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!

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3 thoughts on “Breaking In: Interview with Claire Humphrey

  1. What a great interview! I especially love Claire’s response to the third question. I too am certainly not taking the most direct or effective path to becoming an author, and it’s nice to hear that despite that there’s nothing she would do differently. I’ll try to remind myself of that when I’m frolicking blindly down a dead-end path, trying to find my way back to the main road. 🙂

    • Thanks, Heather! I love that answer too; my own journey has featured so many fits and starts (a lot of fits, and not enough starts, it sometimes feels like). It’s sometimes hard to see the value in the process while it’s unfolding, while I’m frustrated and wishing so much that I could do more, go faster, be farther along. It helps a lot to be reminded: the journey is valuable, is its own reward, because of who I’m becoming while I undertake it, fits and starts and all.

  2. Pingback: Breaking In: Interview with Curtis C. Chen | stephen geigen-miller

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