Tiffany Schmidt, Lehigh University graduate of English and author of several young adult novels, walked up to the podium of a Lehigh Notations series on a recent March evening. Smiling gently at the crowd, she clutched a hard copy of one of her novels, Hold Me Like a Breath, in her hand. Her other publications include Send Me a Sign, Bright Before Sunrise, and Break Me Like a Promise. Schmidt began the evening by introducing each of her esteemed novels and sharing her enthusiasm for young adult fiction with the room. She spoke with great gusto about her research when writing Hold Me Like a Breath, book one of her Once Upon a Crime Family series. Schmidt discussed how the series allows her and her characters to explore contemporary topics like organ trafficking. She joked she could very well be on a government watch list for googling “black market kidney cost” one too many times while researching. Ultimately, Schmidt’s visit to Lehigh allowed her to detail her journey into the profession of writing young adult thrillers as well as sharing excerpts from her previously published literary work.
Re-imagining the Classics
As a child, Tiffany Schmidt enjoyed fairy tales because they left her imagination running rampant. She tried to fill in the gaps of their plots and daydreamed about possibilities for the female characters. During the Spring Notation Series event, Schmidt told the audience about her childhood obsession with The Princess and the Pea. She shared questions with the audience that had raced through her mind as she read it again and again. Where was the princess’s family? Why did her bruises merit her princess-ship? Schmidt explained that these questions stemmed from her own clumsiness as a child where accidents and bruises were common. She was a frequent ER patient and knew the word “injured” well. Schmidt wondered how bruising could link to royalty as it did in her favorite novel. Her fascination with fairy tales from childhood fuels her current literary production, while also compelling her to create stronger female characters in her fiction than those she encountered in her youth.
In the Business of Organs
Schmidt shared that Hold Me Like a Breath was inspired by her proclaimed childhood curiosity with Princess and the Pea. Hold Me Like a Breath is about the inner-workings of protagonist Penelope Landlow’s world. She is the daughter of one of three crime families that run the black market for organ transplants. Penelope has an autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise easily. She is therefore seen as too fragile to handle the family business and given little independence. Despite her family’s overprotectiveness, Penelope emerges as a strong heroine in the story that navigates the dangers of the crime world.
Independent and adventurous female characters appear in Schmidt’s other novels as well. During her visit to Lehigh, she introduced the audience to another one of her female protagonists named Magnolia Vickers from Break Me Like a Promise. This novel is the second installment in her Once Upon A Crime Family series and the sequel to Hold Me Like a Breath. When drafting Break Me Like a Promise, she found that she wanted to continue to explore the world developed in Hold Me Like a Breath. In Break Me Like a Promise, Magnolia Vickers, another heir of a black market organ crime family, wants to get involved with the family business. She’s stuck on the sideline, however, watching Penny Landlow and Char Zhu, the daughters of the other two families in organ trafficking, get their hands dirty. When she loses her one love, Carter Landlow, and makes a huge mistake in the family business, she must find her own happy ending and fight to remedy her mistake. Tiffany Schmidt read excerpts from her novel Hold Me Like a Breath during her Lehigh visit, giving audience members a delightful glimpse of the power of her vibrant work.
Working Towards the Skittle
Schmidt ended her visit with a Q & A session by discussing her writing process. She shared that her favorite part of writing is revision because you’re able to start to see progress. She shared a personal quirk where she rewards herself with a skittle after every page she edits.
One audience member asked, “How do you deal with writer’s block and do you have one spot that you write in?”
Schmidt replied, “My treadmill desk! I do my best work in motion. I bring my journal to the park near my house, too. When I get stuck on an idea, I find it helps me to take a lap around and work through the problem.” She laughed as she concluded by stating, “with my lifestyle, I have to write from anywhere. If I have five minutes on the pick-up line at school, I have a notebook with me.”
Tiffany Schmidt’s storytelling brings life to the multi-dimensional characters that live in her novels. In the last few minutes of her visit, a student raised his hand for one last question. He asked what the best piece of advice she could give to someone pursuing a writing career. Schmidt paused glancing over to the student, then to the still audience.
Then, she said, “Don’t ever, ever, ever give up! And don’t make excuses or allowances to stop writing.” She continued with an anecdote about her own experience with almost giving up on her first novel, Send Me a Sign. The novel is focused on main character Mia Moore, a determined teenager battling leukemia. The popular cheerleader keeps her illness a secret. Schmidt takes her readers on a heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring journey of a teen searching for hope in the face of death. Schmidt shared that she struggled to finish her novel until she had a non-fictional wake-up call. Before Schmidt was a published author, she was a teacher of young teens. While teaching, one of her students was diagnosed with cancer, a verdict with an unpromising future. Schmidt explained how she told herself she would never give up on that novel because if her student could live it, she could at the least write. Just like Mia Moore, her student wanted to keep the diagnosis to herself. She mirrored her story of Mia after her student and allowed Mia to build an identity beyond her disease. Mia struggles through the novel with wanting control in her own life−an obsolete desire considering her diagnosis. The novel is dedicated to the student who passed. In Send Me a Sign, Schmidt creates an emotional story about cancer’s ability to take an immense toll while also honoring the value of the life of her student through depictions of Mia.
Tiffany Schmidt’s visit was refreshing. Her work is endlessly inventive and it has the ability to transfix readers with its sweeping themes of family, romance, and trust. She’s now working towards book three in the Once Upon a Crime Family series and hopes to explore and reimagine other fairy tales in the future.
Feature photo by @paperfury.