Jen: Today we welcome Tawny Stokes to Romancing the Book. Tawny, will you share a short bio with us?
Tawny: Tawny Stokes has always been a writer. From an early age, she’d spin tales of serial killers in love, vampires taking over the world, and sometimes about fluffy bunnies turned bunnicidal maniacs. An honour student in high school, with a penchant for math and English, you’d never know it by the foot high blue Mohawk and Doc Martens, which often got her into trouble. No longer a Mohawk wearer, Tawny still enjoys old school punk rock, trance, zombie movies, teen horror films, and fluffy bunnies. She lives in Canada with her fantastical daughter, two cats, and spends most of her time creating new stories for teens.
Jen:Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Tawny: Lions and Tigers and Boys is a YA paranormal romance set at a boarding school the Oswald Zinzendorf School of Circus Arts and told from the alternating POVs of Dani, an awkward, shy girl who is trying to learn the high wire, and Cai, a guy who can shift between a human and tiger form, and who is tasked with making sure Dani doesn’t win the school’s high wire competition. In fact, the entire safety of OZ is relying on her not succeeding. But there’s something about Dani that draws her in. She has magic, so he’ll do what he can to protect her, even if it means pushing her away.
The idea for the book came from a variety of inspirations, including an alternate reality Wizard of Oz with sprinkles of the series, the magical boarding school quality of Harry Potter, my love for the magical worlds created by Cirque du Soleil – I’ve seen four shows as well as their horse spectacle, Cavalia, and fun heist movies. Besides being a story about magic and a circus school, the novel is also about a heist, so I looked at some of the great heist movies to figure out how to put together the heist and how to pull it off.
Excerpt from Lions and Tigers and Boys:
I watched as she made her way past me and up the stairs, that little smirk twitching on her big fat lips. A sickening, sinking feeling gripped me hard. Had I just made a deal with the Devil? Maybe that’s where all that heat and wind had come from. Her portal to the underworld.
When she was gone, I turned toward the front door, considering still going out and looking for the tiger. But the thought of exposing myself to the chilly night air in sweat-soaked clothes gave me a few unpleasant shudders. I guess it was back to bed for me. Not that I could sleep or anything. At least I could pretend, wrap up in the blankets, and get warm.
Back in my room, I tore off my hoodie, tossed it on the floor, and grabbed the blanket from my bed. Wrapped in a cotton cocoon, I shuffled to the window. Maybe I could still catch a glimpse of the tiger coming out of the woods. I wondered if I should tell someone about it. A wild animal on the loose seemed like something a person would want to know. Especially at a school for teens.
Forehead pressed to the glass, I peered into the trees, willing the tiger to appear. After ten minutes of staring blankly through the window, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. That I’d missed my opportunity. I took a step in retreat when something caught my eye, and I went back to pressing my face against the glass. Except it wasn’t a tiger strolling out of the woods. It was a boy. A very naked boy, carrying his clothes in his hands.
And not just any naked boy. It was Cai.
I gasped, putting my hand over my mouth so I didn’t wake Anna. I didn’t think it was loud, but unbelievably, Cai must have heard me, because his head snapped up, and he looked right at me. I could only do the panic freeze thing again.
I know I should’ve ducked from the window, or at the very least dropped my gaze. The guy was completely naked for Peter’s sake. Although it was dark out, he just had to be standing in the pool of moonlight. The guy was…um…exquisitely built.
I thought for sure he was going to slap the clothes he was carrying in front of himself, but he didn’t. He held my gaze with no shame whatsoever. He stood there proud and sure with a predatory fierceness that made my body tingle.
Then he smiled.
That’s when everything, the heat, the exhaustion, the humiliation hit me all at once, and I lost my balance. I hit the floor, literally. My face pressed against the hardwood, I promptly passed out.
Jen: What age did you discover writing? Tell us your call story.
Tawny: I started telling stories at a very young age. I started to write them down probably the earliest was in grade 6 at age 12. I still have the chapters of the ‘novel’ I was working on. It was a romance. Lol I also a few of the short stories I wrote, for English class in middle school. They were always about monsters, and one particular one about a serial killer who falls in love with the florist down the street from where he lives. It was very Romeo and Juliet. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I realized that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I actually started writing screenplays around then. In 2001, I went down to Hollywood and got some meetings and some scripts read, but I was impatient, so I decided I would write books to get in the back door of Hollywood. In 2005, I got my first book published by Kensington Publishing, called Hell Kat. It would become known as my calling card. After that, I got a book deal with Harlequin Nocturne. And really 50 books later, here I am, writing the books from my heart.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Tawny: I first got the idea for this book at a Cirque du Soleil show. Since then I’ve seen 4 different shows, and have also watched clips on YouTube. I’ve researched the circus arts school in Montreal, since my daughter at the time was adamant about going. She even went to a Cirque inspired dance camp, which was years ago, but that’s how long this idea had been percolating. Its first incantation was a much darker story and tone, but I wanted to write something more whimsical. I also had to study lock picking, and I wanted several heist movies to get an idea of what would go into stealing something from a museum.
Jen: Who has influenced you as a writer?
Tawny: I would say the most influence on me as a writer would definitely be Stephen King. I grew up reading his books. I first read Salem’s Lot when I was 12. There was nothing more satisfying to me than reading an intense scary book by King, and then Koontz, and Saul. Other writers who have influenced me would be Laurel K Hamilton, Kelley Armstrong, Nancy A Collins, Mercedes Lackey, and Gena Showalter.
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Tawny: One of the most interesting comment I’ve gotten about Lions and Tigers and Boys, is one reviewer called it a mashup of Ocean’s 11 and Harry Potter. I thought that was a cool combo.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Tawny: I’m currently working on the next book in the Oz series, which is scheduled for later in 2018.