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.
[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.
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!