Bringing ‘The Last Siren’ to life: Arts Camp student publishes book he workshopped at Interlochen’s Novel Writing Intensive

16-year-old T. G. Sparks grapples with themes of gender identity in his new fantasy novel, which he refined through peer critiques and expert feedback at Interlochen.

Professional photo of author T.G. Sparks and the cover of his novel, 'The Last Siren'.

Even though T.G. Sparks has been writing as long as he can remember, he didn’t actually mean to write a book. The Last Siren, his debut novel, took him by surprise.

“It just kind of happened. I looked at the writing and realized that it was novel-length,” he says.

Sparks, a Washington native, published The Last Siren in early 2024. First drafted when Sparks was in eighth grade, this romantic adventure of a princess and siren saw multiple revisions before Sparks took it to Interlochen’s Novel Writing Intensive in summer of 2022. During that transformative week, Sparks received the input he needed to make publication a reality.

Getting feedback from peers and professional authors

During the Novel Writing Intensive, students work one-on-one with instructors, build plans for completing their manuscripts, and workshop their novel excerpts in a group setting. For Sparks, the most valuable part of the program was the chance to get direct feedback from peers.

“One of the problems I run into as a writer and an introvert is not always having people who are willing to read my work, especially students my age,” says Sparks. “It was awesome to have a group of people read my novel and get really, really excited about it.”

Sparks appreciated the chance to hear readers’ first impressions and receive questions about the plot, which helped him rework several important details. In addition, he learned a lot about taking input from others with understanding and grace.

“I learned so much about how to receive feedback without immediately taking it personally,” says Sparks.

To top off the experience, Sparks worked with guest artist and published novelist justin a. reynolds.

“Having him there as a professional writer, looking at my writing and telling me ‘Here are some things you can fix’, felt really great,” says Sparks.  

It was awesome to have a group of people read my novel and get really, really excited about it.

T.G. Sparks

Exploring identity through fiction

Sparks’s passion for writing a compelling story stems from an even deeper passion: communicating the novel’s deepest themes with beauty and style. Sparks describes the book as a story in which “the boundaries of gender, species, and love are as fluid as the sea itself.” According to him, writing The Last Siren provided Sparks with an opportunity to explore his own gender identity.

“Hali is a siren who is genderfluid and has faced a lot of hardship and is grieving, learning to stand up for themselves and figure out how to move past tragedy,” he says. “Audra is a young princess learning to come into her power, fighting the orchestrator of the tragedy—her father, the king.”

As Hali and Audra begin a secret romance, they must contend with three princes who have been sent to court Princess Audra, all while undermining the king’s campaign to exterminate all the sirens, including Hali. While the book deals with serious themes, it’s also an adventurous romp through an imaginary world, complete with magical powers and dramatic conclusions.

“My favorite part is the ending,” Sparks shares. “I had it in my head pretty early on, almost as soon as I’d established the villain’s identity and main arc. I won’t give too much away, but it involves the power to control water, plus tridents used as weapons!”

Plunging into publication

As Sparks looks back on his experience publishing The Last Siren, he’s grateful for the positive experience he had working with indie publisher Blue Forge Press. New authors are required to submit the first 30 pages of their book, plus an explanation of why they’d like to publish with Blue Forge. Sparks decided to take the plunge and submit his work.

“I only submitted to them, and not to anyone else. I wasn’t really expecting to hear back from them,” Sparks admits.

To his surprise, Blue Forge really liked The Last Siren—and they wanted it to be longer. Sparks spent the next few months fleshing out the story until it was the right length.

“I added some themes that I really liked, and I think that lengthening the book also helped deepen several of the characters,” he says.

What’s next for Sparks—plus advice for new authors

At just 16, Sparks can now call himself a published author. And even though it hasn’t been long since The Last Siren was released, he already has some new ideas in the works. 

“I started a NaNoWriMo project, and I’m refining it right now,” he says. “I’m going to bring it to the Novel Writing Intensive again this summer. It’s a sci-fi found family expedition, where the characters are smugglers who use an illegally-modified spaceship for their missions,” he says.

He advises students who are interested in publishing to have courage and do what it takes to put their talents on display.

“If you’re interested in publishing, definitely take that leap. If you want to, you can research who you're going to publish it with, but once you find the right press, it’s just a leap of faith to put your work out into the world.”

The most important thing, he says, is to write what comes to you and be true to yourself.

“Write what you want,” Sparks advises. “I didn’t go into The Last Siren with the intent to communicate any particular themes, but those are the ones that came to me. They showed up because they were what I needed to hear.”

Learn more about the Novel Writing Intensive at Interlochen Arts Camp.