Breaking In: Interview with Alex Wells

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 a widely-published writer of short fiction, novels, and non-fiction, and a self-described “Dapper AF asshole ‘geographer,’ geologist, heart puncher” – author Alex Wells.

Alex’s Twitter bio, while pithy and accurate, doesn’t quite describe the full scope of their writing credits, which are listed on their [link to writing page]website.

Alex is the editor of the anthology NO SH!T, THERE I WAS, and is an acclaimed writer of short fiction, with over 30 published works. Their first novel, HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF, was published by Angry Robot Books in 2017. Their non-fiction writing has appeared on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Book Riot and in a number of other venues.

The “asshole geographer” sobriquet, which they’ve cheerfully reclaimed, was the result of some nerd-rage pushback to Alex’s fascinating article on Tor.com discussing the geological implausibilities in Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth.

Their latest novel, BLOOD BINDS THE PACK, is the sequel to HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF. Published by Angry Robot Books, it’s out today – February 1, 2018 – in the UK, and will be available on February 6 in North America, from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar bookseller, or directly from the publisher.

Join the fight for the people and power of Tanegawa’s World, in this exhilarating sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf.

War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for–the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.

Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge–Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.

Disclosure: Alex and I have never met in person, but we’re both contributors to the Skiffy & Fanty Network and have a number of mutual friends and acquaintances. I should also note that my admiration for their work and interest in interviewing them predates that connection!

Alex Wells interview - Blood Binds the Pack cover

Cover of BLOOD BINDS THE PACK, by Alex Wells

 

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

[AW] To be perfectly honest, I still don’t. I’m starting to think it’s one of those things like “when will I feel like a grown-up?” (Answer: never.) I’m sure at this point, people further back on their career goals than me want to just shake me by the hair. But maybe part of the issue is that “breaking in” implies a discrete event, whereas I think everything’s been on a continuum, so there isn’t really a moment of stunning, holy shit revelation. I guess maybe the closest was finally signing on with an agent, just because that had been a goal of mine for so long.

alex acks author photo

Author Alex Wells

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 out writing short stories because the conventional wisdom said that the way to break in was to write short stories and be awesome, and then like, I don’t know, an agent would rappel down your chimney and beg to represent you. It’s total bullshit. If nothing else, being great at writing short stories is zero guarantee you’re going to do well at writing novels. I’m not going to claim it was a waste of time—because it was a set of skills I needed to learn and it got me into the community, so I met a lot of people—but if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have gone about things differently.

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

If nothing else, I actually really hate writing short stories and I’m not that great at it, so it was a kind of silly thing to beat my head against for seven years. I’m happier when I’m writing longer stuff. So knowing then… I would have focused on those skills, gotten my screenwriting certificate earlier, and maybe aimed at Tor.com to see if I could get some novellas going, maybe. I would have more novels finished because I’d be writing those faster. (And doing screenwriting earlier would have helped me with my plot structure issues.) I would have made myself barcon more, too.

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

I don’t feel like anything has really changed from when I started out. I still feel like I’m constantly faking it. It’s really great when people say they’ve read my book and liked it—and kind of weird, if in a good way—but again, if I’m being honest, that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card from feeling jealous or ignored and all the other sad writer ego stuff. So maybe the unexpected thing is that I still feel pretty much the same, despite the validation you’d figure would come from selling a book. Instead of “why isn’t my short story as cool as this other short story?” you get “why isn’t my novel as cool as this other novel?” On the other hand, having an actual paper novel that people can spot in bookstores means your relatives tend to believe you more when you tell them you’re a writer. And when people do read your book, it’s a great feeling.

Alex Wells interview - Hunger Makes the Wolf cover

Cover of HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF, by Alex Wells

What are you working on now?

I just finished the rough draft on another science fiction novel, which is completely unrelated to Hunger Makes the Wolf. And I’m working on some freelance stuff that I’ll hopefully get to share soon! Looking ahead, I think the next thing is going to be some epic fantasy.

How can people keep up with you online?

The best way to do that is probably Twitter—I’m @katsudonburi there. I’ve also got my website: http://www.alexacks.com. From there you can basically find everything else, including my newsletter.

Thank you to Alex for the interview! I loved HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF – they had me at Space Biker Witches – and I’m really excited to read BLOOD BINDS THE PACK. I also love the idea of Alex bringing their voice to epic fantasy, so sign me up for that!

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2017: The Year in Reading

Obviously, I read. I read a fair bit. I mean, I don’t write because I hate the written word, or anything. But the ongoing discussions about diversity in reading, in reading more widely, in what we choose to read, and why, made me curious. I decided that a low-key project last year would be keeping better track of what I read.

And, having bothered to maintain a list, I thought it might be interesting to share it, too. If I’m going to use this process to think more about my choices, perhaps other people will find it useful as well.

So, here’s what I read in 2017! The list is in chronological order from most recent to earliest in the year. Shorter works — short stories, novelettes, webcomics, single issues of comics — aren’t included. Neither are re-reads, and neither are books I didn’t finish.

This isn’t a list of recommendations. All you can reasonably infer from a work’s presence on the list is that I was interested enough to try it, and that I completed it.

  • A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers (novel)
  • Change Places With Me, Lois Metzger (novel)
  • Vallista, Steven Brust (novel)
  • The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin (novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 10, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Gluttony Bay (Sin Du Jour Vol. 6), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Greedy Pigs (Sin Du Jour Vol. 5), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Doom Patrol: Brick by Brick (Vol. 1), by Gerard Way/Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 9, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Skyfarer, Joseph Brassey (novel)
  • A Man of Shadows (A Nyquist Mystery), Jeff Noon (novel)
  • Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 8, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 7, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Glitterbomb: Red Carpet (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/Djibril Morissette-Phan and K. Michael Russel (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: The Seamy Underbelly (Season 2), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Kaijumax: Terror and Respect (Season 1), Zander Cannon (graphic novel)
  • Empowered, Vol. 6, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Voice, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Finder: Third World, Carla Speed McNeil (graphic novel)
  • Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini (novel)
  • The Guns Above, Robyn Bennis (novel)
  • October, China Mieville (non-fiction, history)
  • Empowered Vol. 5, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 4, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 3, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 2, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Empowered Vol. 1, Adam Warren (graphic novel)
  • Borderline (The Arcadia Project), Mishell Baker (novel)
  • An Oath of Dogs, Wendy N. Wagner (novel)
  • Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (novel)
  • Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (novel)
  • Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly (novel)
  • Beanworld: Hoka Hoka Burb’l Burb’l (Book 4), Larry Marder (graphic novel)
  • Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2, anthology (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Worse Than A Beast (Vol. 2), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez, Michael Walsh (graphic novel)
  • Buffalo Soldier, Maurice Broaddus (novella)
  • Another Castle: Grimoire, Andrew Wheeler/Paulina Ganucheau (graphic novel)
  • Mooncop, Tom Gauld (graphic novel)
  • The Vision: Little Better Than A Man (Vol. 1), Tom King/Gabriel Hernandez (graphic novel)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (novella)
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, Jill Thompson (graphic novel)
  • Patience, Dan Clowes (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Refine (Vol. 5), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Materia (Vol. 4), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Reason (Vol. 3), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (novella)
  • The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Noah Richler (non-fiction, political memoir)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Research (Vol. 2), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation (Vol. 1), Tom Siddell (graphic novel)
  • Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata, Vol. 1), Cassandra Khaw (novella)
  • Monstress: Awakening (Vol. 1), Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda (graphic novel)
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken McLeod (novel)
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (novella)
  • Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, Michael Tisserand (non-fiction, biography)
  • Wayward: Out From The Shadows (Vol. 3), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: Ties That Bind (Vol. 2), Jim Zub/Steven Cummings, Tamra Bonvillain (graphic novel)
  • Wayward: String Theory (Vol. 1), Jim Zub/John Rauch (graphic novel)
  • Amulet: The Stonekeeper (Vol. 1), Kazu Kibuishi (graphic novel)
  • Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch, Eric Orchard (graphic novel)
  • Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy! (Vol. 1), Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis/Brooke Allen (graphic novel)
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon (graphic novel)
  • Hunger Makes the Wolf, Alex Wells (novel)
  • Paper Girls (Vol. 1), Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 2), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Vol. 1), Ta-Nehisi Coates/Brian Stelfreeze (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: Super Famous (Vol 5), G. Willow Wilson/Takeshi Miyazawa (graphic novel)
  • Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Vol. 1), G. Willow Wilson/Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (graphic novel)
  • Idle Ingredients (Sin du Jour Vol. 4), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki (graphic novel)
  • I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young (graphic novel)
  • Saga (Vol. 6), Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now (Vol. 3), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power (Vol. 1), Ryan North/Erica Henderson (graphic novel)
  • Infomocracy, Malka Older (novel)
  • Too Like the Lightning (Book 1 of Terra Ignota), Ada Palmer (novel)
  • All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (novel)
  • The Stars are Legion, Kameron Hurley (novel)
  • My Father, the Pornographer, Chris Offutt (non-fiction, memoir)
  • The Flux, Ferrett Steinmetz (novel)
  • Tales of the City, Armistad Maupin (novel)
  • The Shadow of the Torturer (Vol. 1 of the Book of the New Sun), Gene Wolfe (novel)
  • Into the Fire (Samantha Kane Book 1), Patrick Hester (novel)
  • Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (novel)
  • The Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell (novella)
  • The Ark, Patrick Tomlinson (novel)
  • Clouds of Witness (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Whose Body? (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery), Dorothy Sayers (novel)
  • Company Town, Madeline Ashby (novel)
  • Hounded (Vol. 1 of the Iron Druid Chronicles), Kevin Hearne (novel)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (novella)
  • Waters of Versailles, Kelly Robson (novella)
  • Pride’s Spell (Sin du Jour Vol. 3), Matt Wallace (novella)
  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (novel)
  • Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn (novel)
  • An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows (novel)
  • Hawk, Stephen Brust (novel)

Totals for 2017

  • 33 novels
  • 4 novel-length non-fiction books
  • 12 novellas
  • 48 graphic novels

What did I learn from this process?

Well, I didn’t read as much prose as I hoped to, this year. After I started tracking my reading, I wondered if I could hit 52 books for the year, because that would be pretty cool. I didn’t, obviously, even being generous and counting novellas (and really, it would be more fair to count 2 novellas as 1 “book” for the purpose of this kind of tracking).

I was surprised at how little non-fiction I read, at least in book-length formats. I love non-fiction and if I’d guessed, beforehand, I would have said that I probably read rather more than that in an average year.

I did, however, read a lot more graphic novels in 2017 than I would have expected at the start of the year. And, you might notice that the first 23 items on the list are all prose. After that, graphic novels start appearing in large numbers. There were a bunch of reasons for that, the most important of which I’ll get into in more detail in my forthcoming Everything-I-Did-In-2017-Besides-Read post.

And clearly, I read a lot of genre? I mean, I knew that and it really isn’t a concern. I like plot, I like tropes, and I love my speculative and my fantastical. Still, there are only five works of prose fiction on that list that aren’t in SF&F (maybe four, depending on how you count Underground Railroad, which some have argued falls within a broad definition of speculative fiction and/or fantasy). This might be a good opportunity to expand my horizons.

An issue that’s both more important and immediately apparent to me is that I’ve been reading a lot of dudes. Like, a disproportionate and, to me, embarrassingly so, number of dudes.

And here is where the value of tracking and planning my reading becomes clear, because I strongly feel that I need to read more widely and inclusively. Especially, I need to read more works by women, and people of colour. I need to be more mindful, more open, and maybe set myself some variation on the Tempest Challenge for 2018, to force myself out of the box that results when I simply follow my preferred creators, subgenres, and books I hear about on Twitter and that happen to spark my interest.

And what didn’t I learn?

I didn’t track whether the books I read were in print or e-book, or whether I bought them or borrowed them from the library. I think that would be interesting information.

I know that my reading increased overall when I started using the Toronto Public Library’s ebook app and was able to download library books to my phone — it makes reading on my morning commute so much easier! On the other hand, all my graphic novel reading is in print, because I don’t read on a tablet and phones are not my preferred way to read graphic novels.

I don’t have a big pithy conclusion or a call to action. But I’m glad I tracked my reading in 2017. It’s something I plan to continue this year, and I hope it will continue to encourage me towards thought and care in my choices in 2018. If you tracked your reading last year, what did you read? And what did you learn from the process?

Coming up on the blog: Probably more looking back and looking ahead. And much more interesting stuff, too!

Words to Steer a Year By

For the past several years, I’ve marked the New Year by choosing a word or handful of words to act as a sort of compass, a guiding star for the months ahead, to help me find and stay the course — whatever that course is.

Last year’s word was courage.

For 2016, inspired by Chris Brogran and the example of Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I used a slightly more formal and detailed process to identify three words: Health, happiness, organized.

2015’s theme was organize, which, yes, I re-upped the following year. As I said, I can always stand to be more organized.

Does this process work? Well, some years it works better than others. But the point of choosing words as compass points is that they allow for regular review and course correction, with much more flexibility than a traditional New Year’s resolution. I have a bad habit of setting a goal, then getting depressed or frustrated when I hit obstacles (frequently, of course, I am the biggest obstacle!) and giving up.

But a guiding star allows me to stop, take stock, and redirect myself when things go wrong. I have often been less than courageous. Often been disorganized. Often not focused on health and happiness. But I believe that I benefit from having these reminders, of signposts on my journey, showing me where I need to go.

Last year involved some pretty substantial changes in my life — big enough that they merit a separate update rather than an aside. It took work, and yes, I think, some courage to get from where I was at the beginning of 2017 to where I am now. And while I can’t know whether things would have worked out differently for me if I hadn’t chosen to make courage my guide for the year in just the way I did, I believe that it was important and valuable to acknowledge that I needed to be braver, and to make the effort to be braver a part of my path through 2017.

Lights and Camera Optional

Sometimes zeroing in on the right word or words for the year takes a lot of time and thought.

This year, that wasn’t the case.

My word for 2018 is action.

As you may have inferred from some of what I mentioned above, or from having read the blog or, you know, ever met me — I’m pretty good at ideas, not bad at plans, and excellent at meaning well.

But I can have a problem with follow-through. Whether it’s letting anxiety over potential bad outcomes stop me from taking action, or being overwhelmed by the paralysis of choice, or confusing having a plan with making things happen.

At some point, I need to take one, last look at the plan, decide what needs to be done, and just do it. Take action.

The year is young, and it’s still easy to focus on resolution-season things like guiding words. With that in mind… so far, so good?

My Special Friend, incidentally, after giving the matter some thought, decided to participate in a similar process of finding her compass point for the year. She elected on a short phrase rather than a single word or cluster of words. Hers is “Do it now!”

We’ve combined the two as a shared invocation. “Action now!” It’s something we’re already using to spur ourselves and one another on. To help us get out of our heads and down to it. Because it’s a new year, and we’re both ready to do more, to do what needs to be done.

Happy New Year. Action. Now.

Coming Up On The Blog: Putting “action” into action with my goals for 2018! A look back at 2017 and my year in reading! And more Breaking In interviews!

 

 

 

Breaking In: Interview with Joyce Chng

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 a writer who creates thoughtful, innovative works of science fiction and fantasy, for young and adult readers, across a wide range of subgenres – author Joyce Chng.

As she notes on her website, born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. She likes steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Her YA science fiction trilogy is published by Singapore publisher, Math Paper Press. She can be found at A Wolf’s Tale (awolfstale.wordpress.com).

Her most recently published work is Water Into Wine, a space opera novella from Annorlunda Books. It’s available online from your preferred ebook provider or directly from the publisher at http://annorlundaenterprises.com/books/water-into-wine/, and in paperback from Amazon and CreateSpace:

When war comes to your planet, everything changes… perhaps even the meaning of family and identity.

What part of our family and identity is given to us by the circumstances of our birth, and what do we construct for ourselves?

Xin inherits a vineyard on a distant planet, and moves there to build a life… but an interstellar war intervenes. Will Xin’s dreams of a new life get caught in the crossfire? Xin’s understanding of family and sense of self must evolve to cope with the changes brought by life on a new planet and a war that threatens everything.

WaterintoWine_300

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

 [JC] Hello! Thank you so much for having me here.

Mmm, what’s the meaning of breaking in? I keep on getting the image of a thief or a robber forcibly entering a house. It feels as if I am not meant to be in the industry/scene at all. I feel like an intruder in the traditional publishing world and an outlier in the small press world.

If you want me to answer truthfully: I don’t know. The standards of the publishing industry change all the time, especially for non-USian & UK people. I don’t think I really broke in per se. The challenges and realities are quite daunting. It feels like the stakes kept growing steeper and harder. The goal posts keep changing.  “Oh, you wrote this? Can you write this and this and this?” “How come you are not authentic enough?”

Wolf At The Door was published by a small/independent press as an ebook in 2011. It had minimal success. I am not even sure if I broke into the industry then. The Sea Is Ours, a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology edited by Jaymee Goh and me, had more success, because it was published at the right time when people were eager and actively looking for diverse and inclusive representation.

Joyce Chng author photo

Author Joyce Chng

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 had no strategy. I just wrote. Wolf At The Door was a Nanowrimo 2009 project where I expanded a novella written earlier in that year. When I was done, I started looking for publishers. People told me upfront that Wolf At The Door couldn’t sell. I still believe that it wouldn’t even in today’s climate. The book changed publishers a few times. Things happen. Things will happen.

The only take-away from this was…. sheer stubborn tenacity. It’s not just a matter of hanging on and persisting… but finding people who believe in you and making things work for you. Then you can hang on and write more, because you have a support group, be it your family, your friends or your writing group. Writing can be an exhausting experience when you don’t have friends and allies to help you. It drains you. You burn out.  You will find people ghosting out on you when you desperately need help. I burned out a few times. I managed to write short stories while I struggled with finding publishers. These short stories found their place in anthologies for which I am grateful.

Fox Spirit is an awesome publishing house. So is Gerakbudaya. They both published Wolf At The Door in a collaborative effort so that the book is accessible to people in different regions. Gerakbudaya published the book in Malaysia and it is far more accessible for people in Southeast Asia to purchase the book. The different markets and regional demands often make it difficult for books to be sold. I would like to see more collaboration between publishers in the future.

theseaisours

The Sea is Ours, edited by Jaymee Goh & Joyce Chng

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

Publishing has changed somewhat with the diversity initiatives etc. Agents are now more forthcoming with what they want. Publishers have open submission periods now.

Likewise, there are crowdfunding, Patreon and selfpub options available. But I hasten to add that crowdfunding and Patreon would only work well if you have a large supporter/reader base.

Some of my stories are only available to my Patreon supporters. Some are available on online reading platforms such as Wattpad or my blog. You can reach your readers in many so many ways now.

I guess I would still continue writing, editing and submitting. That’s my job. That’s what I do. Work on your craft.  Do not be afraid to fail. Don’t put a limit on age.

Plus, stick with good people, be good and do good.

wolf-at-the-door-web

Wolf at the Door, by Joyce Chng writing as J. Damask

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

It’s the same, to be honest. SFF will still focus on the popular, the successful and traditionally pubbed. People will still remain the same.

It’s so easy to become jealous and bitter of people’s achievements. That’s a dark path I have seen people wander down and even I was tempted to.

Examine your own expectations. Are you writing for glory, for acknowledgement or are you writing for yourself? If your answer is to write for glory and get that big publisher/agent, it might work for you, but not for others.

Remember this: always write for yourself. Write the heart books. Write the books and stories that make you sing. I feel the happier when I write stories that do not fit trends. Of course, they don’t sell, but the joy of writing your own stories is better than churning out something mass-market.

What are you working on now?

A sword YA fantasy.

How can people keep up with you online?

You can find me on Twitter as @jolantru. Likewise, if you are curious about my Patreon stuff, you can find them at https://www.patreon.com/jolantru.

Thanks so much to Joyce for the interview! “Be good and do good” is excellent advice for all human beings, authors and otherwise.

Joyce and I are both contributors to the Skiffy & Fanty website, so I knew she was a thoughtful and insightful writer, but I hadn’t read any of her fiction before Water Into Wine. It’s a deeply impressive book, profound and moving, and I encourage you to seek out it, and her other work.

Please also consider supporting Joyce on Patreon — or her current crowdfunding campaign to help her to attend the 2018 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA). We need perspective like Joyce’s in SF&F, in both our fiction and our discourse!

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!

nmzd

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.