Another special guest on the blog today – please welcome TJ Berry! TJ is a fellow Angry Robot author that I had the pleasure of meeting at Worldcon earlier this year (along with her hubby, Dave. Hi, Dave! *waves*). I knew next to no-one at Worldcon and TJ and Dave were nice enough to let me hang with them during the Hugo Award Ceremony. Thanks guys! Anyway, TJ’s book has been getting great reviews and looks like a lot of fun, so I thought I’d invite her onto the blog so she can tell us all about it. So let’s meet her, shall we?
TJ Berry grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries. TJ co-hosts the Warp Drives Podcast with her husband; they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. It’s smart, snarky, and just a little bit saucy… just like TJ. She’s the author of Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush from Angry Robot.
How did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
I’ve been writing since about ten years old. Every time I found a story that delighted me, I immediately tried to emulate it. There wasn’t any question of whether I should write; I just started writing. But for a long time I viewed writing as a hobby–something I did for amusement around my “real job.” It wasn’t until 2007 that I had a chance encounter with a New York literary agent who told me my work was good enough to sell. That was my epiphany. It changed the way I worked entirely. I started shifting my life around so that I could write full time… and now here we are.
What were your favourite books/films growing up? What kick-started your creativity as a child/teen?
One of the very first book series that sparked my creative brain was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Five Go Off in a Caravan was one of my favourites. I couldn’t believe that these four children and their dog were allowed to go off alone and camp near a circus for the summer. I wasn’t even allowed to walk to the corner store alone. Also, every rustic meal of bread, cheese, and tomatoes they ate sounded positively charming. I immediately starting filling up notebooks with Famous Five fan fiction.
Not long after, I found a thick novel in the kitchen trash. My mother had thrown away Tommyknockers because it was too graphic. I fished it out and surreptitiously read it over the next few days. Can you imagine a kid going from Enid Blyton to Stephen King? I didn’t know you could do that with words. I was terrified… and also hooked on horror for life.
Your debut novel ‘Space Unicorn Blues’ came out in July. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Space Unicorn Blues is about a disabled disaster gay who enlists the aid of a talking unicorn to help deliver a cargo that could save humanity from the apocalypse. At its heart, this is a story about a woman trying to make amends. As flawed human beings, we’re always hurting each other–both intentionally and accidentally–but we have few good models for coming back from that. I wanted to explore what the messy work of making amends really looks like. And if that sounds heavy, you should know that the story is also darkly funny, a little bit saucy, and full of action and adventure.
Space Unicorn Blues was spite-written in sixteen frantic days after my husband gently suggested that if I tried writing more “normal” stories, I might sell more. Instead, I leaned hard in the opposite direction and wrote starships carved out of asteroids, powered by unicorn horn, with dwarves living in the walls doing maintenance. It’s totally bizarre and I sold it. So there, Dave.
LOL! Your sequel, ‘Five Unicorn Flush’ is coming out in April. Without spoilers, can you tell us what to expect from this new book?
Five Unicorn Flush picks up about six weeks after the story of Space Unicorn Blues. Without saying too much, things have not gone well for anyone since the Century Summit. Our heroes have to find their way back to each other and once again join forces to stop a genocide. Also, there’s a cute little love story in there too. And explosions. And a swamp that dissolves flesh. It’s all very upbeat fun.
And I’ll let you in on a secret… I don’t like happy endings. I love complex resolutions that are fraught with bittersweet compromise. My challenge in this book was to write an ending that would satisfy readers and myself. Every character had to get what they deserved, while still preserving the essence of that complexity.
In a former life, you were a political blogger. Firstly, given the current state of the world are you glad that’s behind you now or do you miss it?
I’m definitely glad that I’m not working in politics any longer. Even at the time, it was a thankless, low-paying, 24-hour slog. The constant onslaught of terrible news is difficult enough as a civilian activist who can sometimes step away from it; if I were still in politics, there would be no taking a break. It truly takes a toll on your mental health. Hydrate, friends.
Secondly, did you glean any skills from your political blogging career that you’ve transferred to your fictional writing career?
Definitely. One of my tasks at my former job was to write and publish a new blog post every two hours. That’s twelve mini-essays per day. I learned how to write quickly without waiting around for inspiration. You start and then the muse shows up. I have a set time each weekday that I sit down and simply start working. You can always edit bad writing, but you can’t do anything with a blank page.
You also host the weekly Warp Drives Podcast with your husband. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
My husband and I have been together for twenty-five years. We were teenagers when we met, so in many ways we’re also each other’s best friends. We talk constantly. Text, video, phone, in person, we are never not riffing on some topic, from economics to comic books. We also love making each other laugh. It’s a victory if we can get the other one to choke with laughter.
One day, we said, “We’re pretty funny. If only other people could hear this.” So we started recording our conversations and sharing them. We also fight, as couples do, and we leave those in sometimes. The best was when we fought about Marvel’s Iron Fist. We’re ridiculous.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
If I had to stop writing, but I could still follow my passion, I’d probably become a racecar driver. I love driving–I recently traded in my SUV for a Mustang and I’ve asked for high performance driving lessons for Christmas. I look forward to being medium careful.
But if I had to get a non-writing job that paid actual money, I’d probably become a kindergarten teacher. Little kids are so much fun to be around. They come at the entire world with no preconceptions and a completely fresh perspective. I was actually a preschool teacher twice in my life and I absolutely loved it. The number of hugs you get every day is epic. And there are always stickers. It’s delightful.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then? I’d tell younger me to start publishing sooner. I waited far too long to start sharing my writing. I thought stories had to be perfect before getting published, which is not true. Some of the best books in the world keep only a few plates spinning (e.g. plot, dialogue) while letting others fall (e.g. worldbuilding). I wish I’d known sooner that I don’t have to be flawless; I just have to be the best version of myself that I can offer.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m writing currently another set of two novels that I hope to sell in 2019. I also have a couple of secret projects in the works for next year. I have lots of stories yet to tell!
Thanks for your time, TJ!
And if you’d like to buy TJ’s books, you can find them here: