Ten Questions Interview with the OZMA Grand Prize Award Winner, T.K. Riggins, that shares his writing tips and tools with us.
I first met T.K. Riggins at CAC18 where his novel, How to Set the World on Fire won Grand Prize in the OZMA Awards. T.K.’s a cool guy. He strikes up conversations with ease and doesn’t really seem to take himself too seriously. Maybe that’s because he started writing on a dare… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Meet the author, T.K. Riggins!
Chanticleer: Tell us a little about yourself: How did you start writing?
Riggins: I started writing because of a dare. My friend was searching for something new to read, but instead of recommending a book, I decided to write something for her. It was a ten-page short story that was based on a farming event from my past, and I turned it into a tale of fantasy. It was a fun experience, and my friend was so impressed that she wanted to read more, so I just kept going.
Chanticleer: That’s kind of funny! When did you realize you that you were an author?
Riggins: The first time I felt like an author was when a stranger read my work, critiqued it, and told me they wanted to read more. The recognition was nice and gave me the confidence to continue, but the major takeaway was being able to overcome the vulnerability that comes with giving my writing to someone that I didn’t know. It’s one thing to have friends and family read my story because I knew that they’d support me no matter what. It was entirely different to bare my soul to someone who wasn’t as obligated to spare my feelings.
Chanticleer: Yes, check that thin-author-skin in for something a little thicker. I think we can all relate to that. Tell me, do you find yourself following the rules or do you like to make up your own rules?
Riggins: I attended a seminar taught by Larry Brooks, the author of Story Engineering. In part of his lecture, he compared writing a novel to playing the game of football. He stressed how in football, there are certain rules that can’t be changed like the size of the field, how many downs there are, and how many players are on the turf at a time. However, the thing that can be changed is how the players play the game.
Like the game of football, professional novels have elements that can’t be changed like how it’s formatted, where the inciting incident should be, how the story arc relates to the climax, etc. The thing that can be changed is how the writer tells the story.
So in the end, it ends up being a little bit of both. I follow certain structural elements to make sure that readers easily enjoy the flow of the novel, but what I write about and how the characters evolve ends up following the rules that I make up.
Chanticleer: It seems to be working for you. Hello OZMA Grand Prize! What do you do when you’re not writing? Tells us a little about your hobbies.
Riggins: I’m a big sports fan. I grew up playing basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey. Lately, my focus has been on Crossfit and beach volleyball. Crossfit has a reputation of being a fad workout program, but I love it because it preaches intensity, structure, and competition. Not only does it provide an escape from sitting in front of a computer screen, but it helps me improve both my physical and mental strength in a community filled with others that constantly work on maximizing their skillset.
Chanticleer: I always envy those who can endure a single session of Crossfit. Me? I trip as soon as I walk in the door… Let’s change the subject… How structured are you in your writing work?
Riggins: Because I still work a full-time job as an engineer, most of my writing occurs at night and on weekends, but I don’t worry about setting a certain time limit on the craft. Sometimes I write for fifteen minutes, other times I might go for hours. That’s not to say that I don’t think about my writing constantly. I make notes while at work, at the gym, or even if I wake up from a dream. I feel like it’s easier to sit down and write based on my notes rather than try to sit at a computer and force the words to come out.
On the other hand, it’s useful to have deadlines in mind. I find that sometimes I get stuck trying to find the right words, perfect character names, or minor plot point.
Instead of waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration, I think it’s useful to push through a few paragraphs that I know are going to require editing later, just to keep the flow of the story going. First drafts are never perfect anyway, so sometimes I sacrifice a few little details in order to reach the broader goal of building the story.
Chanticleer: I hope everyone is paying attention to what you just said. It’s so valuable to just keep writing, to let the creativity flow. Good job. It is important to work on your craft, though, so what do you do to grow your author chops?
Riggins: I read everything. I read non-fiction articles ranging from creating tension in writing to marketing tips for self-published authors. I read fiction stories that are both inside and outside my genre. I read books that my peers recommend, and some that my young nieces and nephews are into.
A lot of the time, my reading doesn’t translate into great ideas for my own writing, but I feel like hearing the voices of other authors helps strengthen my own. Even studying other artists in music and visual art helps inspire my own craft.
Chanticleer: That’s really good. Thank you. Give us your best marketing tips, what’s worked to sell more books, gain notoriety, and expand your literary footprint.
Riggins: The best marketing advice I ever received was to keep things simple. In every area of business, there are mountains of opportunities and strategies that are complex and overwhelming. There are even elements that may work for one business that end up being a complete failure for another. The key is to keep the focus on one thing at a time and try to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, rather than tackling everything at once. Longevity is the ultimate goal, even when tasks seem quick, small, meaningful or useless.
Chanticleer: I like that, keep it simple. What are you working on now? What can we look forward to seeing next from you?
Riggins: I just released my second novel Money Jane. It’s the sequel to How to Set the World on Fire and is book two in a series of six. I’m currently writing the third book in the series, but I’m also involved with developing an indie video game app to be paired with my book series. It’s going to be really fun, and add another dimension to the How to Set the World on Fire franchise.
Riggins: My books are aimed towards middle-grade students, ages 8 – 12. However, I’ve had a lot of great feedback from my millennial friends and their baby boomer parents who enjoy reading my novels. My entire series is really for anyone who wants to feel good and escape into an adventure filled fantasy, where the main characters build relationships, overcome challenges, and live happily ever after.
Chanticleer: What is the most important thing a reader can do for an author?
Riggins: Tell someone about the books you’re reading, especially if it’s something you enjoy. Give it to a friend, family member, or someone you’ve just met. Recommend it at your library, write a review online, or share your thoughts on social media. Be a part of the community rather than just an outside spectator, because we’re all in this together!
Chanticleer: Thank you, T.K., you are the best!
Okay, you know what to do next, right? Go check out T.K. Riggin’s website – take a look at his books, buy them! He’s a vetted award-winning author – and he’s one of our favorite people.
T.K. Riggins can be found in these places:
And his book can be found here: