An Interview with Tabatha Shipley
"I write for the students I had who need these stories, yes. But I also write for myself."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Arizona-based young adult author, Tabatha Shipley, about her writing and editing processes, being inclusive, and her experience with self-publishing. Tabatha is the mother of two amazing kids, and is happily married to her high school sweetheart, living in El Mirage, Arizona. She loves to cook, play hockey, and read any and everything in her spare time. She was an elementary school teacher for fifteen years before she decided to actively pursue writing full-time a few years ago. Tabatha is the author of Breaking Eselda, a Kingdom of Fraun novel, as well as the stand-alone YA Fantasy story 30 Days Without Wings. The second book in the Kingdom of Fraun series, Redeeming Jordyn, is set to be published in April 2019, and a YA science fiction novel (whose name has yet to be determined—did I mention she’s a self-proclaimed “irrational perfectionist”?!) will follow in the autumn. Growing up, Tabatha admits that she always dreamed of being a writer but, when asked, would always answer “a teacher;” she now celebrates that she got to live both of her dreams. An interesting quirk that Tabatha confesses is that, when she’s stuck on a scene, she will write by hand rather than typing; most writers prefer one medium over the other, but Tabatha finds value in both. When asked what she did with her first profit from book sales, Tabatha divulges that the money went into donating copies of the book to middle schools, high schools, and new book reviewers. This fact really encapsulates Tabatha’s overall objective as a writer, which is to provided readers with a story to fall in love with rather than working towards a monetary goal. After getting to know her more intimately, we dove into a conversation about the logistics and specifics of writing and publishing novels.
Faith Clark: You were an elementary school teacher for fifteen years before you decided to actively pursue writing. Was it a natural progression moving from elementary school teacher to YA author? Did you always know you wanted to write YA?
Tabatha Shipley: “I think my years as an elementary school teacher definitely influence my writing, but it wasn’t the only factor in the age group I write for. I never outgrew YA literature and I value what it can bring to the literary community. Books that are written for young adults are often devoid of an attitude where you’ve already learned everything you need in life. They’re missing the characters who are career driven. They’re full of people who are willing to grow, bend, and risk. I write for the students I had who need these stories, yes. But I also write for myself.
FC: Your debut novel, Breaking Eselda, is about a young princess overcoming great challenges as she prepares to take the throne of her kingdom. What inspired you to write the Kingdom of Fraun series?
TS: “Fraun as a setting came to me first. I suppose you’d call it a daydream. I don’t really remember what I was thinking about before the thought came to me, I just remember suddenly feeling certain I had an idea. The original notes, which I took on the notes app of my iPhone, say “One Kingdom, 5 Realms. Each Realm based on a different trait.” The notes go on to explain current Kings, traits, and even strengths. The setting for this one was very well outlined before the plot ever came into my head. Fraun remains the only setting I’ve ever written first, before character or plot.”
FC: Following from the previous question, why this story? What drew you into creating this world specifically? Why does this story need to be told?
TS: “There seems to be a natural tendency to divide ourselves into groups and categories by traits or interests. Certainly, the people of Fraun have done that to an extreme. I wanted to write a book where this had been done well, without bullying. But I also didn’t want this world to be perfect. The underlying message here is that we are stronger together than we are apart. Beyond that, I thought it was important that the first character to show us that Fraun may not be what it appears may not be the savior and hero we are looking for. Eselda doesn’t experience success right from page one. She struggles and the things she learns break her spirit. I think people will relate to this feeling. I hope, in the sequel, I can give them hope.”
FC: From the short excerpt of Breaking Eselda that you include on your website, it is clear that your female protagonist, Eselda, is a strong female character, although she may be too ensnared in her familial obligations in the beginning to fully realize that. How would you define the term “feminist,” and what kind of role does this word play in your writing of the series?
TS: “In my opinion, a feminist is someone who believes all people are equal regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference. It’s funny because I set out to write a world where they truly believed this, and I think I did. But then there’s a single character who doesn’t. One evil King who seems to believe women are weaker. I had fun writing him because if you really listen to him, he actually believes the opposite. He’s afraid of women because they have power over him. Deep down, he’s afraid of their strength. This series is going to feature a true balance between women and men before it’s over. I hope to show that they truly are equal in Fraun.”
FC: In your video on your character notes on your YouTube channel, you mention that, when creating a new character, you always include their eye and hair colour in order to make sure you include diversity. Similarly, in your video on character types, you argue that it is important to have all character types present in a story so that every reader can find themselves in the book. How important is diversity in literature to you, and do you ever find it challenging to produce this kind of literature as a white, heterosexual woman?
TS: “Great question. I think readers of all types want to find themselves in books. I think every author struggles with putting diversity in their books because at the end of the day we aren’t everyone. But I do my best to include different appearances and backgrounds. I think my years in the classroom have certainly helped because I have met, worked with, and known so many different students from so many different cultures. I think, too often, when we talk about diversity in literature we talk about skin colour. When, really, the diversity should be in gender, age, religion, personality type, economic class, and even sexual preference, as well as skin colour and ethnic background. That diversity exists in our own world and it’s important to bring it into our books. I tried to do that in Fraun, although the fictional world of characters who are three inches tall certainly doesn’t have the ancestral background of our world. I hope readers can pick up one of my books and find someone that reminds them of themselves, no matter who they are.”
FC: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books? How have you grown as a writer since becoming a full-time author?
TS: “In creating my books, I think I surprised myself at my own ability to write things that shock readers. I’ve heard over and over again that my books went in a different direction than people expected. I didn’t really think I was capable of that, so that was cool. How have I grown as a writer? I’ve certainly gotten faster at writing and I’ve learned how to push myself past points where I’m stuck on an idea.”
FC: In your video on editing, you say that in your first round of edits, you read straight through the manuscript, making note of errors in pacing, continuity, and character, but you do not make the changes at this time. How do you manage to stop yourself from getting caught up on the little things and focus only on the entire story as a whole?
TS: “I think you have to give yourself permission to do that. Just like when you’re writing a first draft and you give yourself permission to write words, even if they’re awful. You tell yourself you’ll edit it later. When I do my first-round edits, it’s the same thing. I give myself permission to ignore those little things and push through. I have to find the more important stuff. The little things will come when everything else is done.”
FC: In this video, you also mention that you are currently editing the fourth book in your Kingdom of Fraun series. However, only the first book in the series has been released for public consumption. How long does it take you to write a book (as you’re obviously writing faster than the publishing timeline)? And, how does this process work?
TS: “In this day and age, an indie author has to be an entrepreneur. I’m not sure if the days ever existed where you could focus on one book from start to finish, but I know that’s not really the case anymore. I am writing one, editing three, and readying two for publication right now. It’s a fast, competitive business. The basic process, for me, is:
- Outline an idea (this takes me 3-6 weeks)
- Write the first draft (this can take me anywhere from 3 months-1 year)
- First round edits (mine) for pacing, continuity, character (3-6 weeks)
- Quick edits (mine) for grammar (3-6 weeks)
- First round beta readers (3-6 months)
- Second round edits from beta notes (3-6 weeks)
- Professional editor (usually more than one pass at 3-6 weeks each)
- Publishing work (cover, etc.)."
FC: You have published your works both on your own and with several different publishing companies. What are the biggest differences (pros and/or cons) between self-publishing and publishing with a company? Did anything surprise you about either process?
TS: “There are so many options out there today for authors. One thing I’ve learned is that you need to expect your job to include marketing after the book comes out no matter which route you choose to go with. Writing is not just about creating a book. We get to be editors, book marketers, and promoters. I think the biggest draw for self-publishing is having that ultimate control over all those steps. The biggest con, of course, is that you are on your own for all of it. It’s a big risk but it can also be very rewarding.”
FC: In your video about your beta readers, you assert that betas always need to come before editors. How would you describe your relationship with your beta readers, and what is the biggest change you’ve ever made to one of your books after talking with a beta?
TS: “I love my beta readers. I’ve been blessed with some absolutely amazing ones who have dedicated a lot of time to my books. They’re the first people to fall in love with my characters, too. I put a lot of faith and trust in my betas. I expect them to be brutally honest with me and also answer any and all of my (sometimes annoying) questions. They are vital to my writing process. I’m not sure what my books would look like without them. There have been a lot of major changes thanks to great betas. I would say the one that required the most work out of me was probably changing Breaking Eselda to first person. Originally, it was third person and it wasn’t really Eselda’s story. A beta reader kept coming back to the idea that we could be closer to her, we could understand her more. I tried a few chapters in first person and realized the whole book needed to be rewritten. It was a huge undertaking but I don’t regret it at all. The book is stronger for it.”
FC: Finally, what does literary success look like to you?
TS: “Every time I meet someone who loved my books I feel like I have achieved literary success. To me, it’s connecting with people who liked my story or loved my characters. I tell people all the time that if I ever see cosplay of my characters, fan art, or one of those “incorrect” Twitter handles I’ll know I’ve arrived. It’s not about awards, lists, or money for me. It’s literally all about fans.”
While I was not familiar with Tabatha Shipley or her works before being assigned this interview, getting to do research on her books and talking to her about them was an absolute honour. I always embrace the opportunity to support lesser-known authors, and to give exposure to those works that need to be read, so Tabatha was the perfect fit for this interview. She is living proof that it is never too late to pursue a dream, there are infinite routes to achieving that dream, and you do not need piles of money or fans in order to be a literary success. There is no doubt in my mind that Tabatha will one day be a household name with this series that holds its own amongst other YA fiction, such as the Divergent series, while offering an inclusive, feminist perspective that more experienced authors still struggle to acknowledge and include in their writing.
Follow Tabatha on all the things!
- Facebook: AuthorTabathaShipley
- Instagram: AuthorTabathaShipley
- Twitter: @ShipleyTabatha
- Blog: http://developingourwings.wordpress.com/
- Website: http://www.tabathashipley.com/
To purchase Tabatha’s debut novel, Breaking Eselda, follow this link.