Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Barbara G. Tarn – Barbara G.Tarn writes mostly fantasy, a professional writer and hobbyist artist, a world-creator and storyteller. She has a few ongoing series: her fantasy world of Silvery Earth (high fantasy) and the Star Minds Universe (science fantasy) are mostly standalone. She dabbles into historical fantasy with her Vampires Through the Centuries series crossing over with her post-apocalyptic/steampunk series called Future Earth Chronicles. Find her books at www.unicornproductionsbook.com.
Two of her stories received an Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future contest. One of her stories has been published in Pulphouse Magazine #5 (March 2019). She writes, draws, ignores her day job and blogs at: http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com.
Thanks so much, Barbara, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
Barbara G. Tarn: Yes, this is a pseudonym. Although my real name is Barbara, my family name is a nightmare both for my home country (Italy) and the rest of the world. So I kept only the initial and added much shorter and snappier Tarn. That’s why the G. is attached to Tarn, by the way, it’s not a middle name… I should have put an apostrophe instead, but by now I have so many titles out that rebranding with a slightly different spelling is a nightmare! In the 1990s when I did photocopied zines to sell at Italian comicons I went only by Barbara Tarn, I probably should have stuck to that…
JSC: How long have you been writing?
BGT: 40+ years, although I’ve started publishing in 2011. My first story is from the summer of 1978, illustrated by yours truly. I have “recycled” it – bad writing and everything – in my Silvery Earth series. I wrote in my mother tongue (Italian) up to the early 21st century, when I switched to English. First I wrote screenplays and attempted the Hollywood conquest, then I went back to my first love, prose, and Indie Publishing happened…
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
BGT: The series started quite normally, with a Melanin Goddess inspired by Khoudia Diop (who is the protagonist of the next book and wraps up the series), then in book 4, Azur popped up, and suddenly he revealed he’d been born female. I concluded the first “cycle” (book 1 to 5) last year, and this year I decided to continue the story with what had been secondary characters in the previous cycle. So this is Azur’s side of the story, and he was inspired to transition by Nikita a.k.a. Maya (born male, became female) – both are Russian, so their original names, Anna and Nikita, are based on the sex assigned at birth. There is also a non-binary secondary character. All of them come from a Rainbow Town, they are born from artificial wombs, so none of them has a clear “race” or “nationality” concept – no politics, no religions, no families in Rainbow Towns, so no racial conflicts. They live in a golden prison, catered to by computers, AI and robots, but they want out, and discover a steampunk world where there is inequality and struggles that baffle them at first.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
BGT: Pantster with some plotting since I like history (or make up my own history), so I need to follow calendars, either made up or real. Especially since I like to tell the same story from different points of view, so I need to remember the succession of events! But I like to be surprised, I only have a vague idea where characters are going when I start writing.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
BGT: After spending USD and EUR abundantly for illustrated covers in the first five or so years of indie publishing (I have a lot of illustrator friends, and more I found on DeviantART), now I make my own covers with stock images. In the past (as per panel at Helsinki Worldcon) it depended on the artist – some read the whole thing, some only wanted a vague idea. Some of my Italian friends don’t speak English, so they had a prompt to work from. My fantasy series Silvery Earth still has a lot of those illustrated covers in a comic-book style because there’s also a graphic novel (and now a strip) in that fantasy world, so I like the illustrated covers for that particular series. I’ve been rebranding the Future Earth Chronicles to put the character back on the cover – the first five had conceptual covers – with stock images and the Star Minds Lone Wolves series has composite covers and no longer illustrated custom covers.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Wind Rider?
BGT: Like I said, it’s #9 in the series (it was #8 when I started writing it, but then I realized that the other book ended before this one, so I swapped them. The good thing of writing all the books before uploading them, LOL!) and I wanted to explore Azur’s journey. Even though he was born in a place where nobody cares about your gender or skin color, he is uncomfortable in steampunk Paris, because he has long hair and androgynous features, so he hides his hair in public. I had never written a transgender character before, so it was really interesting. After years of m/m romance “my way”, I hope I nailed him!
JSC: What’s your writing process?
BGT: I’m a typist, and quite prolific – I’ve been hitting my 500K/year wordcount and surpassing it for 2 years in a row and this year I’m also already close to my goal (I started counting in 2015, since before that I did the first draft longhand. I know, I’m ancient, I grew up in the age of the typewriter, okay?). I sit down and write the scene, then probably stop to ponder the next. I pour out the bare bones first and add the meat after. The bare bones are usually actions and dialog in white rooms, so I need to add setting… emotions… five senses… that’s the hardest part, and I usually forget most of them! It used to be a movie unfolding in my head, now I’ve learned to add some prose to explain to the reader what I’m seeing.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (if any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
BGT: Drawing! I did mention the photocopied zines, didn’t I? I drew comics, and my first indie covers were digital illustrations by yours truly (because I knew I had to pay an editor, and hoped to save some $$$, then on the second year I started commissioning them). The only one I left at this time is the cover of Beautiful, because I illustrated the paperback (that has a variant of the same cover in the style of the inside illustrations) and Silvery Earth Kids and Related Short Stories because it’s the prose version of a strip that I did for my #1 fan, who is blind, so she can’t see the strips.
I did a whole graphic novel for Silvery Earth (“S.K.Y.B.A.N.D.”) and last year I started doing strips and putting them on Instagram. “Silvery Earth Kids” is already available in paperback, “Star Minds Kids and Teens” is still only on Instagram and ends soon. In October I will start posting “Babs and Da Muses”, a fictional contemporary strip.
I also draw to relax and brainstorm with myself, color pencil portraits of celebrities (my latest muse being Hrithik Roshan). I used to post them on DA but after they changed the look, I took down almost everything. There’s still something (including a free comic) if you want to check Barb the Artist.
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
BGT: Both! As long as its Star Trek Original series and movies (although I’ve seen the reboots, but not the other series – No Kirk&Spock, no Star Trek!) and Star Wars original trilogy (and the Ewoks movies. I don’t care if you hate me now!). Both mean sci-fi to me. And my science fantasy/space opera series is called Star Minds for a reason!
JSC: What are you working on now?
BGT: I wrapped up Mortals Apocalypse, or the apocalypse of Future Earth Chronicles seen from the vampires’ point of view. It’s a crossover between my Vampires Through the Centuries series and Future Earth Chronicles. It will be published on Nov.1, like the other novels of the vampires series.
Two weeks later I’ll publish the Future Earth Chronicles prequel (or FEC Book 0), that has changed titles too many times already (Apocalypse Begins, Alien Humanoids, Rainbow Towns, Lockdown Origins) I don’t dare give the title just yet. The cover is ready, but I might still change the title once again!
It’s more or less contemporary to Mortals Apocalypse (2020-2150CE) so I had to adjust the vampire book while I was at it. Improvising has pros and cons, as does writing the same events from different POVs!
Anyhow, FEC 0 (2040-2078CE) shows how Rainbow Towns locked down during the slow collapse of western civilization. Because Covid-!) is only the beginning! FEC0 will be followed by FEC 11 (a sequel) in early December.
I’m now writing a couple more shorts related to FEC (both the prequel and the sequel) to add to the short novels as bonuses (and possibly send out to paying markets before the November publication).
Then I’ll probably go back to the vampires and write a few more stories. I have two novels and a good number of novellas about those vampires (some don’t make it to the 21st century, some survive the apocalypse) to write in that series (of standalone, so the books are not numbered).
In this series I’m mixing my love for history and fantasy – and now sci-fi, since I’m taking them into the future!
On October 10 a story with Helios will come out in TALES FROM BEYOND TOMORROW VOLUME 3 by Excalibur Books, and his full story will probably be the first I’ll work on, although I don’t plan to publish any of them until next year at the earliest.
And now for Barbara’s new book: Wind Rider:
Azur left the Siberian Rainbow Town with the wanderers, as an interpreter and secondary hacker who joined the Rainbow Town Freedom Team out of curiosity, then the Rainbow Towns Band after the aliens’ defeat.
The band’s World Tour is over and Azur wants to go home, as do Toby and Gaia. From Paris to Siberia by steam-train, they reach his hometown where they start building their own airship, to be able to move around more easily.
People keep vanishing from Rainbow Towns, and Azur and the crew must investigate, be it with Airship Siberia or the Wind Rider.
Azur was awakened again by a knock on the door. The sun was high, and the ticket inspector was checking on them. Miyako turned into a fox and hid under his berth while he quickly gathered her clothes before opening the compartment door. Ioulia stared at him, wide-eyed, but didn’t say a word.
Toby and Gaia waved at the ticket inspector when he looked up at them, but they didn’t understand what he was saying.
“I thought you came with an Asian woman last night,” the ticket inspector said, glaring at Azur.
“Ah, no, she was just showing us the way,” he replied. “We were waiting for my good friend Ioulia to join us.”
The ticket inspector grunted, gave him back his tickets and touched his hat before leaving.
“Restaurant car is open for breakfast,” he said before continuing along the corridor.
“What did he say?” Toby asked, leaning from up above.
“Restaurant car is open,” Azur answered. “He remembered Miyako, so he wondered why the fourth person had turned from an Asian to a Russian during the night.”
“And the next thing he wondered was where the hell did you hide that long hair last night?” Gaia commented with a giggle.
“That too.” He chuckled. “But well, it was dark last night, so he couldn’t expect to see me well, now, could he?”
“Your new friend looks worried and kind of terrified now,” Toby warned, getting down from the bunk. “I’d go to the restaurant car without you, but I can’t do without an interpreter.”
Azur noticed that indeed Ioulia looked wary.
“I’ll explain the fox after breakfast,” he promised her.
“Are you a man or a woman?” she asked, frowning.
“I’m a man,” he answered. “With long hair. Not fashionable, I know, but that’s what I am. Now me and Toby are going to shave off this stubble from our chins, then we’ll take you to breakfast and explain everything, okay?”
Soon the four of them sat in the restaurant car while Miyako stayed in the compartment. The first thing Azur did was reassure Ioulia about Miyako. Slavic folklore included magicians and sorcerers as possible vampires, and Ioulia was familiar with those.
“Miyako is immortal? And feeds on blood?” She sounded more puzzled than scared now.
“Yes, and she shifts shape into a fox, as you have seen,” he answered. “She’s four and a half centuries old and never sleeps, but she can’t stand direct sunlight, hence she’ll probably stay in fox form during the day, since it’s the only way for her to be out in the sun. And she’ll take care of your pursuers if they happen to see you and try to take you back.”
Ioulia nodded, thoughtful, sipping her morning tea. She observed the three of them for a moment while Toby asked Azur about something on the menu.
“Are you Russian?” she asked, then. “You speak flawlessly.”
“I am, yes,” he answered, amused. “But my hometown isn’t part of the tsardom, and I doubt anyone knows it exists in this century.”
He briefly explained Rainbow Town as a hidden technological marvel he had left a year earlier to explore the world. He mentioned Toby and Gaia came from a similar place, but under the Canadian Rockies.
“So we’re getting off at Skovorodino and going to the Siberian Rainbow Town,” he concluded. “What about you? Who were you running away from?”
She scoffed and looked away. “Babushka died. Bad people came for me. They wanted to sell me to the underworld. I ran.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty. My parents died when I was a child, and Babushka raised me and protected me until her last breath. She hadn’t found a respectable young man to marry me off to when she passed. So I lost my family, my home and was about to lose my freedom as well.”
“Well, you’re still free now, and can start again elsewhere. Our ticket will only take you to Skovorodino, which is a dump of a town, but I’m sure you’ll find work and possibly a decent man to look after you there.”
She nodded, thoughtful. “We’ll see,” she whispered.
When they headed back to the sleeper car, they found Miyako in fox form half asleep in the sun coming in from the compartment window. Ioulia leaned to caress the fox who almost seemed to purr like a cat under her touch.
“How often does she feed?” she asked, worried. “Will she be all right?”
“I have no idea, honestly, because she never feeds in front of us,” Azur answered. “She’ll probably get off at some station when she’s hungry, and catch up with us at the next.”
“She’s that fast?” Ioulia marveled.
“Yes.” Azur chuckled. “Even in human form she’s ten times faster than us. Perks of immortality, I guess!”