Breaking In: Interview with Foz Meadows

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 Hugo-Award nominated author Foz Meadows.

Per her website and Amazon bio, Foz is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet. In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for Strange Horizons and Tor.com (as well as the much-missed A Dribble of Ink). She professes a fondness for cheese, geekery, writing, webcomics and general weirdness and an aversion to Hollywood rom-coms, licorice and waking up.

She is the author of Solace and Grief and The Key to Starveldt, Books 1 and 2 in The Rare series. Her latest novel, An Accident of Stars, Book 1 in the Manifold Worlds series, will be published by Angry Robot on August 2, 2016.

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. 

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest. 

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic. 

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

You can find more information about Foz’s works, and how to find them, here.

An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows

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

[FM] The thing about writing – which is also true of most creative professions – is that “breaking in” is pretty much an ongoing process rather than a fixed state. There’s always a different milestone up ahead, some new rubric of success or notoriety to aim for, and it’s not the same for everyone. For instance: the first time you’re paid for a piece of writing is an obvious yardstick, but for me, I felt a bigger jolt of progression when my unpaid blogging started to earn me a readership. Right now, I feel like I’ve “broken in” to the extent that I have a local degree of name recognition, friends in the field and a record of con attendance and participation, but I’m aiming for the type of “broken in” that means I make enough money from writing to support myself and my family without having to take other jobs.

Author Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows, Author

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

Early on, the goal I had for “breaking in” was to have a novel published, and unless you’re especially lucky, the only way to achieve that goal is hard work. Through high school and university, I was writing endless drafts of a book I now refer to as the GUE, the Great Unpublished Epic. It was big and messy and changed a hell of a lot between iterations, and after a while, I was just exhausted by it. Just for a break, I started writing something new – I was bingeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time, and wanted to figure out my own vampire mythology – and ended up with a YA urban fantasy novel, Solace & Grief. Though I was still invested in the GUE, it only made sense to start submitting them both together, and in the end, it was Solace that attracted a publisher. There were a lot of ups and downs in the interim, of course, and a lot of hard work, but I got there in the end, and while my writing style – and my narrative priorities – have changed a lot since that first book, I wouldn’t be where I am now without it.

Solace and Grief, Foz Meadows

Solace & Grief, by Foz Meadows

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

To me, that’s always going to be an impossible question. For better or worse, we’re all the sum of our experiences – there’s no neat way to excise a past decision without simultaneously changing what you became in its aftermath. If I’m in a position to give advice to my past self, it’s only because she did the hard work – and learned from the mistakes – that led me to who I am now. The same will be equally true in five years’ time, or ten, or twenty. In writing as in life, the goal is always to improve: there is no static, fixed point beyond which you get to rest on your metaphorical laurels without stagnating. To share a quote that’s always stuck with me, Without order, nothing can exist; without chaos, nothing can evolve. The world is always changing, and so are all of us.

Key to Starveldt, Foz Meadows

The Key to Starveldt, by Foz Meadows

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

When I was younger, I didn’t really have an idea of what it would mean to be an author beyond “gets paid to write books”. I didn’t have access to cons as a teenager, and my awareness of the SFF community was minimal at best, restricted largely to the few friends I had who shared my interests. That perspective got a little bigger with the advent of the internet, but online engagement has changed the scene so much in such a small span of time that, even if I had sat down in my early teens and tried to envisage the practicalities of authoring, I would’ve been way off the mark. At base, all I ever expected was to tell stories, and the fact that I get to do that still feels like a privilege.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working primarily on the sequel to An Accident of Stars – currently titled A Tyranny of Queens – with a couple of queer fantasy romances on backburner.

How can people keep up with you online?

Twitter, WordPress and tumblr are the main places, though I also crop up elsewhere.

Thanks again to Foz for taking the time for the interview! As an unrepentant fan of portal fantasies, I’ve been excited to see new writers taking on the subgenre – and I can’t wait to see what she does with it in An Accident of Stars!

Coming up next on the blog: I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a recent book of essays that features twenty-seven more writers sharing their experiences of breaking in — The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories About 27 Ways In.

Breaking In: Interview with Curtis C. Chen

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 delighted to have the opportunity to interview science fiction novelist Curtis C. Chen.

Per his website, Curtis is a writer, puzzle gamer, cat-feeding-robot maker, blogger, coder, board game geek, husband, and traveler. (All  those things are true, by the way. He has links to back them up.)

His short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, Leading Edge, 365 Tomorrows and a number of notable anthologies.

Waypoint Kangaroo is his first novel.

Meet Kangaroo.

He’s a superpowered spy who’s about to face his toughest mission yet:

Vacation.

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and

Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

Waypoint Kangaroo, published by Thomas Dunne Books, is available in print, ebook, and audio from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar vendor today — June 21, 2016.

 

Waypoint Kangaroo Cover

WAYPOINT KANGAROO, by Curtis C. Chen.

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

[CC] Thanks for inviting me, Stephen! For me, the “breakthrough” was selling a story to a pro-paying market (“Zugzwang” in Daily Science Fiction). That sale qualified me for Associate Membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) professional organization.

Aside from the personal validation, joining SFWA also gave me access to a great community of other pro-level writers and resources to learn more about the business of publishing. With the novel sale last year, I became a full Active Member, so now I also get to vote for the Nebula Awards!

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 with short fiction. My basic strategy can be summed up in these steps, which I learned at the Viable Paradise (VP) writers’ workshop:

  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you write.
  3. Submit your finished writing to paying markets.
  4. When rejected, resubmit immediately (i.e., without extensive editing).
  5. Repeat ’til Hell won’t have it!

That did work for me, eventually. After VP, it took several years of cranking out flash fiction to figure out what process worked best for me to get steps 1 and 2 done. (Hint: in my world, deadlines are crucial.)

I also had to learn that step 4—rejection—is a normal and necessary part of the process. I already knew the phrase “you are not the work,” but I needed to internalize it before I could get to the next level of productivity. The key, for me, was to think of each story submission like an audition for an acting job: you go in, you do your thing, and then you forget about it. The decision’s out of your hands once you leave that room. Move on to the next thing.

For more perspective, I recommend looking at The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories About 27 Ways In, a book of essays by authors about how they each got published. (Full disclosure: the editor and many of the contributors are personal friends.) The title is ironic, because as the essays illustrate, everyone’s story is different. But what they all have in common is persistence and dedication. No one ever reaches a destination by NOT moving forward!

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

I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with my writing, and I hesitate to second-guess any specific decisions. But I would tell past-me to be less anxious and tentative about trying new things, whether it was applying to Clarion West, joining a critique group, or starting to query my novel to literary agents. Even if events would have still unfolded in the same ways at the same times, maybe I wouldn’t have been so worried about things over which I had no control.

CurtisCChen

Curtis C. Chen, Author (photo by Folly Blaine)

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

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how supportive everyone has been, given all the horror stories I came across while researching how to get published! I do make an effort to be collaborative with everyone who’s working on a given project—editors, artists, publicists, and others. For the novel in particular, I’m part of a team, and we’re all working toward the same goal. My personal desires are not the only factors in any given decision.

I’m also keeping my expectations low, because I’ve learned that I have no idea what’s coming next. This goes back to controlling what I can, and not worrying about what I can’t. Is the novel going to sell well? Will anything I do online or in person “move the needle”? Who knows? We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, I can keep writing.

What are you working on now?

Finishing up revisions on the second Kangaroo novel, which is under contract to Thomas Dunne Books. I’m also promoting Waypoint Kangaroo, which includes going on a book tour with my friend and fellow debut novelist Claire Humphrey!

After that, I’d like to get back to some short fiction projects and a nonfiction book proposal that’s been dogging me for a while. Also maybe more sleep. Sleep is good.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m always on Twitter @curtiscchen, maintain a Facebook Page as curtis.c.chen, and keep my bibliography updated at curtiscchen.com/stories.

And speaking of Twitter, on June 26th at 10am Pacific Time (1pm Eastern) I’m doing a “tweetchat” where you can ask me more questions! That’s hosted by the Clarion West Write-a-thon, and I encourage everyone to consider sponsoring one of the participating writers with a tax-deductible donation.

Thank you again to Curtis for the interview! I had the pleasure of meeting him at the June 14th kickoff of the DAWN OF AUTHORS tour, and picked up Waypoint Kangaroo. As I suspected, it’s exactly the kind of smart, witty SF that I adore.

Coming up next on the blog: I’m not sure, but hey, stay tuned!

Breaking In: Interview with Claire Humphrey

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 delighted to have the opportunity to interview Claire Humphrey.

As she notes on her website, Claire Humphrey’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story “The Witch Of Tarup” was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Where we love, we ruin…

Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.

Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.

Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.

Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy, is published by Thomas Dunne books, and is available June 14, 2016 wherever books are sold, from your preferred print or ebook vendor. You can find a complete list of Claire’s works, and how to find them, here.

Full disclosure: Claire and I are in the same writer’s group, and I had the pleasure and privilege of reading Spells of Blood and Kin while it was being revised. So no, I am not objective at all, here, and I’m okay with that, because this is a great book and a remarkable debut, and I encourage you to read it.

spells v2

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy,  by Claire Humphrey

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

[CH] Thanks for having me!  I probably felt like I broke in around my third short story sale (which was “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot“, to Strange Horizons in 2011).  I certainly hadn’t broken in with readers yet–but I felt like I now had enough evidence to prove to myself that this wasn’t a fluke, that my successes were repeatable, and that I was going to be in this for the long haul.

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’ve always been writing.  I sold some literary short fiction during university, and for many years I worked on a long (very, very long) fantasy novel.  But for much of that time my plan was just “write stuff, send it out”.  In 2008 I went to the Viable Paradise workshop, where I came to learn that my strategy could use some refining.  After that, my story production kicked up, I started submitting more carefully, I made a more serious plan for how to complete the novel that would become Spells of Blood and Kin, and another for how to query agents when it was time.  I’d call that workshop the watershed between “writing” and “being a writer”.

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

Nothing.  Even though I haven’t always taken the most direct or effective path, I like where I am, in all regards, and I don’t believe it would look the same if I’d taken another road.

claire humphrey headshot 2

Claire Humphrey, Author (photo by Bevin Reith)

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

I expected to feel a strong sense of achievement when I sold my first book, and I sure did–and still do.  That’s been delightful.  I also expected that it would be just the beginning–and that’s been true too.  The number of things a writer has to do following that first sale is huge.  It’s a strain to try to do all those things on top of a regular life and a fulfilling day-career.  All that is pretty much how I pictured it, and I’m loving it.

The thing I don’t know yet is how it will feel to have a larger audience–if I’ll get to have that feeling any time soon, or at all.  “Breaking in” as a pro writer is one thing; “breaking in” with readers is another, and a thing that many writers never quite get to experience even after going pro.  I’m guessing I’ll have more fans as a novelist than I do as a short fiction writer, but the odds are still against my ever being a household name or an award-winner.  I don’t know how many books I’ll publish in my career or how well they will all sell.  I think there’s a process of breaking in with every new piece of work, and only time will tell how that plays out.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

What are you working on now?

A novel in the same world as Spells of Blood and Kin, this time focused on Gus Hillyard.  Gus is a character I love to write.  She knows really well how to survive, but she has no idea how to thrive.  In this book she faces some of the same problems Maksim faces in Spells but Gus is a different person, with different resources and needs, and her solution is going to be quite different as well.

How can people keep up with you online?

I post pretty infrequently to my blog; I spend a lot more time on Twitter, though it’s not all about literature there (expect frequent digressions on pickling, social issues, beer, and penguins, both bird and hockey varieties).

Thanks so much for having me, and for your whole Breaking In series!

Thanks again to Claire for taking the time out of the busy (and nerve-wracking) preparations of a debut novelist — and once again, I encourage all of you to check out Spells of Blood and Kin.

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with another debut novelist, Curtis C. Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo!

It’s Called Disclosure

So, there’s something I haven’t been telling you.

This blog has been pretty much dark since my New Year’s posts, and although that’ll be changing soon (I have some Breaking In posts coming up that I’m really excited about), I think it’s time for me to tell you why I’ve been so preoccupied.

Because it’s… not dishonest, I think, but not very accurate, to be blogging about my writing, and my other goals and ambitions, and my life and how it impacts on that work – and not address that I’m in the middle of a Big Complicated Thing that’s taking up a lot of my time and energy.

I’ve been with my partner, the inestimable Sarah, for over fourteen years. We have two children, both of whom have significant special needs – severe autism and developmental disabilities. We love our children, and our family, and we’re committed to giving our kids all the care and stability that an intact home provides.

But we aren’t a couple. We haven’t been for years.

This process has been been unfolding for a long time, and some of the details are pretty personal, so I won’t get into them here. Suffice it to say that Sarah and I were always incompatible in some ways, and those ways became more prominent over time, as the stress of special-needs parenting, and all the other things that came up in life, and the stresses of managing our incompatibilities all took their toll over time.

We stopped being a couple. We aren’t together that way. But our children need us, and will for a long time to come. We love them and want to do our best. So neither of us is going anywhere.

And we had to figure out what that means, and how it will work.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned – via the wise S. Bear Bergman – that this isn’t something that only we’re doing. Some people call it “nesting” or “birdnesting”, and while it’s not common, it’s increasingly not UNcommon either.

It’s been a long and complicated and sometimes challenging journey, and it’s not over yet. Our relationship continues to evolve. But right now? I often describe us as “co-habiting co-parents”, although that’s a bit clunky. I sometimes call Sarah my Co.

Why am I telling you this now, and not before, or later?

Well, Sarah’s been seeing someone, for almost a year now. He’s a great guy, and really seems committed to being a positive element in Sarah and the kids’ lives, without stepping on my toes. I like him.

I like him, but I also had a lot of feelings to process around this. A lot of pain. Because it was hard to see the relationship that I had invested so much time and energy in changing. I grieved for it, and I felt like a failure. I felt like I needed to keep this private, keep it to myself.

But since the New Year… things have been happening faster. Sarah went social-media public about her new relationship – at my suggestion, because I felt like it was time. Her guy has been around our home and the kids more.

And I met someone.

Yeah, I did. I had one of my occasional “Oh, right, I need to actually make things happen!” epiphanies, and got back onto an online dating site. Bless you, OKCupid.

And after the usual flops and false starts, I made a connection, and it turned into a first date, and it turned into something that’s new, but feels real, and important. With someone who wants to support me in my life, as uncommon and downright weird as it is (as I am).

So, what I have been doing this year, so far?

Not much writing. Not much exercising. But a lot of thinking, feeling, grieving, growing, learning, meeting, coming to terms, caring for myself, caring for others.

Changing.

And I’m not done. This is, after all, a Big Complicated Thing, and it’s an ongoing process. I have more to do, and more to learn, and there’s my Co and my kids who need me, and a new relationship in the mix too.

But I’m feeling more stable, more ready. Less sad, less afraid. Like it’s time to resume working on my writing and my health. And like it’s time to stop being so damned private about it all.

Regular blogging will resume here shortly, but until then, this is why I’ve been away. This is where I’m at, and who I am, and what I’m doing with the people I love.

COMING UP NEXT ON THE BLOG: Less talk about myself, hopefully. I was thinking about updates on what’s new and exciting for some of my previous Breaking In interviewees! Stay tuned.

February Flying By

The end of the second month of the year is bearing down on us like… well, like time passing always does. The blog has been lying fallow since my year behind and year ahead posts. This is a pretty common state of affairs; I’ve noticed that I tend to get very busy with Life, the Universe and Everything as a new year starts up, and activities like blogging tend to suffer.

So, this is going to be a scattershot, catch-up, State-of-the-Me post.

Three Words

I blogged about my Three Words for 2016 when the year was brand new. I’ve been finding it a challenge since then to keep them in focus, though. While I have been thinking about my health, my happiness and being more organized, specific activity on all those fronts has been spotty. Getting organized is probably the best, or maybe the least bad would be a more honest way to express it; I’ve at least crossed some old business off my “to-do” lists. But I need to re-focus on all three words as my guiding stars. It helps to know that this is a process, and that I still have ten months to use to advance on all those fronts.

Agent Queries

“Previously, on Stephen the Query Letter Slayer…”

When I last checked in, I had sent out nine queries to agents regarding my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, and received two rejections.

Those are… still the only responses I’ve received, and it’s starting to freak me out a bit. Well, there’s one agent that has a “no response within this timeframe means a rejection” policy, so I think I can safely assume that’s another no, but that still leaves six queries pending.

In fact, in the main this is well within the windows most agents need to review submissions; three months is on the fast end of average, and longer is common. So there’s really no reason to be freaking out. I am anyway.

Say it with me, friends: I will not practice submittomancy, submittomancy is the mind-killer, submittomancy is the little-death that brings total procrasination…

Politics: What Is It Good For?

Well, sometimes really good movies.

I try to refrain from commenting much on US politics, not because I’m not very interested, but because it’s a time sink that I can’t afford, especially since I don’t even get a vote.

But one thing I do enjoy are politically-themed movies. There aren’t many great Canadian movies about our political process, but there are a bunch of American ones. And with primary season in overdrive and the whole world watching with — trust me on this, US friends — our collective jaw on the floor waiting to see what’s going to happen next, I thought that an American politics themed film fest sounded like a fine idea.

Turning, as I do, to social media, I asked for folks to make recommendations, and I got some amazing ones. Here’s the list, including my own suggestions, sorted by number of votes first, then alphabetically:

  • Bob Roberts
  • Wag the Dog
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (idealism makes its first appearance on this list, with the Stewart/Capra original, of course)
  • Bulworth
  • All The King’s Men (the Broderick Crawford original from 1949)
  • The American President
  • Dave
  • The Candidate
  • Election
  • Seven Days In May
  • Advise and Consent
  • All The President’s Men
  • The Best Man
  • Born Yesterday
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (the person who suggested this called it “a bit of a cheat” but he’s also a professor of film)
  • The Dead Zone
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Gabriel Over the White House
  • Idiocracy
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (“either of the first two versions”)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, this was a joke; that doesn’t make it a bad idea)
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Nashville
  • Primary Colors

Any three of the top ten or twelve suggestions would probably make a heck of a movie night. Now I really need to make this happen!

On the Subject of Movies

And also of happiness, I’ve seen two movies in the theatre so far this year, which means that I’ve already equalled 2015! Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Deadpool were both awesome, too, albeit in rather different ways.

What Next’s For Me?

I am, as always, a work in progress. I want and hope to re-focus on health, happiness and being organized. I want to be on top of things at home and work, exercise, write, see friends, see movies, keep making my life better, and making the lives of the people in my life better too.

Onward.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know, but I’m working on it! Having used this post to blather about myself, and barring any news to share, I’m actively seeking new Breaking In posts for my next posts.

Three Words for 2016

I know, there are reasons to be wary of the New Year’s Resolution. They tend to be lots of fanfare, not much action — because it’s hard to change — and by the middle of January you’re back where you started, with an extra dollop of cynicism and shame on top. (And, to be clear, by you? I mean I.)

So I don’t do resolutions, anymore. Not exactly. But I do value the New Year as an opportunity to take stock, to review, to reflect. To set a new course, with updated agenda and goals.

I call this process my New Year’s Revolutions.

I’ve used different tools and approaches over the years. Some work better than others.

Last year, following the example of the inestimable Rachel Hartman, I went with one word to focus my year – organize. And I did get a bit more organized, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I saw results.

This New Year, inspired by my wise friend Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I’m setting my agenda for the year ahead using Chris Brogan’s Three Words.

I want to try this model, this year, because follow-through is always a challenge for me. I fall off the wagon, say to myself, “Well, that didn’t work!” and eat a box of metaphorical or literal donuts. So one thing I like about Brogan’s approach is that includes strategies. And I very much like the perspective of the three words as “lighthouses”, or compass points, things to keep in my mind, to always be moving towards, rather than a target for me to succeed or (more often) fail at hitting.

Three words, three guiding stars. Three New Year’s Revolutions.

After some reflection, my words for 2016 are: health, happiness, organized.

(Yes, this is a repeat performance for getting organized. I can always stand to be more organized.)

Goal Word: Health

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to exercise or be active every day.

Path 2 to the goal: Allow myself sweets and naughty food on one “free day” a week.

Path 3 to the goal: Prepare healthy lunches and snacks in advance for the work week.

Distractions: Being tired, stress eating, not making the time to exercise or eat right.

Steps to the path: Buy fresh salad greens and vegetables all the time, so I always have healthy lunches and snacks; prioritize getting enough sleep so I have energy and willpower; make and keep regular appointments with all my health care professionals.

The finish line: Exercising 5 to 6 times a week, fitting into my size 38 pants, replacing stress eating with working out as a coping mechanism.

What’s next: Increase strength and endurance; plan and prepare to do the CN Tower climb in 2017

Goal Word: Happiness

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to write every weekday

Path 2 to the goal: See friends at least once a week

Path 3 to the goal: Make my workday commute my reading time

Distractions: Being tired, wasting time on the internet, feeling stuck

Steps to the path: Start that new D&D campaign with my friends, playing at least once a month; turn off internet on my phone regularly; write on my lunch hours; always have a book with me during my commute.

The finish line: Having regular (weekly) social engagements and activities; finishing revisions to NOBODY’S WATCHING and COLD IRON BADGE and finishing the first draft of a NEW novel before the end of 2016.

What’s next: Being able to retire “happiness” as a goal for 2017; getting my current writing projects out the door and move on to new ones; expand my reading to address some of the gaps in my knowledge and experience (like the classics, and poetry).

Goal Word: Organized

Path 1 to the goal: Check in with myself daily about what needs to be done, at home, and work, and for myself, both in terms of my goal words and in a more immediate day-to-day sense.

Path 2 to the goal: Check in with my awesome partner Sarah daily about how we’re both doing, about the kids, and about household needs.

Path 3 to the goal: Learn what needs to be done to keep our home well-stocked with everything we need and in good order, and act on those needs.

Distractions: Being tired; feeling incompetent; getting bogged down in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing.

Steps to the path: Make the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed “family check-in time”; make lists of what needs to be done and review them as part of my daily processes; take quiet time daily, to think, process, and focus my mind.

The finish line: Clearing away all the “old business”, the things that need doing that I’ve left hanging for too long; having what we need at home and in our lives for ourselves and the kids, in a fair and equitable manner; being able to move forward with new goals and projects because the day-to-day is going so smoothly!

What’s next: Keep it up, because being fair, balanced and organized is an ongoing process.

Those are my three fixed stars, my goals for 2016: Increasing my health, increasing my happiness and being more organized.

What changes do you foresee making this year? What goals have you set, and what tools are you using to get there

Let me know. Maybe we can be part of one another’s revolutions.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know yet! I guess I need to, um, get organized?

Pretty Good Year: 2015 in review

The Year in Writing

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point that I subtitle this blog with the phrase, “steady movement is more important than speed, much of the time” for a reason. (No one has ever mentioned recognizing that quote, by the by. Do you? Let me know, and you’ll get an imaginary internet cookie!)

My writing process, given the amount of time I have available to devote to it, can rarely be a sprint, or even something as time-intensive as a marathon. Incremental progress is the name of my game; steady movement.

And there was steady movement this year, and it led to real progress. All in, I got quite a few more words down this year than in 2014. I completed the first draft of my second novel, NOBODY’S WATCHING, a near-future, cyberpunk-inflected thriller for YA readers. That included 16,500 or so new words added to the draft between January and May. I’ve also begun the process of revising it, which is a lot harder to quantify, given that words are being added, subtracted and replaced. The process is well underway, and although I’d kind of hoped to be finished before the New Year, I quite like where the rewrite is taking me.

Also begun this year, but not completed, were a polish of my first novel (in preparation for the querying process that I describe below) and two pitches for prospective new comics series that I hope to submit to a publisher in the not-too-distant future.

The Year in Submitting: Short Stories

I fell off the horse in submitting my short fiction this year; seven submissions to various markets (I think; I also fell off the horse at zealously tracking my metrics this year). That lead to seven rejections. No stories out on submission, and no responses pending.

The biggest development on that front was that, as Canada’s federal election drew nigh, I realized that my short story Final Issue had a best-before date measured in days, and decided to publish it here. It remains the most-read post on this blog this year, not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I’m certainly pleased.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to get back on this particular horse. Short fiction has proven to be a tough nut for me to crack; no sales over several years of (admittedly intermittent) efforts on my part. The stories I’ve submitted, I’ve been proud of, but I’m starting to think that my style isn’t especially well-suited to the kind of markets I want to sell to. Or, you know, I might not be good enough.

Either way, investing the time and energy in writing more short fiction is pretty far down the priority list. I mean, never say never? But I’m not sure I want to keep throwing that particular spaghetti at those particular walls.

I might end up posting more of my trunk stories here, as a result. If you think that would be of interest, please let me know.

The Year in Submitting: Agent Queries

As I noted in my November recap, I finally finished fixing up my query letter and submitted queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, to nine agents. To date, I’ve received two rejections, with seven responses pending.

The process, so far, has taken a lot longer than it took me to get rejections across the board from my last round of queries. In that case, the majority of responses arrived within ten days. On the other hand, the entire publishing industry essentially shuts down for the holidays, so I don’t know how much of December I should even count.

In other words, I’m committing submittomancy like a fiend. More news as it happens on that front.

The Year in Blogging

This is the year that I really started making an effort to have this blog be, you know, a thing. You can tell from my posting history: A total of sixteen posts (this one makes seventeen), but aside from last year’s year-in-review post, they were all between September and December.

A significant number of them were Breaking In interviews. I’m very proud of those interviews, and I want to thank all my interviewees: Your generous and informative responses to my questions were deeply appreciated. You provided wonderful interviews, full of really useful insights for aspiring writers and those who are just on the verge of “breaking in”.

2016: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Looking back, I’m kind of surprised; I got more done than I thought I did this year. You know what? I’m proud of what I accomplished.

That’s tempered by the fact that I didn’t get done everything that I wanted to – even factoring out the things that are outside my control. But then, when do I? When does anyone?

2015 was a year of steady progress, but also of change, on all sorts of fronts. I haven’t really touched on the more personal changes this year; suffice it to say, they were substantial, and on balance, positive, and I suspect that 2016 will bring more changes, and even better ones.

I plan to make my writing part of that. If this isn’t the year I break through to the next level – whatever that next level ends up being – at least it won’t be because I won’t be trying.

Thanks for being part of my journey this year. I look forward to sharing with all of you what happens next. I wish you, and all of us, a 2016 full of more and better.

Happy New Year.

And yes, the title was, of course, a reference to this.