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!
[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.
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.
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?
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!