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 writer whose online bio refers to him as a “creative force of nature”, and honestly I’m pretty sure that’s an understatement – author Ryan Henson Creighton.
As he notes on his website, Ryan Henson Creighton’s career has encompassed writing, puzzle design, video game development, theatre, stand-up comedy, marketing, and advertising. A TEDxToronto speaker and author of Unity 4.x Game Development by Example (3rd edition), Ryan is prolific and outspoken, with an uncanny knack for teaching anything to anyone, by blending humour and storytelling with contagious passion.
Many of his short stories, poems and essays are collected on his website. His story ‘Hill’ will appear in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), so he’s a fellow contributor and full disclosure and all that.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Ryan! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[RHC] Feels like it hasn’t happened yet! Increasingly, my writing has enabled me to earn a living, which is wonderful. But i think there a few high water marks many writers (myself included) would point to and say “there – i’ve made it!” Here are a few of mine:
- A publisher approaches me (instead of the other way around!) and commissions a piece of fiction. It has to be fiction, though. If i get called upon by name to write a home appliance manual or the nutritional information panel on a candy wrapper, it won’t count.
- i meet a stranger at a party and mention i’m a writer (and i don’t feel the slightest twinge of dishonest guilt while saying it). The stranger says “Oh – anything i’ve heard of?” and i say, demurely, “Mmmm… maybe a little something called [title of the thing]!” and the person says “Yyyyyeah…. i think i’ve heard of that?” Then i feel quite good for a short while. But later, near the bowl of nachos, the person introduces me to someone else as the author of [vaguely similarly titled thing], and i have to say “No, no, no… that wasn’t mine. No, i wrote [title of the thing],” and then the person apologizes and everyone just stares at their feet in awkward silence until it’s finally time to smash the piñata.
- When the birthday boy gets in a good strong hit, and the piñata breaks open and candy goes flying everywhere, and people pick it up and start absent-mindedly reading the nutritional information panel on the side, and then they start laughing and weeping for the sheer, shocking poetry of it all, and i sit back and fold my arms satisfactorily and say “Yeah. That”
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
With ‘Hill’ in particular, i had the itch to write some fiction. i discovered a terrific (and, sadly, now defunct) site called Cathy’s Comps and Calls, where the author (presumably Cathy?) would compile a list of calls for submissions and various monthly contests. In conjunction with that, i found a great online tool called The Submission Grinder, where writers can track their submissions to various publications, because it can get a little hairy. i tracked my submissions separately in a private spreadsheet as well, because you never know when a site can just vanish (i’M LOOKING AT YOU, CATHY), but the advantage of using The Submission Grinder is that it displays stats from all the other writers who use it. So if you’re thinking “Why hasn’t [publication] accepted my amazing story about two turtles who win the Nobel prize?” you can look at The Submission Grinder and see that [publication] hasn’t written to anyone who submitted to them since their last call, and has maybe only accepted one story this year.
The submission process should really be called the rejection process. Seeing how other writers were faring kept me from feeling too kicked around.
That said, ‘Hill’ was the third short work of fiction that i wrote during that period last summer, and it was accepted for publication, so i can’t exactly claim i’m hard done by.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
Being very new to the game, i’m honestly not certain that answering these calls for submissions is the best way to break in. i would have to do more research, and see the trajectories of some (actually) successful writers. Many of these publications (but not Tesseracts!) are very exacting about their submission process, and they have all these hoops they want you to jump through, and when you get to the bottom of the page, the remuneration is something like five dollars. i can’t quite see if there’s a path from hobbyist to career fiction writer in this corner of the market, but i’m exploring various roads-less-taken. See below!
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
i’d say the mountains of cocaine are a lot larger than i expected, but keeping two pet cheetahs in studded collars really only seems like a good idea when you think of it, because you were super high when you thought of it. Because… because of the cocaine.
What are you working on now?
i’m under NDA with a video game company. A partner and i are writing puzzles for their live community events through my puzzle design company, LockQuest.
i applied for a role at a start-up company called Wattpad. Their elevator pitch is that they’re the Youtube of writing, but i took a look around, and their elevator pitch should be “12-year-olds writing pornography for 12-year-olds.” However, it’s difficult to secure millions of dollars in series B financing with that pitch. They have too much investment money to not succeed, but as of now, the site is the wildest of wild wests.
The writing on Wattpad is very, very bad. i read a bunch of it, and had a terrific time doing it, but man… it’s quite a place. i do quite enjoy the site because everyone is just doing whatever they want and there are no rules, man… like spelling or grammar… or plot structure… or halfway believable characterization… or observance of copyright… and that’s kind of freeing. Instead of burning energy submitting to all these other publications (but not Tesseracts!) for five dollars a pop, trying to convince the editors that i’m the best of the best, i thought: why don’t i goof off on Wattpad for a while and try to be the best of the worst?
So to that end, i invite you to enjoy my new Wattpad novel ‘The Sevens’, which is about a cat who enters a junior high rap battle. It may be my most important work.
How can people keep up with you online?
Are you into board games? i have a YouTube channel called Nights Around a Table. (If you don’t know, YouTube is like the YouTube of YouTube). While my personal site isn’t updated often, it does contain the most important information about my life, including fast food make-alike recipes for the Instant Pot, and reasons why porn has prevented me from buying a nice carpet.
Am i talking about porn too much? i am. i shouldn’t be. That’s tacky. Apologies. Let’s keep this interview to material we all can enjoy.
Now pardon me… i have to go snort the mountain of cocaine i purchased with proceeds from the sale of my short stories to various publications (but not Tesseracts!)
Thank you to Ryan for the interview! Having had the opportunity now to learn more about him and his wildly diverse creative output, I’m really looking forward to reading his story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One)!
Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor Jerri Jerreat shares a Breaking In story!