Friday, April 15, 2011

Interview with TK Toppin

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading a futuristic science-fiction adventure. There are few science-fiction tales that I can say I have enjoyed, and I'm pleased to report that this is one of them. Sci-fi stories, in my experience, tend to be on the cold, technical side. A lot of gadgets, formulas, wormholes, and robots that often miss an essential ingredient: heart. While The Lancaster Rule flaunts clever inventions, it also, in its feisty and stubborn heroine Josie, has plenty of heart. This is not to say that the story is in any way maudlin or sappy; quite the opposite. There are political coups, assassinations involving people cut in half, betrayals and passion. Josie may have been asleep for 300 years, but don't make the mistake of assuming she'd prefer to sleep through life now. This woman is awake, and ready to shake up our world's future with brazen language and sauciness.

The Lancaster Rule is the first novel of a trilogy published by Champagne Books, and is deservedly nominated for Best of Novel of 2010 by Champagne. I've found the series's author TK Toppin to be as fascinating as her story -- she makes her home in Barbados and is a very talented graphic artist as well as writer -- and she has honored my blog with an interview.

Hi, TK! Thanks for joining me and answering some questions. I recently finished your wonderful sci-fi adventure The Lancaster Rule. I found it wonderfully imaginative, and the future you envisioned felt real and entirely possible. Were you inspired by anything in particular when coming up with ideas for futuristic devices, technology and culture?

Really? Wow, thanks for that. I tried really hard to imagine what it would be like for my main character to step into the future and see things as she would—things that are everyday and normal for those living in it, but completely foreign to my protagonist. But I didn’t want it too far-fetched, because when you really think about it, 300 years into the future isn’t that great a gap. And after a couple of devastating world wars it tends to put a damper on things progressing. So, it was like imaging you went to school after missing a couple of months or so and all the other classmates know what’s going on in class and you have to catch up or else look like an ignoramus. It was also really fun to create all these new stuffs, like gadgets and weapons and such. I tried, also, not to make them too much like what we would normally see on TV or in the movies. Of course, the ‘krima-stick’ is something like a modified light sabre! Basically, I wanted to make these new things believable and realistic…without going too far into the ‘yeah-right, that would never happen’ line of thinking.

The name Lancaster is the first thing that snagged my attention about your book. While it wasn’t about the War of the Roses as I guessed, it is about warring factions. Were the Yorks and the Lancasters in your mind at all when you chose the name for the future’s dictator?

You know what? I’d never even heard about the Yorks or Lancasters until after I wrote the book and people wanted to know what the title was and told me. That’s how bad I am at history. Then I had to Google it and thought: “Holy (enter expletive here) crap! What have I done?” But by then, I didn’t want to either change the name or the story. I chose Lancaster because I like the name. I went to school with a girl named Lancaster and I always thought the name was very classy and different. (The credit of the title goes to a good friend, Jess. After all, I was all ready to call it Time Flies or some such droll title).

So…if you have no objection, I’m going to out you as a woman. I really can’t resist it, because, let’s face it, there isn’t much sci-fi out there penned by females. Do you have any idea why there is this general belief that sci-fi is a men’s game? (You’ve proven effortlessly, by the way, that that is not the case.) And did you choose the author name of TK Toppin purposefully to maintain gender ambiguity?

Where to start. It might be because most people think SF is riddled with very ‘manly’ stuff like conquering new worlds, the impressive hardware they use (weapons), all the tech-talk, the space ships, blah, blah, blah. But lately, I’m seeing more and more women who are getting in to it, reading it, spinning amazing tales, etc., and they make my humble little book look like a toddlers first attempts at learning joined up words. In my opinion, in real life, most men and women sort of think the same, even though we pretend we don’t. And when there’s important things at stake, like say your life, the people you care about, your home…we generally tend to react the same way. Instinctively, we want to defend ourselves, protect our loved ones, so on and so forth. Not only that, we tend to think and react the same way when it comes to relationships. The only difference is that one has an outty and the other has an inny. Anyway, so why can’t a woman be put in the same position—story-wise—as that of a man? And why can’t her story be just as adventurous and filled with action? When I began writing, I knew I wanted to write a science fiction or a future fiction story because I like those things. Adventure, action, unbelievably real characters…that feeling you’ve entered in to an epic new world. Who doesn’t, right? I didn’t set about trying to make a point, only that that was the story I wanted to write and it just happened to fall into a rather selective genre where the gender lines are rather defined. I’m glad to see they aren’t so clear-cut now, and all sorts of sub-genres are sprouting out, like SFR (science fiction romance), and Space Opera. I chose TK Toppin not really to disguise my gender, but more out of ease. It’s my real name in initials. My real name is a right old fashioned tongue twister!

Your heroine, Josie, is an artist, and in my nosy inquires, I have discovered that you too are an artist. Are you also feisty, foul-mouthed, and completely stubborn? I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.

Haha! Absolutely!! Not sure about the feisty, as I’d just as easily turn tail or bow down under pressure and opt for a good ole boulder to hide under. I’m not one for confrontations because it’s just easier to walk away—preferably unscathed. That, however, doesn’t mean I secretly want to bludgeon the ‘confronter’ to a messy pulp. But foul-mouthed and stubborn…don’t let me start. And yes, I’m an artist as well. I incorporated into Josie some aspects of my life since I repeatedly heard that you write best about what you know about. I know arty stuff. So, why not make her an artist (that was the easiest part to write about). I also know how to cuss and make a fuss, so…

You didn’t shy away from the causalities of warfare. People get sliced in half, Josie gets her ass kicked multiple times…did you find that penning some of the more gruesome details was a bit cathartic?

Well, not sure about it being cathartic…but it was somewhat of a release of sorts. A realistic approach. In war, they are casualties—it’s unavoidable. And it’s messy. No one ever gets stabbed or hacked without some amount blood loss. Explosions don’t look pretty and bits and pieces of organic matter make a lovely mess and get into everything. And lets not talk about the smell. I’ve never been in a war, never want to, never hope to even accidentally fall into one. But looking through news reports, photographs, accounts of survivors, you can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for them—the gruesome realism of it all that it becomes surreal. It’s a sort of conditioning that you have to live through in order to survive, to get from one point to the next, one day to the next. I knew from the beginning, that if I was going to write about a ‘war’ or confrontation, that I wouldn’t pretty it up. Nor ignore the fact that people can cause great harm towards each other, intentionally or unintentionally. When our instinct to survive kicks in, there’s no telling what kind of damage we can unleash.

Early on in the book, you switch from third-person narration to first-person, and Josie is the only character who tells the story in her own words. I was surprised when you also told the story from Josie’s point of view in third person. So fess up: what was your objective with these shifts in POV, especially for Josie herself?

It just sort of happened that way. I remember I read a few books like that, I thought the different POVs were great in the story-telling. I didn’t plan of doing it, as I’d planned on having it strictly from Josie’s POV in first-person. But then, it sort of limited the range in the storytelling, especially in the scenes where Josie isn’t even around. And as the characters took off, I changed it, since I wanted to get into the other character’s heads, get the complete story from different angles. Maybe it was a bit of a great leap for someone just starting out into the written world. I made a few oops’s, bit I’m learning. And there’s still so much more to learn! Someone who read it said that they loved how I switched it around because it gave you some time in each of their heads. Others sort of liked it but weren’t fussed. There was only one person who didn’t like it at all, the POV shifts, even though they loved the story. Can’t please everyone, can you?

Your passion for martial arts is very apparent in your novel. Care to tell us anything about that?

I’m the most physically lazy person imaginable. My love of martial arts is purely visual and vicarious. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand it, appreciate it, or would love to be able to do it. But I’m a realist; I know my limitations—and my threshold for pain.

Now for the ubiquitous question: What inspired you to become a writer, and what, specifically, inspired The Lancaster Rule? How long did it take to get it published?

I always wanted to write something. I always did write something. I also doodle lots so I’m thinking it’s like an extension of sorts that goes hand in hand—from cartoon characters with dialogue boxes to conjuring up a verse for a personalized greeting card. I also wanted one day to write a really exciting story, filled with everything I love to read about. Action, adventure, amazing characters… Then I read a truly horrible book and thought, I could do better. And then it started to bug me that this book, that put me to sleep more times than I managed to get through a single chapter, actually got published.

After I wrote The Lancaster Rule, well, during the writing, I knew that there was more to tell, so the subsequent sequels were birthed. The getting to the publisher story is your typical long and lengthy ordeal that began with seeking out agents (and getting those gracious ‘no thanks’) to eventually scouring the list for potential publishers. The idea of electronic books piqued my interest. I’d not really heard much about them, and living in Barbados has its drawbacks. I’d just finished reading a marketing book about the ‘long tail curve’ in sales/marketing/interests and how more and more people are gravitating towards the electronics products, from music to books, rather than the traditional since their ‘shelf life’ is longer. It got my interest immediately, so I researched some established and well-respected indie publishers that did both electronic and print, and was super-lucky to have been accepted by Champagne Books.

Is The Lancaster Rule your first published novel? When are the two sequels scheduled to release? What are you working on now?

It most definitely is my first published book. The sequel, The Master Key, is due out for July of this year. The final, The Eternal Knot, is at the publisher’s and I am awaiting their decision.

Congratulations on LR’s well-deserved nomination by Champagne Books for Novel of the Year for 2010. Did you scream when you heard the news? (Not that I would have any experience with that.)

Thank you. Haha! I didn’t scream else hubby would’ve jumped up screaming himself, but I did re-read the email I got from our publisher a few times. It didn’t help that I was in bed checking it via my trusty little iPod and it was fairly late, so I wasn’t even sure if I saw it correctly. I really couldn’t believe it, or that the book was THAT impressive enough to be even considered. I must’ve have done something right…though, I’m still trying to figure out what it is. When I saw the other books listed, I thought: “Yeh, right! I don’t stand a chance, not with them in the running!” Despite the outcome, I’m just very grateful and still a bit in awe that I was even considered to be in the running.

What is the strangest question or comment you’ve received from a reader?

Thankfully, none yet.

I peeked on the web and found your blog at Is this the best place to find you and information on your books on the web?

Yes it is.

I just want to add, thanks Ashley for having me. It’s been a pleasure and I hope the release of your sequel, Fox Rising, this month is doing well!

Thanks, TK! It was my pleasure to host you.


  1. Nice interview and kudos to you TK for jumping right in and writing what you like! I love a good adventure, have no qualms about blood and guts, and like a woman to be strong enough to rise above an ass-kicking to avenge herself. I definitely need to read The Lancaster Rule.
    Just a question, did you actually contract with Champagne without an agent then?

    Congratulations on publication AND the nomination, and I'm looking forward to reading this and the sequels.


  2. Thanks Jude!! And yes, I approached Champagne on my ownsome. Either I'm a lucky person, or I really do have some talent. Not sure which! :). Thanks for stopping by.

  3. It's because you have talent, silly! ; )

  4. Hahaha!! Thanks Ashley and again for having me!!

  5. Love hearing more bout you. 'you are wonderful TK