Tara Sim Interview
Today we are lucky enough to have author Tara Sim here to talk about her upcoming novel Timekeeper (Sky Pony Press, Fall 2016). She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about mischievous boys in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and occasionally singing opera. Despite her bio-luminescent skin, she is half-Indian and eats way too many samosas.
So, who is Tara Sim, and what’s she likely to be doing on a sunny afternoon in June or a blustery Sunday in March? What makes you tick (pun definitely intended—because clocks…)? Cats or dogs? Pegasus or unicorns? Sword or lightsabre? Describe yourself in three words:
On a sunny afternoon in June I’m likely inside, reading or writing. On a blustery Sunday in March, I’m…likely doing the same thing (usually with a strong cup of tea).
What makes me tick: cake, caffeine, candles.
Cats AND dogs, although I’m slightly more inclined towards cats.
Pegasus over unicorn.
Sword over lightsabre.
Me in three words: tall, cranky, bangs.
Timekeeper is set in an alternative Victorian London where clock towers literally control time. We have mysterious clock spirits, forbidden love, and bombings—what kind of story can readers expect?
It’s definitely a story with a lot of components. There’s time magic, of course, as well as a steampunk twist. There’s also mythology and a bit of mystery. I think readers should expect an alternative world shaped by both magic and technology, a story about grief and how it changes you, and a love story that is as challenging as it is healing.
What about Victorian London clicked with this story as a setting? Is it a setting you’ve particularly fond of, or did the story dictate the setting from the get-go?
The story dictated the setting for me. While I love London, and studied abroad there when I was in college, I never expected to set a story there. But when I got the idea for Timekeeper, my first thought was of Big Ben, which is one of the most famous clock towers in the world. I knew that it was going to have a steampunk twist to it, which led me to the Victorian era. Therefore: Victorian London.
There will be more settings in the trilogy as the story continues, but London became the hub of clock mechanic affairs for me.
Which of the Jungian personality types would the main characters be? Does this differ from your own and does that make it easier or harder (or no different at all!) to write?
Danny – ISTJ
Colton – ENFP
Me – INFP
Danny, my main character, is an ISTJ (introverted, very determined, dutiful, etc.) and Colton is an ENFP (extroverted, friendly, charming, etc.). I loved writing both of these characters because they’re very different from one another, personality-wise, but at their cores they’re more similar than they realize. In book one, we’re mostly in Danny’s head, which is a very crowded, anxious place, and Colton’s warmth and outgoing nature helps ease the static of that.
I’m an INFP, which is funny because it seems to be kind of in the middle of these two. I guess that means I understand where both are coming from—I know Danny’s internal thought process as much as I know Colton’s somewhat unconventional approach to anyone and anything.
What’s the story behind Timekeeper? How did this go from an idea in your head to a finished book? Any notable inspirations or influences? What made this book possible?
Like I said earlier, I studied abroad in London a few years ago. I was really taken with Big Ben for some reason. It just seemed like such a magical thing. I bought a Big Ben keychain while I was there, and a couple of years later I was staring at it while trying to decide what to write next. I imagined Big Ben actually controlling time, and wondering what would happen if the tower broke. I wondered who would fix it, and what sort of organization they would come from, and what would happen if a tower broke beyond repair.
I became obsessed with the idea and spent the entire day jotting down notes, and that night I wrote the very first line, which hasn’t changed in all the numerous drafts I’ve gone through: “Two o’clock was missing.” The rest is—I apologize in advance for this horrible, horrible pun—history.
Did you always want to be a writer? Was there ever a time you almost threw in the (figurative) pen and paper for good?
My first dream was to become a world-famous singer. But I knew for sure that I wanted to be a writer when I was fourteen and started a book (mercifully unfinished) and became fascinated with building worlds and characters. I wrote my first completed book when I was fifteen, and that cemented it for me. “Yup,” I thought. “I don’t want to do anything else.”
It’s been a long road with many ups and downs, but I never entertained the thought of quitting. To me, quitting was simply an impossibility. I would come crawling back to it over and over, no matter how difficult it was to pick up that pen.
Going back to your love of worldbuilding and crafting characters, does this indicate how you write? Do you build the foundations of a world and its denizens, and then add in the details, eventually discovering the story as you go, or is it more regimented than that? Is there a structure to how you build the worlds/create the characters?
I find that my process changes which each book/series I write. Usually the seed of a story comes in the form of a character or an image of a new world, and I’ll have to figure out who that character is, or what this world is, and the character’s place within it. After that, I fill in the outline of the story. With Timekeeper, the image was a boy in a clock tower. I thought, “Okay, so who is he, why is he here, and why is this clock tower magical?” The rest sprawled out eventually.
Were you ever worried that with a gay romance in your stories your books wouldn’t be “a good fit” for publication? What made you keep at it, if so?
Yes, this was definitely a fear of mine. Growing up, I never saw books like these on the shelf. I’m sure they were there, but not in a way that was easy to find. I worried that by writing a book with a gay romance, I was condemning the story to the very back of a dusty bookshelf.
But lately there have been breakthroughs, such as Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. There’s an upcoming fantasy f/f book, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, that I am dying for. I’m so happy to see more genre LGBTQ+ books out there, and more easily accessible than they ever have been (although we still have lots of work to do re: getting these books to the teens that need them/can’t find them).
There were some bumps in the path to publication, such as a publisher wanting to change the m/m romance to a heterosexual one, but I stuck to my vision and ended up with a great house and a fantastic editor who understood my book more than anyone else did. Now that I get to see this book on the shelf, I’m pinching myself. Publishing is changing, and I hope it continues to do so.
How did it feel to be asked to change the romance? Was it something you’d been (pessimistically but arguably realistically) expecting, or was it a genuine surprise; the kind of thing you’d heard about being a Thing, but hadn’t really thought about encountering it?
More of the latter. Overall, the process was surprisingly supportive. It wasn’t until that little bump at the end that I remembered it was a Thing. But it served as a reminder to stick to your vision and your story. Fight for it, if you need to.
Do you think there are some publishers who are more open about equal representation of non-hetero romances than others, or does it seem like there is a general hesitance to put a same-sex romance in the limelight?
I can’t speak for publishing as a whole, but from what I’ve experienced/seen, there seems to be a “quota” of diversity in many cases. “We already have an Indian author,” for example, or “we have too many LGBTQ+ books at this time.” Obviously, there should be no quota—diversity should not be a trend. It needs to be the new normal.
Was the process of finding an agent for Timekeeper met with the same dismissal of the m/m romance, or was this an easier task than the publication stage?
No dismissal at all. I think most agents are very supportive of diversity, and I’m pretty sure none of them batted an eyelash. My agent, Laura Crockett, treated it exactly how I wanted it to be treated: that it was completely normal, and not a niche or a trend.
Was there any positive advice you were given throughout the process of trying to agent/publish a book with the gay romance? Did this impact the journey at all?
Querying is rather a lonely process, so I didn’t have much in terms of advice other than studying query letters and agents. I made sure to tell agents in my query letter that this was a m/m romance without having to shove it in their faces or feel like I was hiding it. That basically stuck with me through the whole process: don’t shout about it, but don’t hide it, either. Just let it exist.
Is there anything about the whole journey—from first writing Timekeeper, to eagerly awaiting the publication date in November—that you would do differently if you could turn back time and change things?
I would actually stop myself from writing the very first draft. When I first wrote Timekeeper, it was a completely different story! I wrote it mostly for fun, and wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. I would go back in time and tell then-Tara to hold off and draw up a decent outline first, and that it’ll save her countless rewrites.
If you could turn back time and read one book for the first time again, which book would it be? Why?
Probably I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I want to relive reading that book for the first time because I kept gasping and swooning over the sheer gorgeousness of the writing.
If Danny and Colton had Twitter and Instagram, what would their first posts be? Who would post more?
Oh, Colton would definitely post more. His first Instagram post would probably be a selfie of him being very excited to begin his rampage, and then a lot of sneaky pictures of Danny. On Twitter he’d probably Tweet a hundred times a day.
Danny wouldn’t post as much—maybe like once a month—but he does have a bit of an artist in him. I can see him posting abstract, lovely pictures on Instagram. His Twitter would likely be empty except a single Tweet saying “Colton’s making me do this.”
What would they be studying at school/college/university if they lived and existed in our world? Why?
I think Danny would do something with engineering; he has a mind for it, being a mechanic and all. But like I said, he enjoys art, so he might take some electives on the side. Colton would probably be one of those students who has no idea what to major in—he’d try a bit of everything until he settled on something super random, like floral arrangement or puppetry or beekeeping.
If they were both invited to a masquerade costume ball, what would they wear?
Danny would wear a simple black mask, something practical and not very extravagant. Colton would want to make up for that by wearing something too extravagant, like a bristling peacock mask and maybe even a sweeping ball gown (just to see Danny freak out).
In our world, what would Danny and Colton’s favourite books be? And if not a book, which TV show or movie?
Danny’s favorite book would probably be The Iliad, or a collection of Greek myths. He loves the Classics. Colton would love Disney movies and super action-y movies like Mad Max: Fury Road.