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 very happy to have the opportunity to interview an author, playwright and reviewer whose interests, output and prodigious talent spans a tremendous range of genres and forms, Dorianne Emmerton.
As she notes on her website, Dorianne writes literary short stories, plays, screenplays, erotic short fiction, and sometimes non-fiction too. She grew up in small town northern Ontario and via a number of baby steps she managed to fulfill her goal of living in Toronto in an apartment with a deck and a cat. One of those baby steps was a degree in Theatre and Drama Studies/Diploma in Acting from University of Toronto Erindale Campus/Sheridan College, which is to say she spent some time living in Mississauga. The suburbs do not suit her. However this background also speaks to her love of theatre and she manages her current habit by reviewing for Mooney On Theatre.
Most recently, her short story ‘Mating Habits of the Late-Adopting Smoker’ appeared in Ink Stains Volume 7: Decay.
Decay. The word inspires images of mold-encrusted carpets in abandoned hotels, forgotten toys in the rain, and rusting roller coasters. Those who call themselves urban explorers are obsessed with it, perhaps because of its profound sense of sadness. If we are still and listen, we can hear the whispers of a brighter past. This pervasive ghost doesn’t only haunt the physical world; it invades our bodies, minds, relationships, and societies. It is inevitable; we are helpless to stop it.
In these stories, one man is suddenly stalked by the same hooded figure that pursued his terminally ill father, while another stalks the world’s evil at great cost to himself. A woman who has recently picked up smoking undergoes a monstrous transformation, another reels when she sees her boyfriend for what he truly is, and North Pole elves experience heartbreak for the first time. There are more: fifteen tales in all by authors Elizabeth Allen, Kaitlyn Downing, Dorianne Emmerton, Bri Faythe, Jackie Logsted, Robert Mayette, Megan Neumann, Pablo Patiño, Daniel Pearlman, Christopher Petersen, Travis D. Roberson, Heather Sullivan, Page Sonnet Sullivan, Mary Thorson, Taro Turner, and Rhonda Zimlich.
These are the things we lose; we die a little each day.
Some of us just more quickly than others.
This is one of my Breaking In posts focusing on a fellow contributor to the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). Dorianne and I have also known one another for several years, have a bunch of mutuals, hang out on occasion (though not often enough), and I consider her a friend. So, you know: Biased.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Dorianne! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[DE] At some future point when I have a published novel. I know you asked the question in the past tense, but we’re SF writers, we have flexibility with time, right?
Otherwise, this year has been pretty good: two different short story publications, after a long time of none. My novel, and a novella before that, sucked up all of my writing time and I neglected short story submissions. (And by “neglected” I don’t mean I didn’t do them, I just didn’t do them in the massive quantity as previously.)
WAITAMINUTE. In 2015 I did nineteen submissions and in 2016 I did eighteen, with no acceptances in those years. In 2017 I only did eleven, but three were accepted! (Two short story publications and a short play production.)
WAITAMINUTE LONGER, both my short stories published in 2018 were submitted on the same day in 2017! I’m not sure what to do with this information, since I’m not superstitious, but maybe I’ll run some fancier analyses with my submission spreadsheet. I do love a good pivot table.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
My strategy was
- Spend many years trying to write serious CanLit type stories, publish very few, and keep finding myself sliding into weirdness of some sort;
- Consider writing SF but erring on the side of “I’m not imaginative enough to create whole new realities”;
- Get propositioned by friends to write a cyborg story, love doing it, never sell it, but decide I can write SF after all;
- Discover that my novel’s rough first draft benefits from the sparks of weirdness developing into speculative horror;
- Sell a couple of SF stories, including to Tesseracts Twenty-One: Nevertheless;
- Sell all my remaining stories, including the far future, genderqueering, polyamorous space opera cyborg novella;
- Sell my novel for enough money that I can afford to take a year off just to write;
- Win many awards and top the best seller lists;
- Write more things.
The last four are currently aspirational but as I said at the start, I’m happy to write about the future in other tenses.
(I think I’m supposed to get an agent in there somewhere, but I’m not sure where it fits and also it’s pretty intimidating.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
Screw writing stuff that doesn’t have ghosts, or aliens, or monsters, or magic, or sentient malevolent trees. What good has reality ever done anyone anyway?
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
You’re interviewing me – that’s unexpected. I now feel like I’m good enough to target markets that pay SFWA rates, and I’ve stopped submitting to places that pay in “exposure”, but I expected, or at least hoped, for that. Otherwise, I still just try to write twice a week and not be a terrible parent/office worker/person.
What are you working on now?
My novel. That’s the sentient malevolent trees thing. I also wrote a YA portal fantasy short story that I’m shopping around. Still trying to get someone to like my cyborgs.
How can people keep up with you online?
@headonist on twitter, but you’re just as likely to find political outrage as writerly stuff on there.
https://dorianneemmerton.wordpress.com, which I occasionally remember to update.
Thank you to Dorianne for the interview! I’m very much looking forward to reading her story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).
Yes, even though we know each other in Real Life, I haven’t read her story yet! I only know that she refers to ‘Inside the Spiral’, as a genderqueering, sex magickal romp, which for the record, sounds like the sort of story I strongly approve of.
Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor Michael Reid shares his experiences Breaking In.