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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

Breaking In: Interview with Claire Humphrey

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 Claire Humphrey.

As she notes on her website, Claire Humphrey’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story “The Witch Of Tarup” was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Where we love, we ruin…

Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.

Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.

Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.

Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy, is published by Thomas Dunne books, and is available June 14, 2016 wherever books are sold, from your preferred print or ebook vendor. You can find a complete list of Claire’s works, and how to find them, here.

Full disclosure: Claire and I are in the same writer’s group, and I had the pleasure and privilege of reading Spells of Blood and Kin while it was being revised. So no, I am not objective at all, here, and I’m okay with that, because this is a great book and a remarkable debut, and I encourage you to read it.

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Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy,  by Claire Humphrey

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

[CH] Thanks for having me!  I probably felt like I broke in around my third short story sale (which was “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot“, to Strange Horizons in 2011).  I certainly hadn’t broken in with readers yet–but I felt like I now had enough evidence to prove to myself that this wasn’t a fluke, that my successes were repeatable, and that I was going to be in this for the long haul.

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’ve always been writing.  I sold some literary short fiction during university, and for many years I worked on a long (very, very long) fantasy novel.  But for much of that time my plan was just “write stuff, send it out”.  In 2008 I went to the Viable Paradise workshop, where I came to learn that my strategy could use some refining.  After that, my story production kicked up, I started submitting more carefully, I made a more serious plan for how to complete the novel that would become Spells of Blood and Kin, and another for how to query agents when it was time.  I’d call that workshop the watershed between “writing” and “being a writer”.

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

Nothing.  Even though I haven’t always taken the most direct or effective path, I like where I am, in all regards, and I don’t believe it would look the same if I’d taken another road.

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Claire Humphrey, Author (photo by Bevin Reith)

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

I expected to feel a strong sense of achievement when I sold my first book, and I sure did–and still do.  That’s been delightful.  I also expected that it would be just the beginning–and that’s been true too.  The number of things a writer has to do following that first sale is huge.  It’s a strain to try to do all those things on top of a regular life and a fulfilling day-career.  All that is pretty much how I pictured it, and I’m loving it.

The thing I don’t know yet is how it will feel to have a larger audience–if I’ll get to have that feeling any time soon, or at all.  “Breaking in” as a pro writer is one thing; “breaking in” with readers is another, and a thing that many writers never quite get to experience even after going pro.  I’m guessing I’ll have more fans as a novelist than I do as a short fiction writer, but the odds are still against my ever being a household name or an award-winner.  I don’t know how many books I’ll publish in my career or how well they will all sell.  I think there’s a process of breaking in with every new piece of work, and only time will tell how that plays out.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

What are you working on now?

A novel in the same world as Spells of Blood and Kin, this time focused on Gus Hillyard.  Gus is a character I love to write.  She knows really well how to survive, but she has no idea how to thrive.  In this book she faces some of the same problems Maksim faces in Spells but Gus is a different person, with different resources and needs, and her solution is going to be quite different as well.

How can people keep up with you online?

I post pretty infrequently to my blog; I spend a lot more time on Twitter, though it’s not all about literature there (expect frequent digressions on pickling, social issues, beer, and penguins, both bird and hockey varieties).

Thanks so much for having me, and for your whole Breaking In series!

Thanks again to Claire for taking the time out of the busy (and nerve-wracking) preparations of a debut novelist — and once again, I encourage all of you to check out Spells of Blood and Kin.

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with another debut novelist, Curtis C. Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo!

Breaking In: Interview with Lena Coakley

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 excited to have the chance to interview YA fantasy author Lena Coakley.

As she explains on her website, Lena’s first novel, Witchlanders, was published by Atheneum (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in 2011. It was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for the Americas.  Her forthcoming novel, Worlds of Ink and Shadow, a portal fantasy about the young Brontë siblings and the worlds they created, will be out on January 5, 2016.

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow will be available January 5, 2016 in Canada and the US from your preferred bookseller. For more information on Lena’s books, and how to find them, visit her website.

Lena Coakley Interview - Worlds of Ink and Shadow, US Cover

Worlds of Ink and Shadow, by Lena Coakley (US cover)

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

[LC] Oh my goodness, I think I’m still breaking in. There’s always a new hurdle—isn’t there?—and the finish line is always receding. I feel like I’ve had a very stop and start career. Writing novels was always my goal, but it took me a very long time to finish my first one, Witchlanders—so long, in fact, that I wrote two picture books, published them, and saw them go out of print in the ten years it took to complete it.

I’d have to say that finding my agent, Steven Malk, was my big break, though. He was very interested in Witchlanders, but it needed some major revisions. He ended up working with me for almost two years to get it ready for publication. We didn’t have a contract, and the whole time I was afraid I was going to fail, afraid that he wouldn’t end up signing me. When I sent my final revision to him I had tears streaming down my face. The book was so far from perfect in my mind—but Steve ended up loving it, and he did finally sign me. After all those years of work, the book sold very quickly in a preempt to Simon and Schuster. Things seemed to move like lightning after that.

Lena Coakley - Author Photo

Lena Coakley, 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?

I worked at both the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and CANSCAIP and I thought that the contacts I made there might help me get published, but that’s not how things worked out. I did what most people do. I queried. I researched agents and polished a query letter and got rejections. I believe that networking and going to conferences and meeting people are all important, but in the end I broke in with a good query letter and a good manuscript—no matter how many contacts you have, if you don’t have those two things, you won’t get published.

Lena Coakley Interview - Worlds of Ink and Shadow, Cdn Cover

Worlds of Ink and Shadow, by Lena Coakley (Canadian cover)

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

So many things! I think I would have enjoyed getting an MFA, and the things I learned there might have helped me finish my first novel more quickly. Also, because all my experience is in the children’s book world, I didn’t really know how many short story markets are available to fantasy and science fiction writers. I’m intrigued by the way authors like Leah Bobet and Claire Humphrey built audiences for their work with short stories before their first novels even came out. Years ago I published short stories in educational anthologies, but when that market dried up, I stopped writing them. If I had things to do over again, I’d probably try to break into the adult spec fic market, something I’m belatedly doing now. Not only do I think this would have introduced my work to different audiences, I also love short stories and miss writing them.

Lena Coakley Interview -Witchlanders Cover

Witchlanders, by Lena Coakley

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

Completing a novel is a life achievement that I’m really proud of. I do feel like I’ve done something that can go on my tombstone, but there are always new challenges. I’m always thinking about the next novel and hoping it will be better than the one before.

What are you working on now?

I was lucky enough to sell my second book, Worlds of Ink and Shadow, on 60 pages and an outline, but that situation came with some pitfalls. Once I had a pub date and a deadline, I felt I could only work on that one novel. Now that it’s finished, I’ve decided that I work better when I have many projects on the go. I’ve got two YA fantasy novels that I go back and forth between that take up most of my time, but I’ve also got a few short stories and even a middle grade novel simmering on back burners. This is probably way too much! I think it’s a reaction to working on one project more than was natural for me.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m on Twitter and I like it, but Facebook is where I really hang out—and I also blog occasionally on my website at www.lenacoakley.com.

Thank you to Lena for the informative and thought-provoking responses to my questions! I’m excited to read Worlds of Ink and Shadow — I love portal fantasies, and it seems to be a subgenre that’s in the midst of a long-overdue resurgence.

Coming up next on the blog: 2015 – threat or menace? The year in review.

Breaking In: Interview with Lorna Schultz Nicholson

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 author Lorna Schultz Nicholson. As noted in the bio on her website, Lorna Schultz Nicholson grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, and as a child loved to read and write. But then athletics took over and she put it all aside to be a jock.

Later, her writing resurfaced in the media arena when she hosted and wrote fitness and lifestyle TV programming in Victoria, BC and Ottawa. Later, she wrote, hosted and produced the syndicated radio show Family Time.

After moving to Calgary with her family, Lorna wrote freelance magazine articles, as well as a sports column, and served as community events reporter for a local radio station. Eventually, wanting to focus on writing books and on her family, Lorna decided to dedicate her time to raising her children and writing both novels and non-fiction books.

Since then, she has enjoyed tremendous success, having published no less than thirty-two books, including nine YA novels, eight Middle Grade novels, seven non-fiction and recordbooks and eight picture books.

Her most recent work is the Red Maple Award-nominated Fragile Bones: Harrison & Anna, from Clockwise Press, the first book in her new One-2-One series.

Anna, a bright senior and aspiring med student, has been paired with Harrison, a boy with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome and an obsession with anatomy, in their high school’s Best Buddies club. Told in their two voices, the novel explores the relationship between the teens as each learns to see the world in surprisingly different ways. The first in a series of novels for teens, each telling the stories of a different pair of young people in the Best Buddies club.

Fragile Bones is available online from Amazon.com in the US, and in Canada from Amazon.ca and Chapters.Indigo.ca. You can find a complete list of Lorna’s works, and how to find them, here.

Lorna Nicholson Interview - Fragile Bones cover

Fragile Bones: Harrison & Anna, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

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

[LSN] Oh wow, has this made me think.  Hmmm.  When did I break in as a writer?  I’m not sure if I even feel as if I’ve broken in as a writer after 32 books published.   I know that probably sounds a bit crazy and a cop-out to the question but perhaps it’s because people still ask me, “Oh, are you on the NY Times Bestselling List?”  or “Have your books been made into movies?” or “Do you know JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins because they are famous authors?”   After answering no to each question, I feel as if maybe I’m not a writer yet??????

Okay, so writers tend to have insecurities and every time we publish a new book we are anxious and stressed and…insecure.   But then, I arrive at a school for an author visit and an eager student will raise his/her hand and say, “I’ve read your book and loved it.”  For a few moments my heart swells and I forget about the lists and the movie deals and the money I don’t make and the fame I don’t have and if my book is good enough and I feel like a REAL WRITER.  So perhaps that is my answer.  I feel as if I broke in as an writer the first time that little boy in that school way back when told me he loved my book.   Oh, and his mother told me later he wasn’t a reader and she was thrilled he had finally read a book!  Yeah.

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Author Lorna Schultz Nicholson

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 but to keep writing.  I think I wrote three novels before my first novel was published.  And they were adult mysteries and I published a middle grade sport novel.  I was slugging away at the mystery novels, writing entire novels before sending to agents and editors, going to conferences, and doing all the right things that the writing books tell you, when a good friend of mine and a wonderful author, Jacqueline Guest, kept phoning me for advice on a soccer novel she was writing.  I was a jock at heart and knew my rules and regulations.  So I gave her the details and said, “I should write one of those novels.”   She then told me she was moving into edgy teen fiction and I should send something to her editor.  So I wrote a first chapter and chapter outline and sent it in.  And the editor got in touch with me and wanted the entire manuscript.  Gulp.  I hadn’t written it yet.  Thank goodness I had an outline.  I wrote fast and furious and that was the first novel I ever published.  And poof, I became a children’s writer.  I still have a dream (let’s call it a goal to give it more umpff) to write an adult mystery series when I retire.  Lol.

Lorna Nicholson - Puckster cover

Puckster Plays the Hockey Mascots, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

 

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

I’m not sure I would do anything differently.   My journey has not been in a straight line but I’m not a straight line kind of girl.  I know I’ve wasted time here and there but we can learn from mistakes.  Oh, one thing I would have done differently is when I was young and in grade seven I should have listened to my grammar teacher.  Seriously, she knew her stuff and I didn’t listen.

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

Now that I’ve broken in (THANK YOU for saying this about me) I think it is unlike what I expected.  Publishing is such a series of steps.  You get the first deal and then you have to suddenly market and sell so the euphoria of the sell takes a back seat right from the get-go.  You do book signings and sit there and sell a handful of novels.  I mean, there are only a few of the big names who draw crowds.  After a few published novels it is time to make some sort of list.  You get on the list and you want to get on a bigger list.  You write another book and want to sell more copies or get in with a bigger house.  Oh, and you have to be on Facebook and Twitter and post, post, post.  Build a platform, yah know.  On and on it goes.  The work that is not writing is kind of unexpected.  What is also unexpected and more important is… I didn’t expect to love writing every book so much.  Seriously.  The passion shocks me.  To still sit at my computer and get lost in my thoughts and find that passion in creation, book after book, was not something I expected.  I’m a person who gets bored easily and I’ve never, ever been bored when I’m writing.  That makes the writing process simply amazing.

Lorna Nicholson - Becoming Indigo cover

Becoming Indigo, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the second novel in the One-2-One series.  Fragile Bones was the first in that series and the second book is titled Born With.   I’m in love with my characters and I’ve done the first draft and so much research and now I’m into that second and third draft where I can go deeper and create more layers.  I’m so excited about this novel and can’t wait for the finished product.  Of course, once released in book form I will get anxious again.  I hope it resonates like I want it to and I hope it has a powerful yet entertaining message and I hope a student will say, “I read your book and it meant so much to me!”   I’m also working on a few other things that don’t have contracts yet so I can’t talk about them.  Darn it.

Lorna Nicholson - Hoop Dreams cover

Hoop Dreams, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

How can people keep up with you online?

My website is www.lornaschultznicholson.com and there is a contact button to email me.  And, please, do email me and I’m honest when I say I’d love to hear from you.  I’m also on Facebook as Lorna Schultz Nicholson and Twitter as @lornasn and that Linked In one (but honestly I don’t use it much.  I know, I know, I should) as Lorna Schultz Nicholson. Oh, and I’m on Instagram as Lorna Nicholson but if you go on that one to find me you might see pictures of my kids and my dogs. I think that’s it.

Thank you, Lorna, for your thoughtful and honest responses. And man, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through these interviews, it’s that nobody thinks they’ve broken in — it’s a process, and something you have to keep doing, over and over again.

Coming up next on the blog: I’m still planning on doing a year in review post while we still have a year to review. But before then, it looks like we’re going to have time for one more Breaking In interview before the holidays, so stay tuned!