chapter. I struggled desperately with the book, and while the world-building was superb, the writing well researched, detailed, and rich with descriptive scenes…it just didn’t grab me, scare me (as it professed to do), nor grab the seat of my pants with excitement. But I finished it thinking that if that got published, then anyone with enough drive and a good story can get published. I felt motivated.
"So I began to write. Idle things, ramblings until the beginnings of The Lancaster Trilogy started to take shape. Having no formal guidance in writing, I did a rough draft, like a huge notebook, and went from there.
"That was roughly four years ago. Now, I can’t stop writing…or rambling."
I asked her to tell us about her latest release.
"The Eternal Knot is the final in the Lancaster trilogy, following the life of my main protagonist, Josie Bettencourt. It also brings to an end, or conclusion, everything that has happened in her life, the many questions she had, how she really came to live in the future, the reasons for it. Everything! It was by far the hardest book to complete in the trilogy, mainly because I knew that this was it. The end. It was bittersweet, knowing that I had to say goodbye to these characters that consumed my mind for the better part of three years. While I knew how I wanted to end it, and why the third book needed to be written, I also was in a small dilemma to keep it interesting enough to read. So I threw in a wild card just to stir things up a bit, and that, in turn, helped move the story along so it wouldn’t have read like a bulleted report on what happened next."
T.K. is currently working on the second draft of another story that is more or less finished, however some fillers are needed, the character development needs some tweaking, and the plot needs to be a little tighter.
"It’s gone through a few beta reads and each have stated the same thing…so, I guess I need to get it sorted before I decide what to do with it. This story is called Bengaria’s War, another SF book set way into the future when man has colonized star systems. While there’s space ships and jumping technology, there’s still a lot of tradition involved, from monarchies, nobles, sword fighting (new improved versions, of course), and…tea."
She also has two other works in progress, one called The Grosjean Chronicles, which is a spin-off of the Lancaster books, Grosjean being a space marine captain who was introduced in second book, The Master Key.
"I loved her character so much, her loud and abrasive manner, I knew she needed more air time. This is her story, basically," T.K. said.
The other work in progress is To Catch A Marlin, also loosely based on the Lancaster world. No mention of the original characters are in To Catch a Marlin, T.K. just used the world and created a detective cat and mouse story set in the future.
"I wrote a short story from it to enter into an anthology collection (no word yet on if it was selected), but the beta testing I received from this short was good. Very good!" she told me.
"What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?" I asked.
"That I’m the biggest chicken on earth! I may write all sorts of action-adventures and thrilling death defying scenes…but if that were to happen to me, or I was even near it, I may pass out or soil myself. I’m not for confrontations, not when you can always run (and fast) away. There are only the odd times I would choose to confront rather than run…mostly if it’s just a verbal confrontation and no risk of injury could occur. Pain is another thing I don’t like so much."
These days, T.K. is passionate about the simple things: doing what you love doing, and doing it well.
"You don’t have to be a super-achiever or haul in the big bucks, but if you enjoy what you do, and do it well, then that’s all there is to it," she told me. "Honesty is another thing I’m passionate about. Perhaps I’m spoiled because I’m surrounded by honest people, and those that aren’t, I’ve weeded out and cut them loose. Tolerance. This is a tough one and as I grow older, harder to be passionate about. In fact, it goes hand in hand with impatience, so the passion level decreases constantly. But I am trying hard to keep it level. This one word is very important in our lives, and without it, could spark all sorts of disasters. And most importantly, I’m very passionate about getting a full 8 hours (or more) of sleep. A well-rested soul is a happy and content soul."
Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Listen to whatever advice there is out there — from grammatical guidance to story building to getting published and how to deal with things when you get some lumps. There are so many resources available now, just a click of the mouse away. Take advantage of what is out there. Read, read, read…lots of books, different genres, even the boring ones. And also read and re-read your own work until you go cross-eyed. Seek out beta readers (people you know and value their opinions because of their honesty) or join forums, writer’s groups, chats. And finally, develop a very thick skin because not everyone is going to love your work. But that’s all part of growing and improving as a writer.
"I didn’t have any of that when I first started out, and didn’t have a clue as to where to begin. In fact, not many people knew that I’d started writing. I just went for it head first and learned a lot along the way. From editing, sentence structures, grammar, to seeking out publishers and agents, marketing, blurbs, excerpts… Now, I can’t even read the first book, The Lancaster Rule, because I know I’ve improved since then, and to read it again, I’d cringe.
"And don’t be afraid to ask questions."
About the Author: I’ve been working as a graphic artist for more years than I can remember. Based in Barbados, where I was born, writing has always appealed to me – whether reading someone else’s literary masterpieces, or doing my own disjointed ramblings.
Early in 2008, I finally received the right motivation to just jump right in and start writing seriously. You could say I received a very strategic kick in a very specific part of my anatomy! Not literally, of course…
The Lancaster Rule, released April 2010, is the first in a series of three, science fiction/future-fiction and SFR (science fiction romance) novels, and my first published work. Since then, the sequel, The Master Key, was released July 2011, and the final installment, The Eternal Knot, in January 2012.
While I have many other stories brewing about my head, most are SF/SFR in nature.
Find the author online at:
Blog – T.K. Toppin
Facebook – Written by T.K. Toppin
— The Lancaster Rule
Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/TKToppin