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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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?

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.

 

Three Words for 2016

I know, there are reasons to be wary of the New Year’s Resolution. They tend to be lots of fanfare, not much action — because it’s hard to change — and by the middle of January you’re back where you started, with an extra dollop of cynicism and shame on top. (And, to be clear, by you? I mean I.)

So I don’t do resolutions, anymore. Not exactly. But I do value the New Year as an opportunity to take stock, to review, to reflect. To set a new course, with updated agenda and goals.

I call this process my New Year’s Revolutions.

I’ve used different tools and approaches over the years. Some work better than others.

Last year, following the example of the inestimable Rachel Hartman, I went with one word to focus my year – organize. And I did get a bit more organized, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I saw results.

This New Year, inspired by my wise friend Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I’m setting my agenda for the year ahead using Chris Brogan’s Three Words.

I want to try this model, this year, because follow-through is always a challenge for me. I fall off the wagon, say to myself, “Well, that didn’t work!” and eat a box of metaphorical or literal donuts. So one thing I like about Brogan’s approach is that includes strategies. And I very much like the perspective of the three words as “lighthouses”, or compass points, things to keep in my mind, to always be moving towards, rather than a target for me to succeed or (more often) fail at hitting.

Three words, three guiding stars. Three New Year’s Revolutions.

After some reflection, my words for 2016 are: health, happiness, organized.

(Yes, this is a repeat performance for getting organized. I can always stand to be more organized.)

Goal Word: Health

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to exercise or be active every day.

Path 2 to the goal: Allow myself sweets and naughty food on one “free day” a week.

Path 3 to the goal: Prepare healthy lunches and snacks in advance for the work week.

Distractions: Being tired, stress eating, not making the time to exercise or eat right.

Steps to the path: Buy fresh salad greens and vegetables all the time, so I always have healthy lunches and snacks; prioritize getting enough sleep so I have energy and willpower; make and keep regular appointments with all my health care professionals.

The finish line: Exercising 5 to 6 times a week, fitting into my size 38 pants, replacing stress eating with working out as a coping mechanism.

What’s next: Increase strength and endurance; plan and prepare to do the CN Tower climb in 2017

Goal Word: Happiness

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to write every weekday

Path 2 to the goal: See friends at least once a week

Path 3 to the goal: Make my workday commute my reading time

Distractions: Being tired, wasting time on the internet, feeling stuck

Steps to the path: Start that new D&D campaign with my friends, playing at least once a month; turn off internet on my phone regularly; write on my lunch hours; always have a book with me during my commute.

The finish line: Having regular (weekly) social engagements and activities; finishing revisions to NOBODY’S WATCHING and COLD IRON BADGE and finishing the first draft of a NEW novel before the end of 2016.

What’s next: Being able to retire “happiness” as a goal for 2017; getting my current writing projects out the door and move on to new ones; expand my reading to address some of the gaps in my knowledge and experience (like the classics, and poetry).

Goal Word: Organized

Path 1 to the goal: Check in with myself daily about what needs to be done, at home, and work, and for myself, both in terms of my goal words and in a more immediate day-to-day sense.

Path 2 to the goal: Check in with my awesome partner Sarah daily about how we’re both doing, about the kids, and about household needs.

Path 3 to the goal: Learn what needs to be done to keep our home well-stocked with everything we need and in good order, and act on those needs.

Distractions: Being tired; feeling incompetent; getting bogged down in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing.

Steps to the path: Make the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed “family check-in time”; make lists of what needs to be done and review them as part of my daily processes; take quiet time daily, to think, process, and focus my mind.

The finish line: Clearing away all the “old business”, the things that need doing that I’ve left hanging for too long; having what we need at home and in our lives for ourselves and the kids, in a fair and equitable manner; being able to move forward with new goals and projects because the day-to-day is going so smoothly!

What’s next: Keep it up, because being fair, balanced and organized is an ongoing process.

Those are my three fixed stars, my goals for 2016: Increasing my health, increasing my happiness and being more organized.

What changes do you foresee making this year? What goals have you set, and what tools are you using to get there

Let me know. Maybe we can be part of one another’s revolutions.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know yet! I guess I need to, um, get organized?

Pretty Good Year: 2015 in review

The Year in Writing

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point that I subtitle this blog with the phrase, “steady movement is more important than speed, much of the time” for a reason. (No one has ever mentioned recognizing that quote, by the by. Do you? Let me know, and you’ll get an imaginary internet cookie!)

My writing process, given the amount of time I have available to devote to it, can rarely be a sprint, or even something as time-intensive as a marathon. Incremental progress is the name of my game; steady movement.

And there was steady movement this year, and it led to real progress. All in, I got quite a few more words down this year than in 2014. I completed the first draft of my second novel, NOBODY’S WATCHING, a near-future, cyberpunk-inflected thriller for YA readers. That included 16,500 or so new words added to the draft between January and May. I’ve also begun the process of revising it, which is a lot harder to quantify, given that words are being added, subtracted and replaced. The process is well underway, and although I’d kind of hoped to be finished before the New Year, I quite like where the rewrite is taking me.

Also begun this year, but not completed, were a polish of my first novel (in preparation for the querying process that I describe below) and two pitches for prospective new comics series that I hope to submit to a publisher in the not-too-distant future.

The Year in Submitting: Short Stories

I fell off the horse in submitting my short fiction this year; seven submissions to various markets (I think; I also fell off the horse at zealously tracking my metrics this year). That lead to seven rejections. No stories out on submission, and no responses pending.

The biggest development on that front was that, as Canada’s federal election drew nigh, I realized that my short story Final Issue had a best-before date measured in days, and decided to publish it here. It remains the most-read post on this blog this year, not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I’m certainly pleased.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to get back on this particular horse. Short fiction has proven to be a tough nut for me to crack; no sales over several years of (admittedly intermittent) efforts on my part. The stories I’ve submitted, I’ve been proud of, but I’m starting to think that my style isn’t especially well-suited to the kind of markets I want to sell to. Or, you know, I might not be good enough.

Either way, investing the time and energy in writing more short fiction is pretty far down the priority list. I mean, never say never? But I’m not sure I want to keep throwing that particular spaghetti at those particular walls.

I might end up posting more of my trunk stories here, as a result. If you think that would be of interest, please let me know.

The Year in Submitting: Agent Queries

As I noted in my November recap, I finally finished fixing up my query letter and submitted queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, to nine agents. To date, I’ve received two rejections, with seven responses pending.

The process, so far, has taken a lot longer than it took me to get rejections across the board from my last round of queries. In that case, the majority of responses arrived within ten days. On the other hand, the entire publishing industry essentially shuts down for the holidays, so I don’t know how much of December I should even count.

In other words, I’m committing submittomancy like a fiend. More news as it happens on that front.

The Year in Blogging

This is the year that I really started making an effort to have this blog be, you know, a thing. You can tell from my posting history: A total of sixteen posts (this one makes seventeen), but aside from last year’s year-in-review post, they were all between September and December.

A significant number of them were Breaking In interviews. I’m very proud of those interviews, and I want to thank all my interviewees: Your generous and informative responses to my questions were deeply appreciated. You provided wonderful interviews, full of really useful insights for aspiring writers and those who are just on the verge of “breaking in”.

2016: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Looking back, I’m kind of surprised; I got more done than I thought I did this year. You know what? I’m proud of what I accomplished.

That’s tempered by the fact that I didn’t get done everything that I wanted to – even factoring out the things that are outside my control. But then, when do I? When does anyone?

2015 was a year of steady progress, but also of change, on all sorts of fronts. I haven’t really touched on the more personal changes this year; suffice it to say, they were substantial, and on balance, positive, and I suspect that 2016 will bring more changes, and even better ones.

I plan to make my writing part of that. If this isn’t the year I break through to the next level – whatever that next level ends up being – at least it won’t be because I won’t be trying.

Thanks for being part of my journey this year. I look forward to sharing with all of you what happens next. I wish you, and all of us, a 2016 full of more and better.

Happy New Year.

And yes, the title was, of course, a reference to this.

Wait, November’s OVER?!

Yeah, November was a blur — and I wasn’t even NaNo-ing this year!

I Lurch Onward with Breathtaking Intermittency

So, how did I fare with my National Personal Novel Rewriting Month, NaPerNoReWriMo?

Not badly at all. I’m not as far along with my rewrite of my novel, Nobody’s Watching as I’d hoped to be, now that December’s here, but there’s no doubt that I made, and am making, real progress. It is, in my usual manner, slower and more halting than I would prefer, but it’s happening. I seem to have gotten myself unstuck.

But oy, the resistance. Like many aspiring writers, I have a tendency towards resistance that manifests mostly as distractibility. I’m not sure why it’s so strong, given that this is something that I really, really want. Time to write, that’s what I go on about wanting at every opportunity – if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been subjected to that refrain more than a few times, right?

And then, when I get time? Resistance. Because surely something on Twitter requires my attention!

I don’t really get this part of myself, but not fully understanding why I do something doesn’t mean that I can’t try to do something about it. So I am.

I’ve been pushing myself harder to write in the time I have available.

I’ve been reminding myself that 250 words written may not seem like much, compared to the hundreds or thousand words I’d prefer to have the time/energy to hammer out. But it’s 250 words I didn’t have before, and that’s progress.

I’ve been trying to get more and better sleep, so that I’m awake when I’m awake and can bring my best game to everything I do, including my writing.

And I invested in Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love – a pleasantly brief and delightfully practical book of writing advice that does exactly what it says on the cover. Now, Rachel Aaron was a no-day-job, full-time writer when she developed the techniques she describes, so I, with my hour-of-writing-time-a-day-at-best, am not going to be pulling any 10,000-word writing days any time soon. But happily, the advice scales: When I follow it, I find that I’m noticeably more productive and better able to maximize my writing time. Recommended.

2k to 10 k cover - Rachel Aaron - Stephen Geigen-Miller blog

2K to 10K, by Rachel Aaron. This book is seriously the real deal, you guys.

I’m not sure exactly how all these tactics are fitting together, but I’m feeling better prepared for December. Which is good, because I’d like to finish this draft and get it out to my waiting beta readers before the end of the year.

The Return of the Querying

(That title is a reference that only Greg Beettam will get. What can I say? Sometimes I enjoy a few innings of inside baseball.)

Twitter isn’t the only thing that occupied my time when I was supposed to be rewriting — I can sometimes be surprisingly productive when distracted. For instance, in November, I decided to bite the bullet and send out another round of agent queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE (it was previously entitled ALL THAT GLITTERS).

As I’ve mentioned, my first round of queries met with no great success. Since then, I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to reviewing and polishing my query letter, with support from my writers group and other smart folks (shout outs to Nicole Winters, Claire Humphrey, Melanie Fishbane, Rachel Hartman and Dorianne Emmerton!) And it’s finally in what I hope is better shape.

I’m still being selective, and sent queries to nine agents who I think might be a good fit for my book now, and for the kind of books I want to write in the future. That’s a comparable number to the first batch.

We’re in the early stages yet; agents get a huge volume of queries, and it can take weeks or months for them to get to any given one – with US Thanksgiving in there, too. But yeah, it would not be unfair to suggest that I may be practicing the Forbidden Art of Submittomancy.

I’m not going to get any further into specifics here, but I’ll do a post-mortem on the final outcome, and I’ll definitely share the news if this process ends in my signing with an agent.

That was November. All in all, I feel pretty good about it. And how are you?

Coming up next on the blog: The last Breaking In interviews of 2015, and a year-in-review post.

Catching up with myself at 44

I quite liked the format of my last catch-up-and-assorted-miscellanea post, Scattershot September. Sadly, Scattershot October doesn’t have the same ring to it – I have an unrepentant love of alliteration – and I don’t have a good, generic name for this kind of post yet. I suppose I’ll just have to persevere. Which is apt in itself, because if there’s any unifying theme to this particular set of updates, it’s probably “I suppose I’ll just have to persevere”.

Sleep is for the weak, I used to say

I’ve been so tired, lately. I mean, I’m always tired. It’s just part of life. But lately it’s been more noticeable. It’s likely, partly, the change in the season, and the march towards Falling Back. But it’s also a sign that I need to exercise more, eat better and, oh yeah, start getting enough sleep.

That’s frustrating, because the one thing that I always feel is most at a premium is time. The thought of spending more of it sleeping? At the moment, that sounds pretty great, actually. In general, though, I worry about losing even more time.

But yes, I know that being exhausted and/or sick isn’t great for my productivity either. So I continue to try to figure out ways to get more rest, and maximize the rest of my time.

Writing is rewriting, especially in November

One of the things I need to do with the rest of my time is finish rewriting Nobody’s Watching (my second novel).  Per usual with my writing process, it’s been moving forward, but in rather more fits than starts. So, I think it’s time for a big push. Because I do tend to do better when I have some kind of external deadline or mechanism of accountability, I’m going to piggyback on this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

Rewriting an already-completed first draft doesn’t fall within the scope of NaNoWriMo, so I won’t be racing for the 50,000-word-crown this year. This is going to be unofficial, informal, and just for me: Personal National Novel Re-Writing Month.

Yes, I’m going to refer to it as PerNaNoReWriMo.

No, I don’t expect that to catch on.

Like, at all.

I will, however, be keeping you all updated on my progress – more via Twitter than here, but I’ll try to do at least one state-of-the-work-in-progress blog post around the midway-point, and a post-mortem afterwards.

Any year you celebrate your birthday is a good year

If you’ve detecting a certain flavour of reflection and taking stock, it’s because as I write this, I’m about to turn 44. The post will be going up on my actual birthday. So yes, it’s a good time for a little self-evaluation and some goal-setting.

First and foremost, after my big health scare three years ago, I am very glad to be here to be celebrating my birthday at all!

But if I want to keep having birthdays — and I really do; I have a family that needs me and a life I quite enjoy — I’m going to have to, need to, somewhat belatedly, really make a priority of eating better and exercising.

So those are on the list of things to get serious about in the year to come. As is trying to move forward with my writing — with revising my second novel, and with querying my first one as part of continuing to try to get an agent.

And, you know, maybe trying the occasional new thing too.

Speaking of new things, I still can’t draw

Of course, I can’t sing, either, and that’s never stopped me. But one of the side effects of spending a lot of time over the years around a lot of really good comics artists has been a certain degree of self-consciousness over my own rather limited artistic skills. To address that, and more importantly, to have fun, I’ve recently jumped on board a Twitter #hashtag game, the #WednesdayDoodle. Which is, you know, just what it sounds like. Every week on Wednesday, you draw a doodle, take a picture of it, and post it to Twitter. I think it was originated by Patrick Hester and Jeff Patterson, both of whom have been quite gracious about me joining their party.

I drew an elf

I drew an elf!

And Superman!

And Superman!

... And... um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween, suggestion, including the title)

… And… um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween suggestion, including the title, on ‘Back to the Future’ Day)

I’ll never be a great artist, but I think I’m a pretty good #WednesdayDoodle-er. You can follow me on Twitter to see what I scribble next, and if you like, join in and share your own #WednesdayDoodle!

Books, glorious books

I’ve never really used this space to get into what I’m reading, have I? Which, now that I think of it, is a little odd for a writer and passionate reader. I think it’s partly because I don’t really want to do reviews. But I do want to share what I love, so…

I’m almost done Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes, and it is splendid. It reminds me of both Le Guin’s Always Coming Home and Walton’s Among Others — in very different ways — while still being uniquely itself. Highly recommended.

I recently finished Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better and Write More of What you Love, which is exactly what it says on the tin — a guide for writers to increase their productivity. I’m still digesting the suggestions, but it seems very useful.

And Nicole Winters’s The Jock and the Fat Chick, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, a delight.

I also attended a panel on graphic novels at the International Festival of Authors, which featured Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, and Dylan Horrocks — afterwards, I picked up Dylan’s new graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, and he was kind enough to sign it.

Next in the queue: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace.

And what wisdom do you have to impart, from the ripe old age of 44?

Not much. If I had it all figured out, my scattershot blog posts would probably be a lot less scattershot!

43 had plenty of downs, but plenty of ups, and it ended better than it started. That’s good.

There’s lots of work that I need to do, in many facets of my life. But there’s also the opportunity to do it. That’s good.

There are loved ones and friends in my life, and books to read. That’s good.

And I am, as I noted above, still here. And so are you. That’s more than good. That’s wonderful.

Hmm. There’s a theme, there: “Work hard, take care of yourself and others, and remember to show your gratitude and love for the good things and great people in your life.”

That actually almost does sound like wisdom.

Hell. I really am getting old!

Coming up next on the blog: An open call for Breaking In interviews!