Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas to tell stories about monsters, magic, and teenagers. She’s the author of the Blood Journals Series and The United States of Asgard Series as well as more than a dozen short stories.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
When I was little I made up stories all the time – about dragons I met walking home from school, or pet fairies, or the spaceship buried under the hill behind the Indian Mission. My mom called that “lying” unless I wrote it down, so I’ve been writing since I was at least ten years old! My first “novel” was a story about Robin Hood’s daughter.
I decided to try and be other things while writing: a paleontologist, an actor, a feminist politician, but realized nothing fed me the way writing did, and while I wanted to change the world, the things that had changed me the most were books. I could change the world by writing.
So I quit grad school just shy of my Masters in Gender Studies and gave myself 5 years to get published before I needed to finish school and find a different career that could earn me enough to pay for health insurance. Almost exactly 5 years later, my debut novel sold.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
The Apple Throne is the last book in my United States of Asgard series. The series is an adventure, epic romance that takes place in a USA founded by Vikings and their gods. Gods like Odin, Thor, and Freya interfere in Congress, there are trolls in the Rocky Mountains, and although it’s modern, with high school, cell phones, and muscle cars, the heart of the story reflects the passion and destiny of Old Norse poetry and myths.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I have a room on the back of my house that’s 3 walls of windows. It’s full of light, though cold in winter and hot in summer. My office reflects the seasons! There are books everywhere – my favorite books, books I have yet to read, and piles of research books for whatever projects I’m working on currently or soon.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work from 8am-5pm with breaks for lunch and solo dance parties. I like to pretend my job is like anybody’s job, and keep to a tight schedule. I love getting up by dawn, drinking some coffee, and taking my dog for a walk to get my creative juices flowing and wake up my body. Though a lot of my day is spent on the business of being a writer (emails about marketing, fan mail, and social media), I have to write 2,000 words a day to consider it a success. Sometimes that happens in the first 2 hours, sometimes it takes all 8 hours to grind the words out.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK PROCESS?
Very chaotic. That’s why I need my schedule. I’m very emotional about the story, and tend to feel my way through a first draft, then once I have all that raw material, I can revise very harshly. I burn down whole drafts if they aren’t working. I love revising, moving scenes around and fixing motivations. For me worldbuilding and character are the most important, and plot is the last thing I worry about. So long as my character is changing, anything can happen.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
As I mentioned above, books changed me as a teen. I learned about different people, was inspired to study other cultures, and learned about myself and what makes humans tick from books. I’m a better person because of what I read as a teenager, and I want to do that for the next generation. I want to write stories that inspire and change people, especially teens who are trying to figure out who they want to be.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Everything inspires me, but especially anything that strikes me as too beautiful to be real, or stories of hope and happiness in dark settings.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
The hardest part is all the waiting. We wait and wait sometimes: for edit letters, for contracts, for payment, for readers to find us… it’s a constant waiting game.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
We need to be aware of our words and how we use them. We are public figures and must own our words, take responsibility for what we put out: we need to encourage diverse stories, authors, readers because when I say I want to change the world, I want to change it for the better. That must include voices of oppressed and minority groups. It must include talking honestly about our culture, and writing stories that reflect the human struggle to become better.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Kristen Cashore, Robin LaFevers, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Sarah Monette, Melina Marchetta, Anne Rice, to name just a few!
Thank you, Tessa Gratton!
— Nicole Melanson
And thank you, Josephine Angelini, for recommending Tessa! Read Josephine Angelini’s WordMothers interview here
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