T.J. Wooldridge, better known as Trisha to her friends, is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Massachusetts. She caught my eye with her recent novel, Silent Starsong, a middle-grade science fiction adventure in which the protagonist, Kyra, is deaf. Wooldridge is also the author of The Kelpie, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy with a “child-eating fairy horse.” Trisha has served as the president of Broad Universe, an international non-profit organization supporting women writing speculative fiction. I interviewed her at Arisia , the largest science fiction convention in the Boston area, in January 2017.
Dianna Sanchez: Which book did you read as a child that got you hooked on science fiction and fantasy?
T.J. Wooldridge: (laughs) That was A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle. I know, I read them out of order. [Note: the first book in the series is A Wrinkle in Time.] I loved the balance of science, faith, and magic in the book. I really liked reading about a family all working together, and a mom who was a scientist and cooked on top of a Bunsen burner.
Sanchez: Where did you get the idea for Silent Starsong?
Wooldridge: I work in equine rescue, helping horses who have been abandoned or abused get the medical care they need and find new homes. On my drive to a rescue center, I saw a mailbox with a single word on it: Starbard. I thought to myself, “Okay, what’s a starbard?” And the whole plot popped into my head.
Sanchez: What inspired you to create a main character who’s deaf?
Wooldridge: Part of what I do in equine rescue is horse therapy for kids with special needs. I also volunteer in schools with special needs kids, so I’ve gotten to know kids who are deaf and kids with other disabilities. I wanted to write a book showing a kid with special needs, such as Kyra and her challenge to meet her destiny as a starbard.
Sanchez: So much of your life is working with horses. Do you write books with horses in them?
Wooldridge: Yes, I have a novel out, The Kelpie, with an evil child-eating faerie horse. It shows the scary side of horses, how they can be violent and aggressive. I’ve dealt with that a lot in equine rescue.
Sanchez: When did you start writing?
Wooldridge: Oh, as soon as I had the vocabulary to do so. My characters talk to me; they tell me the story, and I just write it down.
Sanchez: You write for children. How do you make sure it’s interesting and relevant for them?
Wooldridge: I have a whole crew of teen beta readers through equine rescue. They’re my filters. They tell me if I’m being too scary or too boringly adult.
Sanchez: What are you working on right now?
Wooldridge: My current work-in-progress is called The Circus Under the Bed. It’s about figments, creations of a child’s imagination that live under their beds. They’re destroyed by sunlight, so they can never come out. They live in this amazing, supportive environment, a circus of imagined creatures. If a figment is ever separated from the circus, it becomes a monster, and that’s where monsters under the bed come from.
Sanchez: Sounds fascinating! What advice would you give to aspiring young writers?
Wooldridge: Read a lot. Read everything! Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers, whatever you can get your hands on. Just keep writing. It’s okay to write stuff you don’t want to share with other people. You’re practicing. Don’t rush to publish. Write because you love it.
You can learn more about T.J. Wooldridge and her novels at her web site, www.anovelfriend.com.
Dianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, also known to her children as the Queen of Sarcasm. She has worked as a technical writer, electrical engineer, programmer, farmer, and preschool cooking teacher, among many other things. Her middle grades fantasy novel, A Witch’s Kitchen, debuted from Dreaming Robot Press in September 2016, and she is hard at work on the sequel, A Pixie’s Promise. A Latina geek originally from New Mexico, she now lives in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. See www.diannasanchez.com.