Breaking In: Interview with Melanie Fishbane

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 historical YA author Melanie Fishbane.

As she notes on her website, Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.

With over seventeen years’ experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on children’s literature and L.M. Montgomery, who she has been obsessed with since she first read Anne of Green Gables in Grade Six.

A freelance writer and social media consultant, Melanie teaches English at Humber College. Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt”: Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted,” is included in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942. Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin. MAUD is her first novel. You can follow Melanie on Twitter @MelanieFishbane and like her on Facebook.

MAUD (Penguin Teen) is available now from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar retailer.

For the first time ever, a young novel about the teen years of L.M. Montgomery, the author who brought us ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

 But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.

Full disclosure: Mel and I are in the same writer’s group. So yeah, I’m not super objective about her work, which I recommend unreservedly – although MAUD itself was already in edits with the publisher by the time we met, and I haven’t read it yet. Sorry, Mel. It’s at the top of my TBR pile, I promise!

MAUD cover

MAUD, by Melanie J. Fishbane

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Mel! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[MF] Thanks for having me, Stephen! I suppose that I felt like something extraordinary was happening when I signed the contract to write MAUD.

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 initial strategy was to complete my MFA at VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), finish the novel I was working on, find an agent, and what comes after that, but the universe had other plans and, instead, I received an opportunity from Penguin Canada (now Penguin Random House of Canada) to write a YA novel about my favourite author, L.M. Montgomery. I still cannot believe it years later. I hadn’t finished my degree, nor an agent, but something in the writing I had been sending to the editor over the years and the fact that I had been lecturing on Montgomery, made her (and the heirs) think that I could do this. To be honest, this was something I had always wanted to do for a number of years. I had done my MA in History, specifically on historical writing for kids and teens at Concordia in Montreal, so this felt like coming home, a convergence of all the things I loved.

I was asked to put a proposal with an outline and a few sample chapters, which I submitted three months later.  After, I was sent feedback and then I worked on those revisions, resubmitted and then waited. Soon after, I was given an offer.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I was a bit nervous finding an agent to negotiate the deal because I was worried that the publisher would think badly of me as they came to me. The lawyer I used was great, but it if I had looked for an agent to help negotiate the deal, there might a be a connection to help me sell my next book.

Melanie Fishbane Author Photo Ayelet Tsabari

Melanie Fishbane, Author (photo by Ayelet Tsabari)

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I’m not sure what I had expected. Having worked on the other side of things for over seventeen years, I was aware of how stores and publishing worked. But, it is different when it is your book, at least it was for me. I told people that I was “cautiously optimistic” about how the book would do, publisher support and the response. My publicist has been working very hard on my behalf, I have done many forms of media, they have showcased the book at conferences and in digital advertisement, and they supported my book launch, even sent me to PEI so I could do something there. I know what resources are available for first time authors, authors in general, so I know how unusual this is and I’m grateful.

Essentially, you must get comfortable with the general feeling of nervous-excitement coupled with anxiety, as well as learn to ‘let go,’ because there is a lot happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about and there must be an element of trust that things will go in your favour. I remain… “cautiously optimistic” and practise gratitude.

What are you working on now?

A few things. I have two essays that are due soon so that is my priority. It is good because I find short projects like these get me back into a rhythm and provide a feeling of accomplishment, particularly because novels can take so long.

I have two novel projects competing for my attention this summer so we’ll see which one wins out. One is a YA historical fiction that focuses on issues of consent and women’s rights and the other is an upper middle grade/YA about a girl who is obsessed with a teen idol for all of the wrong reasons.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m pretty easy to find. 🙂

There’s my website: http://melaniefishbane.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieJFishbane/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MelanieFishbane

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melanie_fishbane/

Thanks again to Mel for the interview!

Shameful confession time: I ended up sitting on this post for, like, a month after she sent it to me in a very timely manner. I had a very good June, but it was a lot busier than I expected!

But I think… it worked out really well, in the end? Because now, this post is going up just before Canada Day — the 150th anniversary of Confederation, no less. And there is no more iconically Canadian writer than L. M. Montgomery — and no more iconically Canadian literary character than her creation. Anne Shirley. What better way to celebrate them, and Canada Day, than Melanie’s novel?

Coming up next on the blog: I’m not sure yet. I’m still kind of easing back into the blogging after a lengthy quiescence. But it’s the mid-point of the year, so perhaps a state of the me update would be timely?

Most Comics Are NOT IP Chum (A Twitter Rant in 23 Parts)

So, I know this is kind of a big news day, what with the world being completely on fire? But I nevertheless got off on a Twitter rant about something unrelated to the future of American and/or British democracy and closer to my own experience and interests: Comics, and specifically the matter of comics as IP bait.

This was all in response to an article at The Beat, about a new series that actually sounds pretty cool. You can read it via the link if you’re not the Twitter sort.

I really want to emphasize that I totally get that the creators and publisher of FU JITSU are not being serious here. It’s a joke. They clearly don’t really think that they’re the first people in umpty years to think of doing a comic that’s, you know, meant to be a comic. This is a funny, clever response to the phenomenon I describe in my tweets that also promotes their own new title in the process.

But the fact that this joke can even be a thing — the idea, even clearly in jest, that a comic that isn’t just a cynical bait for option money is a novelty — made me sad and, as you’ll see, more than a little irked and impassioned. My Epic! Twitter! Rant! on the subject unfolds below.

If that’s tl;dr? Most comics are made out of passion, by hard-working creators who really, really love comics and the story they’re telling. Avoid the cynical chum — it’s easy to spot. Support comics you love!

(Yeah, I’d warmed sufficiently to the subject by this point that my tweet construction can get sloppy here on in. Sorry about that. I think my points are sufficiently clear, though.)

Coming Up Next On The Blog: A Breaking In interview with YA author Melanie Fishbane. Watch for it!

Bolding Going Forward, ‘Cause I Can’t Find Reverse

Well, I missed the window for New Year’s posts, and then some, didn’t I?

There’s been a lot going on, on all sorts of fronts for me. There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot of change coming. This is a scattered sort of update, not a proper year-in-review or year-ahead post, not only because it’s already February, but because I’m in a scattered sort of place right now.

So, Um, Happy New Year?

2016 was rough on a lot of people, not excluding me. That being said, there was also a lot of good for me in the year. There were big ups and big downs. I’m not optimistic that 2017 will be a whole lot better, overall, for the world – but I do think I can make it an even better year for myself, by working to build on the good, by learning from the bad, by trying to improve myself, and moving forward.

What Does Better Even Mean?

It sounds good, to talk about a better year, and about improving myself, but those are twisty, shifty and very subjective words. What do I actually mean?

I said this privately, back around my last birthday in late 2016, and I’ll say it less privately now: I need to be braver. It’s time to stand up, for myself, for the people I’m responsible to, for the kind of world and future I want for everyone.

So, if I were to pick one word to be my guiding star this year? Courage.

It’s not natural for me to be brave. I like to think that I’m not a coward, but even I have to admit that I’m pretty seriously conflict-averse. I question myself a lot, which is a strength when I’m wrong, but potentially problematic when I’m right, or when I let self-doubt keep me from acting in my own defence, or that of the people I love.

That has to stop. I hope that I’ll always be self-analytical, ready to listen, and willing to consider that I might be wrong and admit when I am. But I also need to be ready to stand up for what’s right. It’s time to be ready to do that, and to actually do it. It’s time to be brave.

Okay, But What Are You Actually Going To DO This Year?

Yeah, if courage is the direction I always want to be steering towards, that’s good. But what about the practical stuff? What about actually getting things done?

My New Special Friend pointed me at this response to a post on Reddit. It’s a few years old, now, but ideas like this don’t really have a best-before date. If courage is my guiding star, then this is my battle cry, my daily call to action: No More Zero Days!

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Image by Reddit User modified_duck, inspired by the comment by ryans01 on the post by maxstolfe

In practice, that means that I work to make every day a non-zero day in some way – keeping in mind that non-zero means going above the baseline, making progress. The fields I’ve identified as being targets for non-zero-ness are:

  • My health (exercising and eating better)
  • Caring for my loved ones, and my home
  • My writing

So far I’m… well, it’s a start? I don’t think I’ve had a three-for-three non-zero day yet, but there have been a lot fewer completely zero days.

While We’re On That Subject, What Did You Actually Do LAST Year?

Ugh, my metrics tracking went absolutely to shit last year. I… submitted some stories? And some of them got closer to a yes than I’ve ever gotten before, even though I still ended up getting a “no”. And I made inching progress on rewriting my second novel. I queried some more agents on the first novel, which was a good thing to do even though they all said “No” too.  And I wrote some blog posts, including some really good interviews with wonderful writers.

But since about September, my productivity on all those fronts has pretty much fallen off a cliff, and I’ve been focused on dealing with other stuff. Dealing with said stuff has been stressful, and I’ve been managing my stress poorly – lots of eating my feelings, regrettably.

It’s a challenge, but I’m trying to do better. No more Zero Days.

What’s Next For The Blog?

I expect posting to continue to be light until the spring, when a lot of the big changes coming will actually happen. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be coy; some things are genuinely uncertain, and some I’m not ready to talk about yet.)

Even before then, I’m going to try to provide more regular updates, and line up some more interviews. I also think that I need to acknowledge that some of my older short stories are not going to sell. Heck, that might be for the best – some of them have been kicking around for long enough that they aren’t reflective of my current level of skill. Rather than simply trunking them, I was thinking about running a couple of those older stories here. I’d welcome any thoughts on that!

This is going to be a big year, for me, no matter what else happens. I’m going to need to be brave, and I’m going to need to strive to have no more zero days. A lot is going to change – and so I’m grateful for you, continuing to follow along. Thanks for sticking with me.

Now: Onward.

 

Breaking In: Interview with K. C. Alexander

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 science fiction and fantasy novelist K. C. Alexander.

As she notes on her website, K. C. is the mostly human, occasional Outer God, and debut author of Necrotech, a transhumanist sci-fi called “a violent thrillride” by award-nominated noir urban fantasy author Stephen Blackmoore. Previous writing credits include a critically acclaimed stint as Karina Cooper, where she won an RT Award for her steampunk urban fantasy series and contributed to well-received collections such as Fireside FictionProtectors 2: Heroes, and Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life.

Necrotech (Angry Robot Books) was released on September 6,2016 and is available now from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar retailer.

NECROTECH

 Street thug Riko has some serious issues—memories wiped, reputation tanked, girlfriend turned into a tech-fueled zombie. And the only people who can help are the mercenaries who think she screwed them over.

 In an apathetic society devoid of ethics or regulation, where fusing tech and flesh can mean a killing edge or a killer conversion, a massive conspiracy is unfolding that will alter the course of the human condition forever. With corporate meatheads on her ass and a necrotech blight between her and salvation, Riko is going to have to fight meaner, work smarter, and push harder than she’s ever had to. And that’s just to make it through the day.

You can learn more about K. C., her books, and how to find them here.

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NECROTECH, by K. C. Alexander

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, K. C.! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[KCA] Thanks for the welcome! And way to start hard. Have I broken in as a writer? What does that even mean? To some, it’s “when you finish your first book”, for others it’s “when you sell your first book”. Or is it when you sell your second? Third? You third contract? When you make a list? When people recognize your name?

I don’t know. I don’t view myself as having broken in. I think I’m still trying to break in—the authorial version of the Kool-Aid man busting down the wall of writing.

But then, I’m a writer. I’ll throw down with anyone who says otherwise. So…I guess I’ve broken into writing?

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K. C. Alexander, Author (photo by and copyright Nav Deol, Picture Perfect Studios)

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”, all things considered, took a meandering path. Many paths, really. I had help—author friends who were kind enough to lay down advice when I needed it, who answered my questions, and when timely, offered a blurb or a boost of word of mouth. I did the work—wrote and wrote and wrote until my voice honed and my practice sharpened my stories.

Honestly, every little bit helps. I got the work done, I worked hard, and as I did, I refined my process. As I learned more from authors on the web and friends and my own trial and error, I started to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

You know? I don’t usually entertain these sorts of questions. I believe that doing what I did turned me into the writer I am today, and that is where I want to be—myself. So, nothing. I did what I had to do.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

Oh, things are never quite as one expects. I try not to expect things—I prefer to just roll with whatever happens. I find it a lot easier to do this in the ever-rocky publishing industry, to say nothing of life itself. I’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with the punches!

The nice thing about not expecting anything is that it’s a lot easier to be pleasantly surprised. And so far, my ride with NECROTECH has definitely been full of good stuff!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a Secret Project with NYT bestseller author Jason M. Hough (stay tuned for that awesome announcement!). I’ve also got the sequel to NECROTECH lined up, since that’s due for release in 2017. Busy, buy! After those, I have plenty of stories to tell.

How can people keep up with you online?

Twitter’s a decent resource @kacealexander, but I’m not super fond of its policies. I’m also trying to help Imzy launch, so you can find me at www.imzy.com/kcalexander, where I treat it as sort of a FB page/Twitter hybrid. I have fun there!

You can also keep an eye on my website at kcalexander.com, where all my social media and extras are listed at the bottom.

Cheers!

Thanks again to K. C. for taking the time for the interview. I’m excited to read NECROTECH. I mean, that summary alone! It tells me everything I need to know while giving absolutely nothing away.

Coming up next on the blog: A State of the Me post? No, I really mean it this time!.

Breaking In: Interview with Michael J. Martinez

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 happy to have the opportunity to interview acclaimed science fiction writer Michael J. Martinez.

As he notes on his website, Mike is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He spent nearly 20 years as a professional writer and journalist, including stints at the Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com. After telling other people’s stories for the bulk of his career, he’s happy that to be telling a few of his own creation.

Mike is the author of the Daedelus Trilogy of alternate history sailpunk adventures – The Daedelus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit (published by Night Shade Books), as well as the self-published companion novella The Gravity of the Affair. His short fiction has appeared in a number of prominent anthologies. His latest novel, MJ-12: Inception (Night Shade Books), begins a new series of paranormal spy thrillers.

Everything you thought you knew about MAJESTIC-12 is wrong. The conspiracy of top government officials, operating without oversight and, at times, outside the law…that part is true. But they’re not hiding flying saucers. The truth is much stranger and more profound. The history of the Cold War — and possibly humanity itself — will never be the same.

 This new trilogy of paranormal Cold War spy thrillers from Night Shade Books begins in 2016.

 MJ-12: Inception (Sept. 6, 2016) — From the ashes of World War II, a Cold War ignites. And from the nuclear fire of Hiroshima, something else has arisen. Normal people around the world have been changed by an unknown phenomenon and now possess extraordinary, super-human abilities. And the government conspiracy known as MAJESTIC-12 is gathering them together—to use them if it can, to destroy them if it cannot.

You can find more information about Mike’s works, and how to find them here.

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MJ-12: INCEPTION, by Michael J. Martinez

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Mike! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[MM] It sometimes feels like your writing career is a series of “achievement unlocked” badges in some mobile app game. There’s the request for a partial from an agent, then a full, then an offer of representation. Then a book contract. The book comes out. Then another contract, and those books come out. Ideally, you just go and keep collecting badges!

But really, it hit me the day The Daedalus Incident finally came out in 2013. I was working in Los Angeles that week, and took my daughter to Barnes & Noble in Glendale after work to find the book – and we couldn’t find it. Not on the “New SF/Fantasy” shelf. Not stuck in with the other books. I was bummed, but then my precocious kid was all like, “Dad, just go ask.” Fearing total ignominy, I nonetheless asked. And the girl said, “Oh, it’s up in front of the store on the ‘New Paperbacks’ table.” And so it was, and I was giddy. That’s the moment where it all got real.

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Michael J. Martinez, Author (Photo by Anna Martinez)

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

You’re assuming I’ve planned all this! Once I got it in my head to write a novel, and then actually wrote it, I just Googled “how to get an agent” and proceeded from there. I cold-queried six agents, and Sara Megibow replied and asked for a partial – which she rejected. But she left the door open a crack to resubmit, and I polished it up and went at it again. We went back and forth a while, but she eventually offered to represent me. She’s awesome, by the way.

After that, I was in her hands. We submitted everywhere we thought Daedalus could land, and we ended up with two offers. I chose Night Shade Books because of their track record with authors, their presence in bookstores and their beautiful covers. I didn’t know at the time that their finances were a bit shaky – they ended up selling to a larger publisher right before I was set to debut – but I like the new publisher just fine. And my debut from a struggling publisher transformed into the Fall 2013 lead title for the new NSB imprint at the new shop.

So yeah, no real strategy. I was slush in 2010, landed Sara in 2011, got the offer in 2012 (on my 40th birthday, no less) and the book hit in 2013. I’ve been able to do a book a year since. It still kind of makes my head spin.

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THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, by Michael J. Martinez

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I certainly would’ve spent more time revising my manuscript before sending it out to agents! I’d never written a novel before, and basically after a first draft and a polish, I popped it out the door. Now, my books go through at least one major overhaul and a polish before I send them over to Cory, my editor. If I have time, it can be two full revisions. Just depends.

(That said, The Venusian Gambit was written in 2014, and that was a rough year for me with the death of my mom and the stresses associated with that. I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to really work it over in revision, and had no idea whether the book was any good when I turned it in. And that’s the book that earned me a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Go figure.)

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THE ENCELADUS CRISIS, by Michael J. Martinez

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I still feel like I’m in the happy-to-be-here phase. I’m writing this at DragonCon (my third year going), and last night I was sitting around the bar, chatting and laughing and drinking with fantastic authors like Cherie Priest, Delilah S. Dawson, Myke Cole, Richard Kadrey and Kevin Hearne. And I’m thinking that life is pretty good, y’know? The community of SF/F authors is generous and welcoming, and I try to do that in turn now that there are folks newer in their careers than I am.

I have fans. Online and IRL. It’s pretty amazing, and they’re absolutely wonderful. I can go into a bookstore and see my books on a shelf, and that shelf space gets a bit bigger each year. I’ve been in anthologies with fantastic authors, doing cool things. I can raise bunches of money for charity just because I wrote novels, which was something I didn’t really expect but is incredibly gratifying and humbling. I’ll do as much charity stuff as I can, because geez, why wouldn’t you?

I knew this going in, but I think the thing to keep in mind is that being an author is a long game. We hear about the debuts going for six figures at auction, and then hitting The New York Times list, and we all want that. But that’s very much the exception, not the rule. Building a readership takes time. V.E. Schwab posted recently that she was an overnight success nine years in the making. Remember, George R.R. Martin published A Game of Thrones in 1996, and it finally hit the NYT list in 2011!

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THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT, by Michael J. Martinez

What are you working on now?

MJ-12: Inception is just out now, so I’m doing a lot of stuff for that. Book-wise, the MAJESTIC-12 series is contracted for three books, and I’m writing book two now. I write historical fantasy, so there’s a lot of research that goes into that. I have a short story coming out in an anthology later this fall, one of those really fun little opportunities that you can’t say no to. And I keep getting these great ideas for stories and novels, so chances are I won’t run out of stuff to write any time soon. I hope.

How can people keep up with you online?

Well, I’m not on Facebook – because, seriously, who has the time? – but you can find me on Twitter at @mikemartinez72 and on my blog at http://www.michaeljmartinez.net.

Thanks again to Mike for taking the time for the interview. I love it when authors use SF to create alternate and hidden histories, and when they mash those ideas up with spy thrillers, it’s even better – so I’m really looking forward to the MAJESTIC-12 series!

Coming up next on the blog: Hey, remember when I was going to write that thing? And that other thing? Good times. Yeah, it was a hectic summer, so perhaps the best place to start would be a State Of The Me post. Look for that soon!

Breaking In: Interview with Foz Meadows

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 Hugo-Award nominated author Foz Meadows.

Per her website and Amazon bio, Foz is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet. In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for Strange Horizons and Tor.com (as well as the much-missed A Dribble of Ink). She professes a fondness for cheese, geekery, writing, webcomics and general weirdness and an aversion to Hollywood rom-coms, licorice and waking up.

She is the author of Solace and Grief and The Key to Starveldt, Books 1 and 2 in The Rare series. Her latest novel, An Accident of Stars, Book 1 in the Manifold Worlds series, will be published by Angry Robot on August 2, 2016.

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. 

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest. 

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic. 

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

You can find more information about Foz’s works, and how to find them, here.

An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Foz! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[FM] The thing about writing – which is also true of most creative professions – is that “breaking in” is pretty much an ongoing process rather than a fixed state. There’s always a different milestone up ahead, some new rubric of success or notoriety to aim for, and it’s not the same for everyone. For instance: the first time you’re paid for a piece of writing is an obvious yardstick, but for me, I felt a bigger jolt of progression when my unpaid blogging started to earn me a readership. Right now, I feel like I’ve “broken in” to the extent that I have a local degree of name recognition, friends in the field and a record of con attendance and participation, but I’m aiming for the type of “broken in” that means I make enough money from writing to support myself and my family without having to take other jobs.

Author Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows, Author

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

Early on, the goal I had for “breaking in” was to have a novel published, and unless you’re especially lucky, the only way to achieve that goal is hard work. Through high school and university, I was writing endless drafts of a book I now refer to as the GUE, the Great Unpublished Epic. It was big and messy and changed a hell of a lot between iterations, and after a while, I was just exhausted by it. Just for a break, I started writing something new – I was bingeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time, and wanted to figure out my own vampire mythology – and ended up with a YA urban fantasy novel, Solace & Grief. Though I was still invested in the GUE, it only made sense to start submitting them both together, and in the end, it was Solace that attracted a publisher. There were a lot of ups and downs in the interim, of course, and a lot of hard work, but I got there in the end, and while my writing style – and my narrative priorities – have changed a lot since that first book, I wouldn’t be where I am now without it.

Solace and Grief, Foz Meadows

Solace & Grief, by Foz Meadows

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

To me, that’s always going to be an impossible question. For better or worse, we’re all the sum of our experiences – there’s no neat way to excise a past decision without simultaneously changing what you became in its aftermath. If I’m in a position to give advice to my past self, it’s only because she did the hard work – and learned from the mistakes – that led me to who I am now. The same will be equally true in five years’ time, or ten, or twenty. In writing as in life, the goal is always to improve: there is no static, fixed point beyond which you get to rest on your metaphorical laurels without stagnating. To share a quote that’s always stuck with me, Without order, nothing can exist; without chaos, nothing can evolve. The world is always changing, and so are all of us.

Key to Starveldt, Foz Meadows

The Key to Starveldt, by Foz Meadows

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have an idea of what it would mean to be an author beyond “gets paid to write books”. I didn’t have access to cons as a teenager, and my awareness of the SFF community was minimal at best, restricted largely to the few friends I had who shared my interests. That perspective got a little bigger with the advent of the internet, but online engagement has changed the scene so much in such a small span of time that, even if I had sat down in my early teens and tried to envisage the practicalities of authoring, I would’ve been way off the mark. At base, all I ever expected was to tell stories, and the fact that I get to do that still feels like a privilege.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working primarily on the sequel to An Accident of Stars – currently titled A Tyranny of Queens – with a couple of queer fantasy romances on backburner.

How can people keep up with you online?

Twitter, WordPress and tumblr are the main places, though I also crop up elsewhere.

Thanks again to Foz for taking the time for the interview! As an unrepentant fan of portal fantasies, I’ve been excited to see new writers taking on the subgenre – and I can’t wait to see what she does with it in An Accident of Stars!

Coming up next on the blog: I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a recent book of essays that features twenty-seven more writers sharing their experiences of breaking in — The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories About 27 Ways In.

Breaking In: Interview with Curtis C. Chen

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 science fiction novelist Curtis C. Chen.

Per his website, Curtis is a writer, puzzle gamer, cat-feeding-robot maker, blogger, coder, board game geek, husband, and traveler. (All  those things are true, by the way. He has links to back them up.)

His short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, Leading Edge, 365 Tomorrows and a number of notable anthologies.

Waypoint Kangaroo is his first novel.

Meet Kangaroo.

He’s a superpowered spy who’s about to face his toughest mission yet:

Vacation.

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and

Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

Waypoint Kangaroo, published by Thomas Dunne Books, is available in print, ebook, and audio from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar vendor today — June 21, 2016.

 

Waypoint Kangaroo Cover

WAYPOINT KANGAROO, by Curtis C. Chen.

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Curtis! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[CC] Thanks for inviting me, Stephen! For me, the “breakthrough” was selling a story to a pro-paying market (“Zugzwang” in Daily Science Fiction). That sale qualified me for Associate Membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) professional organization.

Aside from the personal validation, joining SFWA also gave me access to a great community of other pro-level writers and resources to learn more about the business of publishing. With the novel sale last year, I became a full Active Member, so now I also get to vote for the Nebula Awards!

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 with short fiction. My basic strategy can be summed up in these steps, which I learned at the Viable Paradise (VP) writers’ workshop:

  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you write.
  3. Submit your finished writing to paying markets.
  4. When rejected, resubmit immediately (i.e., without extensive editing).
  5. Repeat ’til Hell won’t have it!

That did work for me, eventually. After VP, it took several years of cranking out flash fiction to figure out what process worked best for me to get steps 1 and 2 done. (Hint: in my world, deadlines are crucial.)

I also had to learn that step 4—rejection—is a normal and necessary part of the process. I already knew the phrase “you are not the work,” but I needed to internalize it before I could get to the next level of productivity. The key, for me, was to think of each story submission like an audition for an acting job: you go in, you do your thing, and then you forget about it. The decision’s out of your hands once you leave that room. Move on to the next thing.

For more perspective, I recommend looking at The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories About 27 Ways In, a book of essays by authors about how they each got published. (Full disclosure: the editor and many of the contributors are personal friends.) The title is ironic, because as the essays illustrate, everyone’s story is different. But what they all have in common is persistence and dedication. No one ever reaches a destination by NOT moving forward!

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with my writing, and I hesitate to second-guess any specific decisions. But I would tell past-me to be less anxious and tentative about trying new things, whether it was applying to Clarion West, joining a critique group, or starting to query my novel to literary agents. Even if events would have still unfolded in the same ways at the same times, maybe I wouldn’t have been so worried about things over which I had no control.

CurtisCChen

Curtis C. Chen, Author (photo by Folly Blaine)

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how supportive everyone has been, given all the horror stories I came across while researching how to get published! I do make an effort to be collaborative with everyone who’s working on a given project—editors, artists, publicists, and others. For the novel in particular, I’m part of a team, and we’re all working toward the same goal. My personal desires are not the only factors in any given decision.

I’m also keeping my expectations low, because I’ve learned that I have no idea what’s coming next. This goes back to controlling what I can, and not worrying about what I can’t. Is the novel going to sell well? Will anything I do online or in person “move the needle”? Who knows? We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, I can keep writing.

What are you working on now?

Finishing up revisions on the second Kangaroo novel, which is under contract to Thomas Dunne Books. I’m also promoting Waypoint Kangaroo, which includes going on a book tour with my friend and fellow debut novelist Claire Humphrey!

After that, I’d like to get back to some short fiction projects and a nonfiction book proposal that’s been dogging me for a while. Also maybe more sleep. Sleep is good.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m always on Twitter @curtiscchen, maintain a Facebook Page as curtis.c.chen, and keep my bibliography updated at curtiscchen.com/stories.

And speaking of Twitter, on June 26th at 10am Pacific Time (1pm Eastern) I’m doing a “tweetchat” where you can ask me more questions! That’s hosted by the Clarion West Write-a-thon, and I encourage everyone to consider sponsoring one of the participating writers with a tax-deductible donation.

Thank you again to Curtis for the interview! I had the pleasure of meeting him at the June 14th kickoff of the DAWN OF AUTHORS tour, and picked up Waypoint Kangaroo. As I suspected, it’s exactly the kind of smart, witty SF that I adore.

Coming up next on the blog: I’m not sure, but hey, stay tuned!