Breaking In: Interview with Alison McBain

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a creator whose hallmark is the breadth of genres and media she works in, author Alison McBain.

As mentioned on her website, Alison is a freelance writer, poet, and artist with over seventy short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. She’s also a book reviewer with the ezine Bewildering Stories.

Her novel The Rose Queen – Book 1 in the Rose Trilogy – was published in July 2018 by Fairfield Scribes and is available now.

The Beast doesn’t always wait for Beauty. Sometimes, Beauty IS the Beast.

Princess Mirabella is betrothed to a repulsive old man a year after her mother’s death. She refuses the marriage, only to find out her betrothed is a sorcerer as well. He takes his revenge by transforming her into a savage and frightening beast, giving her an ultimatum: she has three years to solve the mystery of her curse—or die.

Exiled to her mother’s estate to hide the scandal, Mirabella learns that the sorcerer was not alone in keeping secrets. Her grandfather was murdered before Mirabella was born, and her mother’s death is looking less and less as if it came from natural causes. The only point in common to all their ruined lives: her father, the king.

Faced with a conflict between saving her family and saving her own life, the choices Mirabella makes will change the future of the kingdom—and magic—forever.

Alison is also a fellow contributor to the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), and this is one of a series of Breaking In posts focusing on the creators featured in the anthology. So obviously I’m Not Entirely Unbiased here.

The Rose Queen COVER eBook - new

The Rose Queen: Book 1 of the Rose Trilogy, by Alison McBain

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Alison! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[AM] Thank you so much for having me, Stephen!

As to feeling like I’ve broken in, I’m still waiting for that idea to hit! I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like a “real” author, even if I sell a million books. I’m just a mom of three who started writing each night after the kids went to bed as a way to have something to do to contrast singing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” twenty times a day.

There have been some pretty cool moments along the way that make me feel a bit more “real” – for example, the first time I was asked to do a reading of my work, and the first fan letter I got. It made me realize that I’m not writing in a vacuum. I’m sure most authors feel the same way – we send out our work into the world and hope it does well, but most of our time is spent by ourselves at our computer, tapping away.

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

I probably tried a million things that didn’t work, and I’m still figuring it out as I go. I started out thinking that I could just write a book and it would immediately be snapped up by an agent. I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling!

Well… it doesn’t work like that, at least not for most authors. Some agents I contacted liked my book, some didn’t. But my book didn’t get published.

Then I found out about online pitch contests, such as Pitch Wars, #PitMad, Query Kombat, and the like. I entered all of them, and again, I got some interest and met some really great authors along the way. But… my book still wasn’t published.

Then I was told to “build my brand” by getting a publications list, so I’d have something to show agents. I made a website, started a blog, got active in social media and writers’ groups. And, at that point, I fell in love with writing short stories and poems and forgot about writing books for a while. I did this for a few years, and it was amazingly fun. But book-length ideas began popping up again, and I returned to writing novels.

So I guess all of my strategies never really worked, but I still got there in the end. And the only thing that could be said that came from my original plan is that I am a persistent type of person, and once I start something, I don’t give up. Persistence is the only way to get there, no matter where the path to writing/publishing leads. The only way to fail is to stop writing.

Alison McBain

Author Alison McBain

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

While my journey hasn’t been straightforward, I’m not sure I would change anything about it. I needed to follow a lot of different paths to find out what worked for me and what didn’t. I needed to write a hundred short stories to find my voice and style, so I could write books again and know what I was doing (hopefully). And the great communities of writers and readers I’ve found – I would never have met any of them if I hadn’t needed to reach out because I had no clue what I was doing.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

The angels showering down flower petals wherever I walk is sort of nice.

Ha. Nah, life goes on pretty much the same. I write, I send my writing out to the world, and I still get more rejections than acceptances. The only difference is sometimes people have heard of me and I’ll get personalized rejections for my work. “I really love your other stories, but this one… not so much.”

The one thing I didn’t expect is that now people come to me for advice. Whenever someone asks me a question about writing or to mentor a project they’re working on, I turn around and look behind me to see if they’re asking a different Alison. And when I realize I DO know what advice to give them, it’s actually pretty humbling that I know (a little bit) what I’m talking about. And very, very cool that I can help out other writers as I’ve been helped.

What are you working on now?

I am the lead editor for an anthology coming out October 1st called When to Now: A Time Travel Anthology. I’m really excited by the amazing speculative fiction stories in it – we have steampunk to surrealist, and everything in between.

A collection of my short stories is in the works, in addition to two more novels that are completed and undergoing edits. One is a science fiction novel based on the culture of apartheid South Africa (the first of a trilogy), one is a contemporary romance (the first of a series). In addition, I’m writing an alternate history novel set in the U.S.A. in the 17th century, and a paranormal romance set in New York City.

How can people keep up with you online?

If you’d like to get updates on what I’m working on and recommendations for books I’ve reviewed at Bewildering Stories magazine, I’m on Twitter: @AlisonMcBain and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alison.mcbain.9. For the latest updates on live readings and new publications, my website is: http://www.alisonmcbain.com/. I also do a web comic about raising kids, which is available on Twitter @Toddler_Times.

Thank you to Alison for the interview!

I love a good time travel story, so I’m excited to hear about When to Now — and I’m really looking forward to reading her story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).

Coming up next on the blog:  More Breaking In stories from Nevertheless contributors. Next up, author Fiona Moore!

 

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Breaking In: Interview with Meghan Bell

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to interview a creator whose work ranges across a breathtaking range of formats and media, Meghan Bell.

As she notes on her website, Meghan is a Vancouver-based editor, writer, graphic designer, and cartoonist, and the current publisher and graphic designer for Room Magazine, Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal. Her writing has appeared in over a dozen literary journals across Canada, including JoylandGrainThe PuritanPrairie Fire, and The New Quarterly. Meghan has worked in marketing, digital communications, and fundraising for multiple arts organizations in the Lower Mainland, including the Vancouver International Film Festival and Just For Laughs NorthWest. Meghan has two degrees from the University of Victoria, and is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she is working on her first novel.

Meghan is widely published as an illustrator, poet and a writer of both non-fiction and prose. Her webcomic, Bell Curved, appears weekly at her website.

Her short story ‘Anhedonia’ will be published in the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). So yes, this is one of my Breaking In interviews with a fellow contributor, and I’m clearly Not Entirely Unbiased.

Tesseracts Cover

Are you sick of this cover yet? Because I’m never going to be sick of this cover.

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Meghan! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[MB] I don’t feel this way. When I was younger, I was convinced I’d feel like I’d broken in as a writer after a few acceptances of short work from literary magazines and/or anthologies. Then that happened, and I felt the same as I did before. I might feel like I’ve broken in once I’ve published a novel, but I doubt it. I think I’ll always feel like I’m breaking in, but I don’t know what it looks or feels like on the other side, or if there even is one. It’s an ongoing journey and the goal isn’t the destination, but to stubbornly stick to carving a path that works for me.

Meghan Bell - Bell Curved - everydamnday

Meghan Bell, as she depicts herself in her webcomic Bell Curved. This strip is entitled Every. Damn. Day. I feel you, Meghan.

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

For publishing short work, I went a fairly ordinary route. I have a BA in Creative Writing, and am finishing an MFA now. I currently work as the publisher of a literary journal, and volunteered with the magazine for several years before it became my day job.

When I first tried sending work out to literary magazines, when I was about twenty-one, I was really insecure and discarded stories and poems after they received a single rejection. I stopped sending stuff out for a while and tried to work on my craft. I was volunteering at a literary magazine at the time and reading and editing slush-pile submissions taught me way more than any university course or program. When I started sending work out again, at twenty-six, I sent a short story to a handful of literary journals, and it was accepted without being rejected. It was silly to me then, and embarrassing now—because I know how literary magazines work and I know they reject good work all the time—but I really needed that confidence boost to keep sending work out. I didn’t receive another acceptance until nearly a year later, but at least I started steadily submitting work and believing in it after rejections.

Strategies? I supposed perseverance, simultaneous submissions so you don’t get too emotionally invested in any one, writing work that you would want to read (even if, or perhaps especially if, you can’t think of similar examples), and finding a writing schedule that works for you. I don’t write every day, and prefer to adjust my schedule so I have blocks of four or more hours to work on a project, even if that means I don’t write for three months—I have tremendous respect for people who are able to write every day, whether it’s because they have the free time and energy, or because they are superhumans who write in ten-minute bursts on their lunch breaks, in waiting rooms, or while taking public transit, but that just doesn’t work for me. I wish it did!

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

Oh, oh my god, I would have actually kept sending out all that work I wrote in my early twenties that I stopped believing in after one rejection. Three of those bloody pieces have since been accepted, it turns out they weren’t as terrible as I thought.

When I was in my undergrad, a fiction professor told me that I didn’t belong in a creative program after I told her I was interested in writing young adult and speculative fiction. I was about nineteen and after that, I started trying to write what I thought was more “literary” fiction, i.e. writing like hers. My work really suffered, and didn’t improve until a friend lent me her book and I realized I found her stories as boring as she had apparently found mine. I started experimenting again, and writing stories I thought I might like to read, and, yeah, they’re about a million times better. Now, whenever I want to explore heavier topics in my fiction, I often turn to speculation. I’ve explored parental neglect and narcissistic abuse through superheroes, sexual assault and trauma through time travel, and in my Tesseracts contribution, depression and mental illness through a global pandemic.

There will always be people who don’t enjoy your writing. If you’re unlucky, you will encounter this person as someone in a position of power over you early in your career and they will choose to push you to give up or write the way they do, instead of helping you improve your own work. Don’t let that person crush you. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that I didn’t need to listen to that particular opinion.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

Haha, see my answer to question one!

What are you working on now?

A young adult novel about a teen hockey player who starts acting out—and lashing out—after her older sister dies in an accident.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m on Twitter at @meghanlbell, and you can also find me and my work at meghanbell.com and roommagazine.com (the literary journal I work for).

Thank you to Meghan for the interview! I look forward to reading her story in Nevertheless, even though as it happens my story in the anthology is also about the aftermath of a global pandemic and when I realized that I had a wee attack of writer anxiety and am now absolutely convinced that I’ll only ever be remembered as the author of the book’s Less Good Global Pandemic Aftermath Story.

But hey, in that case, why not pre-order the book so you can see for yourself?

Coming up next on the blog:  More Breaking In stories from Nevertheless contributors. Next up, author Alison McBain!

Breaking In: Interview with Kate Heartfield

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview an acclaimed writer of short fiction, novellas, and novels, who also happens to be having a bit of a banner year – author Kate Heartfield.

As she notes on her website, Kate is an author, editor, journalist and teacher. Her interactive novel The Road to Canterbury was released in April 2018 and her historical fantasy Armed in Her Fashion was published by ChiZine in May. In November, her time-travel novella Alice Payne Arrives will be coming out from Tor.com. I told you she was having a heck of a year!

Kate’s short fiction has been published in a range of prestigious venues. A sequel novella, Alice Payne Rides, will be published by Tor.com in 2019, as will a new novel from ChiZine.

It doesn’t sound like she’s going to be slowing down in 2019, does it?

A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

The first novella in a series about Alice Payne, her scientist girlfriend Jane Hodgson, and Major Prudence Zuniga. Coming Nov. 6, 2018, from Tor.com Publishing.

Kate is also a fellow contributor to the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), and this the first in my series of Breaking In posts focusing on the creators featured in the anthology. So obviously I’m Not Entirely Unbiased here.

Cover, Alice Payne Arrives

ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES, by Kate Heartfield (cover art by Cliff Nielsen; design by Christine Foltzer)

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Kate! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[KH] Thanks very much for having me! It’s probably in the nature of writers to never feel as though they’ve broken in. But if there was a turning point for me, it was when I signed with my agent, Jennie Goloboy, in 2014. That came about a year after I made my first short-story sale for pro rates, and it was around that time that I qualified for active membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). So 2013/2014 stands out.

 What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

My path was a long and tedious one and I don’t recommend it to anyone! I’ve written fiction since I was a child, and I’m 41 now. I finished my first novel manuscript when I was 19, but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I printed it out on my dot-matrix and mailed it to a few publishers and then despaired. And then went to grad school. In my mid-20s, I tried again. It wasn’t until my third attempt that I started to write speculative fiction, which had always been my love, but I suspect I had subconsciously absorbed the notion that SFF wasn’t Important Literature. I had also absorbed the notion that trying to learn the craft of writing would destroy my Art. Both these notions were very damaging, but it took me a while to get clear of them.

Once I started writing what I really wanted to write, and once I recognized that I had a lot to learn, lo and behold, I started to get better. I studied creative writing by correspondence with Paul Quarrington through Humber College, and I started writing short fiction to try to understand the mechanics of story-telling better. I joined critique groups, took courses and workshops, read books and generally opened myself up to learn everything I could. From there, it was just a matter of time and effort. A lot of effort.

So I suppose I didn’t set my feet on a useful path until I was in my mid-30s. I’ve wished more than once I’d been clever enough to see that path when I was a teenager. But maybe I had to go through all of that flailing around first.

Kate Heartfield Author Photo by John W MacDonald

Author Kate Heartfield (photo by John W. MacDonald)

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I definitely would have sought out teachers, peers and mentors, and written short fiction, and written my own kinds of stories instead of the kind I thought I was supposed to write. The internet really allows writers to connect with each other and support each other and it’s been such a help for me, but it didn’t exist in the same way when I was starting out.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

Being a debut novelist has been wonderful in many ways, especially the connections I’ve made with readers. Holding my first novel in my hands, with that incredible cover by Erik Mohr, is and will always be a thrill.

It has also been … emotionally unsettling, I think is the best way to put it. I had settled into a comfortable despair during the years when I couldn’t get much published. Now, the despair has been replaced with things my brain is eager to worry about: sales and reviews and rankings and all the rest. There is always more promotion you could be doing: a bookstore to visit, a festival submission, whatever the case may be, and it will eat all your time if you let it. I’m doing my best to maintain the mentality that served me well when I was trying to break in, which was to focus on what I could control (my work) and not the external results, which are largely outside my control. But it has required some mental recalibration to get used to the new normal. If you let yourself, there will always be a new thing to worry about, even if that thing is whether or not you’ll stay on the New York Times bestseller list for another week or whether you can juggle all your Guest of Honour invitations (I’m a long way from either of those worries!). So I try to remind myself of that and just keep focusing on the work.

The fact that it took me a while to break in has actually been a mixed blessing in one way: I didn’t have to face what many writers face, which is the contract for the second book after the first has sold. I sold two novels at once, and two novellas hard on the heels of that, so there’s a little less pressure on my current works in progress.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another interactive novel for Choice of Games. That one should be done and ready for release sometime in 2019. It’s lots of fun. I’m also deep in a rewrite of a novel that hasn’t sold yet. Both those projects are historical fantasy, although in different places and times.

I’ve turned in the manuscript for Alice Payne Rides, the second novella in that series, to my editor at Tor.com Publishing, so pretty soon I’ll be working on copyedits and proofreading for that.

I have some stories coming in anthologies this fall: there’s my story in Tesseracts: Nevertheless, of course, which is about a flying carpet in a dying city. I also have a story in the new anthology from Laksa Media, which is called Shades Within Us and is about migration and borders. And there’s a prequel story to my novel Armed in Her Fashion coming soon in the anthology Trouble the Waters from Rosarium Publishing.

I plan to be at Can*Con in Ottawa and Scintillation in Montreal, both in October.

I also teach journalism and creative writing. This fall, I have an online course called Write Your Novel at the Loft Literary Center that’s designed to include a lot of feedback and mentorships for writers who are working on novels.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m easy to find on Twitter: @kateheartfield. My website is heartfieldfiction.com and I have a monthly newsletter you can sign up for at tinyurl.com/katenews.

Thank you!

Thanks to Kate for the interview! I don’t know about the rest of you, but for my part I’m now deeply interested in what will happen when Alice Payne Arrives, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m also excited to read Kate’s story in Nevertheless, which, I will be shamelessly reminding you throughout this series of posts, is now available for pre-order from the publisher!

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with Nevertheless contributor Meghan Bell!

Announcement and Cover Reveal: Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One)

I’m back from a long and busy blog hiatus, and I have news!

Because I’m ridiculously pleased to be able to at last announce my prose fiction debut. My short story ‘Green Leaves Don’t Fall’ will appear in the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), a collection of optimistic Canadian speculative fiction.

The ebook is now available for pre-order through Amazon US, Amazon Canada (or, you know, whatever your local flavour of Amazon happens to be – just search for the title!) and will be released on September 3, 2018. A print edition will be available later this year. I’ll let you all know as soon as the publisher confirms that date.

In the mean time, we have a cover! And a Table of Contents and back cover copy and everything! Please join me in basking in this moment.

Tesseracts Cover

Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-one) is a collection of optimistic speculative fiction stories, each optimistic in a slightly different way. These stories explore the optimism that drives us to seek out new worlds, that inspires us to sacrifice for others or fuels us to just keep going when everything seems lost and in so doing turn the idea upside down and inside out.
One of the best reasons for doing an anthology of optimistic futures this year was because no matter which side of the political or social spectrum you land on, it’s been a tough year. Nevertheless we try to remain optimistic. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Nevertheless, yes, we persist. The stories in this anthology of optimistic SF are some of the darkest optimistic stories you’ll ever read but, nevertheless, they are optimistic. And powerful.
Featuring stories and poems by: James Bambury, Meghan Bell, Gavin Bradley, Ryan Henson Creighton, Darrel Duckworth, Dorianne Emmerton, Pat Flewwelling, Stephen Geigen-Miller, Jason M. Harley, Kate Heartfield, R. W. Hodgson, Jerri Jerreat, Jason Lane, Buzz Lanthier-Rogers, Alison McBain, Michael Milne, Fiona Moore, Ursula Pflug, Michael Reid, S. L. Saboviec, Lisa Timpf, Leslie Van Zwol, Natalia Yanchak.

I’m deeply honoured to be part of the latest instalment of Tesseracts, Canada’s renowned speculative fiction anthology series, and to be sharing a Table of Contents with such outstanding authors. My thanks to the publisher, Edge, and especially to our editors, Rhonda and Greg, for all their work assembling the anthology and their faith in my story.

In the lead up to the release of the ebook, I’m afraid that I’m going to be wearing my Shilling Pants on the regular. Hey, it’s my prose debut, I’m excited. I promise that I’ll also do my best to make the process as interesting and informative to you as possible.

So, please, do consider pre-ordering? It would mean a lot to me.

But also, starting next week, I’ll be running a series of special Breaking In posts, featuring my fellow Nevertheless contributors. I’m excited that I’ll have the opportunity to get to know them better, and I hope you’ll join me.

Breaking In: Interview with Alex Wells

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to interview a widely-published writer of short fiction, novels, and non-fiction, and a self-described “Dapper AF asshole ‘geographer,’ geologist, heart puncher” – author Alex Wells.

Alex’s Twitter bio, while pithy and accurate, doesn’t quite describe the full scope of their writing credits, which are listed on their [link to writing page]website.

Alex is the editor of the anthology NO SH!T, THERE I WAS, and is an acclaimed writer of short fiction, with over 30 published works. Their first novel, HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF, was published by Angry Robot Books in 2017. Their non-fiction writing has appeared on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Book Riot and in a number of other venues.

The “asshole geographer” sobriquet, which they’ve cheerfully reclaimed, was the result of some nerd-rage pushback to Alex’s fascinating article on Tor.com discussing the geological implausibilities in Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth.

Their latest novel, BLOOD BINDS THE PACK, is the sequel to HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF. Published by Angry Robot Books, it’s out today – February 1, 2018 – in the UK, and will be available on February 6 in North America, from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar bookseller, or directly from the publisher.

Join the fight for the people and power of Tanegawa’s World, in this exhilarating sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf.

War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for–the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.

Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge–Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.

Disclosure: Alex and I have never met in person, but we’re both contributors to the Skiffy & Fanty Network and have a number of mutual friends and acquaintances. I should also note that my admiration for their work and interest in interviewing them predates that connection!

Alex Wells interview - Blood Binds the Pack cover

Cover of BLOOD BINDS THE PACK, by Alex Wells

 

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Alex! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[AW] To be perfectly honest, I still don’t. I’m starting to think it’s one of those things like “when will I feel like a grown-up?” (Answer: never.) I’m sure at this point, people further back on their career goals than me want to just shake me by the hair. But maybe part of the issue is that “breaking in” implies a discrete event, whereas I think everything’s been on a continuum, so there isn’t really a moment of stunning, holy shit revelation. I guess maybe the closest was finally signing on with an agent, just because that had been a goal of mine for so long.

alex acks author photo

Author Alex Wells

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

I started out writing short stories because the conventional wisdom said that the way to break in was to write short stories and be awesome, and then like, I don’t know, an agent would rappel down your chimney and beg to represent you. It’s total bullshit. If nothing else, being great at writing short stories is zero guarantee you’re going to do well at writing novels. I’m not going to claim it was a waste of time—because it was a set of skills I needed to learn and it got me into the community, so I met a lot of people—but if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have gone about things differently.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

If nothing else, I actually really hate writing short stories and I’m not that great at it, so it was a kind of silly thing to beat my head against for seven years. I’m happier when I’m writing longer stuff. So knowing then… I would have focused on those skills, gotten my screenwriting certificate earlier, and maybe aimed at Tor.com to see if I could get some novellas going, maybe. I would have more novels finished because I’d be writing those faster. (And doing screenwriting earlier would have helped me with my plot structure issues.) I would have made myself barcon more, too.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I don’t feel like anything has really changed from when I started out. I still feel like I’m constantly faking it. It’s really great when people say they’ve read my book and liked it—and kind of weird, if in a good way—but again, if I’m being honest, that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card from feeling jealous or ignored and all the other sad writer ego stuff. So maybe the unexpected thing is that I still feel pretty much the same, despite the validation you’d figure would come from selling a book. Instead of “why isn’t my short story as cool as this other short story?” you get “why isn’t my novel as cool as this other novel?” On the other hand, having an actual paper novel that people can spot in bookstores means your relatives tend to believe you more when you tell them you’re a writer. And when people do read your book, it’s a great feeling.

Alex Wells interview - Hunger Makes the Wolf cover

Cover of HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF, by Alex Wells

What are you working on now?

I just finished the rough draft on another science fiction novel, which is completely unrelated to Hunger Makes the Wolf. And I’m working on some freelance stuff that I’ll hopefully get to share soon! Looking ahead, I think the next thing is going to be some epic fantasy.

How can people keep up with you online?

The best way to do that is probably Twitter—I’m @katsudonburi there. I’ve also got my website: http://www.alexacks.com. From there you can basically find everything else, including my newsletter.

Thank you to Alex for the interview! I loved HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF – they had me at Space Biker Witches – and I’m really excited to read BLOOD BINDS THE PACK. I also love the idea of Alex bringing their voice to epic fantasy, so sign me up for that!

2017: The Year in Reading

Obviously, I read. I read a fair bit. I mean, I don’t write because I hate the written word, or anything. But the ongoing discussions about diversity in reading, in reading more widely, in what we choose to read, and why, made me curious. I decided that a low-key project last year would be keeping better track of what I read.

And, having bothered to maintain a list, I thought it might be interesting to share it, too. If I’m going to use this process to think more about my choices, perhaps other people will find it useful as well.

So, here’s what I read in 2017! The list is in chronological order from most recent to earliest in the year. Shorter works — short stories, novelettes, webcomics, single issues of comics — aren’t included. Neither are re-reads, and neither are books I didn’t finish.

This isn’t a list of recommendations. All you can reasonably infer from a work’s presence on the list is that I was interested enough to try it, and that I completed it.

  • A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers (novel)
  • Change Places With Me, Lois Metzger (novel)
  • Vallista, Steven Brust (novel)
  • The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin (novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 10, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Gluttony Bay (Sin Du Jour Vol. 6), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Greedy Pigs (Sin Du Jour Vol. 5), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Doom Patrol: Brick by Brick (Vol. 1), by Gerard Way/Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 9, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Skyfarer, Joseph Brassey (novel)
  • A Man of Shadows (A Nyquist Mystery), Jeff Noon (novel)
  • Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 8, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 7, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Glitterbomb: Red Carpet (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/Djibril Morissette-Phan and K. Michael Russel (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: The Seamy Underbelly (Season 2), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: Terror and Respect (Season 1), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Empowered, Vol. 6, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Voice, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Third World, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini (novel)
  • The Guns Above, Robyn Bennis (novel)
  • October, China Mieville (non-fiction, history)
  • Empowered Vol. 5, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 4, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 3, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 2, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 1, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Borderline (The Arcadia Project), Mishell Baker (novel)
  • An Oath of Dogs, Wendy N. Wagner (novel)
  • Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (novel)
  • Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (novel)
  • Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly (novel)
  • Beanworld: Hoka Hoka Burb’l Burb’l (Book 4), Larry Marder (graphic novel)
  • Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2, anthology (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Worse Than A Beast (Vol. 2), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez, Michael Walsh (graphic novel)
  • Buffalo Soldier, Maurice Broaddus (novella)
  • Another Castle: Grimoire, Andrew Wheeler/Paulina Ganucheau (graphic novel)
  • Mooncop, Tom Gauld (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Better Than A Man (Vol. 1), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez (graphic novel)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (novella)
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, Jill Thompson (graphic novel)
  • Patience, Dan Clowes (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Refine (Vol. 5), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Materia (Vol. 4), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Reason (Vol. 3), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (novella)
  • The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Noah Richler (non-fiction, political memoir)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Research (Vol. 2), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation (Vol. 1), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata, Vol. 1), Cassandra Khaw (novella)
  • Monstress: Awakening (Vol. 1), Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda (graphic novel)
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken McLeod (novel)
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (novella)
  • Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, Michael Tisserand (non-fiction, biography)
  • Wayward: Out From The Shadows (Vol. 3), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: Ties That Bind (Vol. 2), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: String Theory (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/John Rauch (graphic novel)
  • Amulet: The Stonekeeper (Vol. 1), Kazu Kibuishi (graphic novel)
  • Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch, Eric Orchard (graphic novel)
  • Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy! (Vol. 1), Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis/Brooke Allen (graphic novel)
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon (graphic novel)
  • Hunger Makes the Wolf, Alex Wells (novel)
  • Paper Girls (Vol. 1), Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 2), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 1), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: Super Famous (Vol 5), G. Willow Wilson/Takeshi Miyazawa (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Vol. 1), G. Willow Wilson/Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (graphic novel)
  • Idle Ingredients (Sin du Jour Vol. 4), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki (graphic novel)
  • I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young (graphic novel)
  • Saga (Vol. 6), Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now (Vol. 3), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power (Vol. 1), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • Infomocracy, Malka Older (novel)
  • Too Like the Lightning (Book 1 of Terra Ignota), Ada Palmer (novel)
  • All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (novel)
  • The Stars are Legion, Kameron Hurley (novel)
  • My Father, the Pornographer, Chris Offutt (non-fiction, memoir)
  • The Flux, Ferrett Steinmetz (novel)
  • Tales of the City, Armistad Maupin (novel)
  • The Shadow of the Torturer (Vol. 1 of the Book of the New Sun), Gene Wolfe (novel)
  • Into the Fire (Samantha Kane Book 1), Patrick Hester (novel)
  • Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (novel)
  • The Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell (novella)
  • The Ark, Patrick Tomlinson (novel)
  • Clouds of Witness (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Whose Body? (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Company Town, Madeline Ashby (novel)
  • Hounded (Vol. 1 of the Iron Druid Chronicles), Kevin Hearne (novel)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (novella)
  • Waters of Versailles, Kelly Robson (novella)
  • Pride’s Spell (Sin du Jour Vol. 3), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (novel)
  • Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn (novel)
  • An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows (novel)
  • Hawk, Stephen Brust (novel)

Totals for 2017

  • 33 novels
  • 4 novel-length non-fiction books
  • 12 novellas
  • 48 graphic novels

What did I learn from this process?

Well, I didn’t read as much prose as I hoped to, this year. After I started tracking my reading, I wondered if I could hit 52 books for the year, because that would be pretty cool. I didn’t, obviously, even being generous and counting novellas (and really, it would be more fair to count 2 novellas as 1 “book” for the purpose of this kind of tracking).

I was surprised at how little non-fiction I read, at least in book-length formats. I love non-fiction and if I’d guessed, beforehand, I would have said that I probably read rather more than that in an average year.

I did, however, read a lot more graphic novels in 2017 than I would have expected at the start of the year. And, you might notice that the first 23 items on the list are all prose. After that, graphic novels start appearing in large numbers. There were a bunch of reasons for that, the most important of which I’ll get into in more detail in my forthcoming Everything-I-Did-In-2017-Besides-Read post.

And clearly, I read a lot of genre? I mean, I knew that and it really isn’t a concern. I like plot, I like tropes, and I love my speculative and my fantastical. Still, there are only five works of prose fiction on that list that aren’t in SF&F (maybe four, depending on how you count Underground Railroad, which some have argued falls within a broad definition of speculative fiction and/or fantasy). This might be a good opportunity to expand my horizons.

An issue that’s both more important and immediately apparent to me is that I’ve been reading a lot of dudes. Like, a disproportionate and, to me, embarrassingly so, number of dudes.

And here is where the value of tracking and planning my reading becomes clear, because I strongly feel that I need to read more widely and inclusively. Especially, I need to read more works by women, and people of colour. I need to be more mindful, more open, and maybe set myself some variation on the Tempest Challenge for 2018, to force myself out of the box that results when I simply follow my preferred creators, subgenres, and books I hear about on Twitter and that happen to spark my interest.

And what didn’t I learn?

I didn’t track whether the books I read were in print or e-book, or whether I bought them or borrowed them from the library. I think that would be interesting information.

I know that my reading increased overall when I started using the Toronto Public Library’s ebook app and was able to download library books to my phone — it makes reading on my morning commute so much easier! On the other hand, all my graphic novel reading is in print, because I don’t read on a tablet and phones are not my preferred way to read graphic novels.

I don’t have a big pithy conclusion or a call to action. But I’m glad I tracked my reading in 2017. It’s something I plan to continue this year, and I hope it will continue to encourage me towards thought and care in my choices in 2018. If you tracked your reading last year, what did you read? And what did you learn from the process?

Coming up on the blog: Probably more looking back and looking ahead. And much more interesting stuff, too!

Words to Steer a Year By

For the past several years, I’ve marked the New Year by choosing a word or handful of words to act as a sort of compass, a guiding star for the months ahead, to help me find and stay the course — whatever that course is.

Last year’s word was courage.

For 2016, inspired by Chris Brogran and the example of Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I used a slightly more formal and detailed process to identify three words: Health, happiness, organized.

2015’s theme was organize, which, yes, I re-upped the following year. As I said, I can always stand to be more organized.

Does this process work? Well, some years it works better than others. But the point of choosing words as compass points is that they allow for regular review and course correction, with much more flexibility than a traditional New Year’s resolution. I have a bad habit of setting a goal, then getting depressed or frustrated when I hit obstacles (frequently, of course, I am the biggest obstacle!) and giving up.

But a guiding star allows me to stop, take stock, and redirect myself when things go wrong. I have often been less than courageous. Often been disorganized. Often not focused on health and happiness. But I believe that I benefit from having these reminders, of signposts on my journey, showing me where I need to go.

Last year involved some pretty substantial changes in my life — big enough that they merit a separate update rather than an aside. It took work, and yes, I think, some courage to get from where I was at the beginning of 2017 to where I am now. And while I can’t know whether things would have worked out differently for me if I hadn’t chosen to make courage my guide for the year in just the way I did, I believe that it was important and valuable to acknowledge that I needed to be braver, and to make the effort to be braver a part of my path through 2017.

Lights and Camera Optional

Sometimes zeroing in on the right word or words for the year takes a lot of time and thought.

This year, that wasn’t the case.

My word for 2018 is action.

As you may have inferred from some of what I mentioned above, or from having read the blog or, you know, ever met me — I’m pretty good at ideas, not bad at plans, and excellent at meaning well.

But I can have a problem with follow-through. Whether it’s letting anxiety over potential bad outcomes stop me from taking action, or being overwhelmed by the paralysis of choice, or confusing having a plan with making things happen.

At some point, I need to take one, last look at the plan, decide what needs to be done, and just do it. Take action.

The year is young, and it’s still easy to focus on resolution-season things like guiding words. With that in mind… so far, so good?

My Special Friend, incidentally, after giving the matter some thought, decided to participate in a similar process of finding her compass point for the year. She elected on a short phrase rather than a single word or cluster of words. Hers is “Do it now!”

We’ve combined the two as a shared invocation. “Action now!” It’s something we’re already using to spur ourselves and one another on. To help us get out of our heads and down to it. Because it’s a new year, and we’re both ready to do more, to do what needs to be done.

Happy New Year. Action. Now.

Coming Up On The Blog: Putting “action” into action with my goals for 2018! A look back at 2017 and my year in reading! And more Breaking In interviews!