“The Siren Son” opens with a line that immediately drew me in and it only got better from there. I loved the narrative voice describing the historical text, and how you lay the foundation for not only the plot, but also address issues of race and representation. Tell us about the inspiration behind Neal’s and Killian’s story.
I’ve always loved exploring the ideas behind what makes a monster a monster, and attraction from opposite sides of a divide, be it class, ideology, race, etc. With Neal and Killian, that first line sprang into my head, and I knew Neal was someone special—someone small who found himself in the middle of something much bigger than himself. And I knew I wanted to wrap him up in dragons and sirens mixed with the desperation of passion and wanting to be more. Neal looks at the stars and sees a hopeful future. Killian looks at Neal the same way.
And I’m a sucker for a good love story.
This is an intimate story, one filled with little details, sliding into legend and myth rather than focusing solely on the broad strokes of history. What is it about telling smaller, personal stories that appeals to you as a writer?
The ability to relate to certain narratives. To find ourselves in the thoughts and actions of a specific character or moment. Broad and sweeping is wonderful, but it tends to be more cinematic. When you watch Lord of the Rings, you get goosebumps and awe at the epic battle scenes, but it’s Frodo who makes you cry, who scrapes your heart against a cheese grater. I love the tight focus in the midst of something huge and world-encompassing, because it would be easy to write a story about the dragons destroying everything. It would be big and epic and filled with CGI and camera tricks. But, instead, zooming in on two people and asking, “What about you?” is where my stories go. I want to know about the boys kissing in the shadows of an alley while the world burns around them.
You have never shied from exploring the nature of difference and self in your fiction. Through the course of “The Siren Son,” we learn of both Neal’s and Killian’s mixed heritage. Each is attracted to the other, a budding same-sex relationship. As both a writer and someone who identifies as bisexual, why do you feel representation in fiction is important? What do you feel could be done in the publishing industry to encourage and support representation, no matter the sort?
Everyone deserves to see themselves in fiction and, not only that, everyone deserves to be the hero. When I was younger and confused and trying to figure out why I had a crush on a few guys in my class and my best friend (do I want to be her or kiss her?), a book with someone who IDed as bisexual would’ve been so incredibly helpful for me. It might’ve saved me years of confusion and self-loathing and questions.
Literature has (and continues to be) very white, straight, cisgender, abled, and more often than not, male and Christian-based. It’s been that way so long that we think of those as The Default Setting, and anything not that is The Other. It shouldn’t be that way. There shouldn’t be a default. There should be a spectrum of characters. There should be intersections upon intersections. There should never be the phrase “too much diversity” in a review. I honestly believe the more accurate and respectful representation we have in books—especially books for younger readers—the better off we are as a society.
At the beginning of 2016, Lee and Low released the results of their diversity study in publishing (bit.ly/1Tm9bad).The results were shocking and yet weren’t, all at the same time. In order for publishing to encourage and support accurate representation, they need better representation in their employees. We need agents, editors, marketing managers, interns, publicists of color/not straight/not abled/not cis/etc. We need more mirrors and we need to encourage far more mirrors through campaigns like #ownvoices.
You blend science fiction and fantasy in a manner reminiscent of Anne McCafferey’s Pern books, the science of the past becoming the magic of the present. Many booksellers rely heavily on genre labels to attract customers. On your website, you describe the genres of your writing as “Right now, Young Adult science fiction and fantasy.” Do any other genres call to you?
For now? Just science fiction and fantasy. I love how big it can be. I love the hope it represents. I love that I can create a world where it’s no big deal to be gay or bi or trans. It’s such a sandbox and you can do so much and give people escapes from the stress of their lives. Anyone can be anything in SFF, and that’s so incredibly beautiful to me. It’s what I grew up reading and watching and playing. It’ll always be home for me.
If you could send a message in a bottle back to a younger Tristina, what would you say?
Stop brushing your hair when it’s dry—you’re killing your curls.
Buy stock in Google.
Don’t listen to that professor when he tells you that you can’t write a book. He’s a bitter old man and he’s flat-out wrong.
Okay, I have to know. How do you make a grilled peanut butter and honey without everything melting and oozing out the sides?
You grill a peanut butter sandwich exactly like you would a grilled cheese! Then you drizzle honey (a lot of honey—do not skimp on the honey) over the top when you serve it. My aunt used to make them every day after school for all the cousins. It’s my absolute favorite comfort food. Speaking of, I’m going to go make one now . . .
Spread the word!