Breaking In: Interview with Ryan Henson Creighton [UPDATED]

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a writer whose online bio refers to him as a “creative force of nature”, and honestly I’m pretty sure that’s an understatement – author Ryan Henson Creighton.

As he notes on his website, Ryan Henson Creighton’s career has encompassed writing, puzzle design, video game development, theatre, stand-up comedy, marketing, and advertising. A TEDxToronto speaker and author of Unity 4.x Game Development by Example (3rd edition), Ryan is prolific and outspoken, with an uncanny knack for teaching anything to anyone, by blending humour and storytelling with contagious passion.

Many of his short stories, poems and essays are collected on his website. His story ‘Hill’ will appear in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), so he’s a fellow contributor and full disclosure and all that.


Update: In the interview below, Ryan makes some references to the social storytelling platform Wattpad. It was clear to me from the context of the interview and his other comments that Ryan was speaking facetiously and did not intend for these points to be taken seriously. However, I later received an email from a member of Wattpad’s staff expressing concern about these “inaccuracies”, characterizing them as “potentially defamatory”, and asking that I “update [my] story and remove these claims immediately.”

Now, I think this response was a bit over the top. As I already noted, it was clear to me that Ryan’s comments about Wattpad were jokes. I took them no more seriously than I took his comments about snorting mountains of cocaine. I believe that any reasonable person reading the interview would draw the same conclusions.

However, in the interest of fairness and accuracy, and being a good neighbour — Wattpad being a Toronto-based company, after all — I am pleased to update this post to include the following points of clarification:

  • The representative of Wattpad noted that “The minimum age to access Wattpad is 13 years old and ALL pornography is against our terms of service.” and that to suggest otherwise is “grossly inaccurate.”
  • It was also clearly stated to me that “Copyrighted material is prohibited on Wattpad without the express permission of the rights-holder.” and that therefore, any other claim is also “inaccurate”.

I believe these clarifications to be true and accurate statements of Wattpad’s actual policies and practices, partly because I take them at their word, partly because there is no evidence I’m aware of to the contrary, and mostly because it was very obvious to me that Ryan was kidding.


 

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

[RHC] Feels like it hasn’t happened yet! Increasingly, my writing has enabled me to earn a living, which is wonderful. But i think there a few high water marks many writers (myself included) would point to and say “there – i’ve made it!” Here are a few of mine:

  • A publisher approaches me (instead of the other way around!) and commissions a piece of fiction. It has to be fiction, though. If i get called upon by name to write a home appliance manual or the nutritional information panel on a candy wrapper, it won’t count.
  • i meet a stranger at a party and mention i’m a writer (and i don’t feel the slightest twinge of dishonest guilt while saying it). The stranger says “Oh – anything i’ve heard of?” and i say, demurely, “Mmmm… maybe a little something called [title of the thing]!” and the person says “Yyyyyeah…. i think i’ve heard of that?” Then i feel quite good for a short while. But later, near the bowl of nachos, the person introduces me to someone else as the author of [vaguely similarly titled thing], and i have to say “No, no, no… that wasn’t mine. No, i wrote [title of the thing],” and then the person apologizes and everyone just stares at their feet in awkward silence until it’s finally time to smash the piñata.
  • When the birthday boy gets in a good strong hit, and the piñata breaks open and candy goes flying everywhere, and people pick it up and start absent-mindedly reading the nutritional information panel on the side, and then they start laughing and weeping for the sheer, shocking poetry of it all, and i sit back and fold my arms satisfactorily and say “Yeah. That
Ryan Henson Creighton

Author Ryan Henson Creighton

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

With ‘Hill’ in particular, i had the itch to write some fiction. i discovered a terrific (and, sadly, now defunct) site called Cathy’s Comps and Calls, where the author (presumably Cathy?) would compile a list of calls for submissions and various monthly contests. In conjunction with that, i found a great online tool called The Submission Grinder, where writers can track their submissions to various publications, because it can get a little hairy. i tracked my submissions separately in a private spreadsheet as well, because you never know when a site can just vanish (i’M LOOKING AT YOU, CATHY), but the advantage of using The Submission Grinder is that it displays stats from all the other writers who use it. So if you’re thinking “Why hasn’t [publication] accepted my amazing story about two turtles who win the Nobel prize?” you can look at The Submission Grinder and see that [publication] hasn’t written to anyone who submitted to them since their last call, and has maybe only accepted one story this year.

The submission process should really be called the rejection process. Seeing how other writers were faring kept me from feeling too kicked around.

That said, ‘Hill’ was the third short work of fiction that i wrote during that period last summer, and it was accepted for publication, so i can’t exactly claim i’m hard done by.

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

Being very new to the game, i’m honestly not certain that answering these calls for submissions is the best way to break in. i would have to do more research, and see the trajectories of some (actually) successful writers. Many of these publications (but not Tesseracts!) are very exacting about their submission process,  and they have all these hoops they want you to jump through, and when you get to the bottom of the page, the remuneration is something like five dollars. i can’t quite see if there’s a path from hobbyist to career fiction writer in this corner of the market, but i’m exploring various roads-less-taken. See below!

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

i’d say the mountains of cocaine are a lot larger than i expected, but keeping two pet cheetahs in studded collars really only seems like a good idea when you think of it, because you were super high when you thought of it. Because… because of the cocaine.

What are you working on now?

i’m under NDA with a video game company. A partner and i are writing puzzles for their live community events through my puzzle design company, LockQuest.

i applied for a role at a start-up company called Wattpad. Their elevator pitch is that they’re the Youtube of writing, but i took a look around, and their elevator pitch should be “12-year-olds writing pornography for 12-year-olds.” However, it’s difficult to secure millions of dollars in series B financing with that pitch. They have too much investment money to not succeed, but as of now, the site is the wildest of wild wests.

The writing on Wattpad is very, very bad. i read a bunch of it, and had a terrific time doing it, but man… it’s quite a place. i do quite enjoy the site because everyone is just doing whatever they want and there are no rules, man… like spelling or grammar… or plot structure… or halfway believable characterization… or observance of copyright… and that’s kind of freeing. Instead of burning energy submitting to all these other publications (but not Tesseracts!) for five dollars a pop, trying to convince the editors that i’m the best of the best, i thought: why don’t i goof off on Wattpad for a while and try to be the best of the worst?

So to that end, i invite you to enjoy my new Wattpad novel ‘The Sevens’, which is about a cat who enters a junior high rap battle. It may be my most important work.

How can people keep up with you online?

Are you into board games? i have a YouTube channel called Nights Around a Table. (If you don’t know, YouTube is like the YouTube of YouTube).  While my personal site isn’t updated often, it does contain the most important information about my life, including fast food make-alike recipes for the Instant Pot, and reasons why porn has prevented me from buying a nice carpet.

Am i talking about porn too much? i am. i shouldn’t be. That’s tacky. Apologies. Let’s keep this interview to material we all can enjoy.

Now pardon me… i have to go snort the mountain of cocaine i purchased with proceeds from the sale of my short stories to various publications (but not Tesseracts!)

Thank you to Ryan for the interview! Having had the opportunity now to learn more about him and his wildly diverse creative output, I’m really looking forward to reading his story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One)!

Which, ahem, you know, just happens to be available for pre-order at this very moment.

Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor Jerri Jerreat shares a Breaking In story!

 

Breaking In: Interview with Natalia Yanchak

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview a speculative fiction author who is also an actual freaking rock star, writer and musician Natalia Yanchak.

As she notes on her website, Natalia was born and raised in Toronto, and moved to Montreal, QC in 1994 to attend Concordia University’s Creative Writing program. After graduation, she immediately began touring and performing internationally as a musician. An unofficial delegate for Canadian culture, she worked with her band, The Dears, to help shine the spotlight on the Montreal music scene through the 00s.

She has written and produced content for VICE, CBC, Huffington Post Canada, and Cult Montreal. Her fiction has appeared in Matrix Magazine, Tesseracts 21 and Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars and she has self-published a number of speculative short stories and flash fiction pieces, which are available online.

Natalia lives in Montreal with her husband, two children, and two cats.

This is a Breaking In post that focuses on a fellow contributor to the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). Please therefore accept my now-standard disclaimer of having some slight degree of bias.

Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) is a collection of optimistic speculative fiction stories, each optimistic in a slightly different way. These stories explore the optimism that drives us to seek out new worlds, that inspires us to sacrifice for others or fuels us to just keep going when everything seems lost and in so doing turn the idea upside down and inside out.

One of the best reasons for doing an anthology of optimistic futures this year was because no matter which side of the political or social spectrum you land on, it’s been a tough year. Nevertheless we try to remain optimistic. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Nevertheless, yes, we persist. The stories in this anthology of optimistic SF are some of the darkest optimistic stories you’ll ever read but, nevertheless, they are optimistic. And powerful.

Featuring stories and poems by: James Bambury, Meghan Bell, Gavin Bradley, Ryan Henson Creighton, Darrel Duckworth, Dorianne Emmerton, Pat Flewwelling, Stephen Geigen-Miller, Jason M. Harley, Kate Heartfield, R. W. Hodgson, Jerri Jerreat, Jason Lane, Buzz Lanthier-Rogers, Alison McBain, Michael Milne, Fiona Moore, Ursula Pflug, Michael Reid, S. L. Saboviec, Lisa Timpf, Leslie Van Zwol, Natalia Yanchak.

 

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[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Natalia! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer? How did that contrast with when and how you felt like you’d broken in as a musician?

[NY] As a writer, I feel I have a long way to go.  It’s a true honour to be published in Nevertheless, but I know it is just one step forward, the first of many. I get the impression that the phenomenon of “breaking in” is a long, slow never-ending process. I haven’t met a single author (or musician) who is so satisfied with what they’ve accomplished that they feel good about resting on their laurels. There are no laurels, it seems, in the art-making world!

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Author Natalia Yanchak, photo by Richmond Lam

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

[NY] The first part was challenging myself to the work — seeing if I could return to fiction. I’d been blogging, doing some journalism and writing press releases for the past decade, putting my bachelor’s degree into some use, but I hadn’t written any fiction since I graduated. I started small, some flash fiction and fairly short stories (that I self-published), then practiced listening to the work I was creating, letting go of scenes I may have been emotionally attached to and replacing those with something more meaningful — which is a skill acquired from making music for so long.  The rest is just hustling: perseverance, confidence and the belief that my perspective and voice matters. I also take some inspiration from The Lonely Island quote: “Never stop never stopping,” but, also, knowing when to stop.

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

[NY] I wouldn’t do much differently: so much of our path in life (including striking a chord with an editor, publisher or agent) is circumstantial, a right place right time vibe. I try to stay positive and have fun with my work.

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

[NY] I’ll feel good about it when I publish my first book! But this question did make me think of a song by my art-rock band. A track that starts with a nerve-racking Doors-esque military march before falling into a bubbily orchestral Steve Miller Band mist. It kind of sums up my expectations.

 

What are you working on now?

My second novel, a post-climate change spy-fi thriller, possibly with dragons and a main character loosely based on Canada’s current Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau.

How can people keep up with you online?

I have all the internets, though I’m most likely to update my Facebook page with news:

Facebook.com/natalia.scifi

Twitter.com/nataliayanchak

Instagram.com/nataliayanchak

nataliayanchak.com

Thank you so much to Natalia for the interview! And can I just say how down I am with a post-climate-change spy-fi thriller, with or without dragons and/or the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau? Seriously: Sold!

And just as a reminder – because I am going to be unstinting in reminding you of this – Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) is available for pre-order now.

Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor Ryan Henson Creighton shares his Breaking In story.

Breaking In: Interview with Fiona Moore

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 an academic, dramatist, and author of both science fiction and non-fiction about science fiction, Professor Fiona Moore.

As she notes on her website, Fiona is Professor of Business Anthropology at Royal Holloway, University of London. She’s the author of guidebooks to SF television series, plays, novels and stories. She adds that “… in all forms, I write about gender and ethnic identity, globalization and nationalism, networking, and how people deal with the changing working world.”

Fiona is extensively published in all her areas of interest – academia, drama, non-fiction, and prose. A detailed list of her credits is available on her website. Her most recent SFFnal guidebook is By Your Command: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Battlestar Galactica Volume 2, co-authored with Alan Stevens. Her audio dramas include Radio Bastard: A Comedy in 15 Parts (co-written with Alan Stevens, Robert Barringer-Lock and Steven Allen), and available from Magic Bullet. Her first published novel, Driving Ambition, is coming out from Bundoran Press in autumn 2018.

This is one of my Breaking In posts focusing on a fellow contributor to the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). So while I haven’t read her piece yet, once again, I can be considered to be a trifle biased.

Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) is a collection of optimistic speculative fiction stories, each optimistic in a slightly different way. These stories explore the optimism that drives us to seek out new worlds, that inspires us to sacrifice for others or fuels us to just keep going when everything seems lost and in so doing turn the idea upside down and inside out.

 One of the best reasons for doing an anthology of optimistic futures this year was because no matter which side of the political or social spectrum you land on, it’s been a tough year. Nevertheless we try to remain optimistic. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Nevertheless, yes, we persist. The stories in this anthology of optimistic SF are some of the darkest optimistic stories you’ll ever read but, nevertheless, they are optimistic. And powerful.

 Featuring stories and poems by: James Bambury, Meghan Bell, Gavin Bradley, Ryan Henson Creighton, Darrel Duckworth, Dorianne Emmerton, Pat Flewwelling, Stephen Geigen-Miller, Jason M. Harley, Kate Heartfield, R. W. Hodgson, Jerri Jerreat, Jason Lane, Buzz Lanthier-Rogers, Alison McBain, Michael Milne, Fiona Moore, Ursula Pflug, Michael Reid, S. L. Saboviec, Lisa Timpf, Leslie Van Zwol, Natalia Yanchak.

 

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

[FM] When my first novel, Driving Ambition (“a novel of murder, political extremism, and self-driving cars”), was acquired by Bundoran Press. I’d been publishing in semipro and pro markets for a while before then, but that was the point where I was, like, “yes, I can legitimately call myself an sf writer now.”

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’ll have to admit, I didn’t have a strategy per se. I started writing largely for my own entertainment, so I tend to write what I like, and then look around for a publisher who I think might like what I’ve written. Which has also, gratifyingly, meant I’ve acquired a lot of new friends along the way!

Fiona Moore updated

Author Fiona Moore

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

I think I’d’ve started submitting fiction to markets earlier than I did. There are more publishers who like what I’ve written than I thought when I was starting out.

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

I’d rather hoped that it would involve a lot of talking about my work and meeting people who are interested in what I have to say, and I’m pleased to say that this is what it’s been like.

What are you working on now?

Fiction-wise, I’m working on another novel in the same universe as Driving Ambition. Non-fiction-wise, I’m working on a book for The Black Archive range of novella-length academic studies of Doctor Who stories, and an article on humour and British identity under Brexit.

How can people keep up with you online?

My professional website is www.fiona-moore.com. Next month I’m launching an authorblog, and there’ll be a link to it on the site above.

Thank you to Fiona for the interview! I was excited to learn about her forthcoming novel — murder, political extremism and self-driving cars is pretty much precisely up my alley — and now I’m even more looking forward to reading her story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).

Oh, yeah. That book. Have I mentioned that it’s available for pre-order?

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with Nevertheless contributor and actual rock star Natalia Yanchak.

Breaking In: Interview with Alison McBain

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a creator whose hallmark is the breadth of genres and media she works in, author Alison McBain.

As mentioned on her website, Alison is a freelance writer, poet, and artist with over seventy short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. She’s also a book reviewer with the ezine Bewildering Stories.

Her novel The Rose Queen – Book 1 in the Rose Trilogy – was published in July 2018 by Fairfield Scribes and is available now.

The Beast doesn’t always wait for Beauty. Sometimes, Beauty IS the Beast.

Princess Mirabella is betrothed to a repulsive old man a year after her mother’s death. She refuses the marriage, only to find out her betrothed is a sorcerer as well. He takes his revenge by transforming her into a savage and frightening beast, giving her an ultimatum: she has three years to solve the mystery of her curse—or die.

Exiled to her mother’s estate to hide the scandal, Mirabella learns that the sorcerer was not alone in keeping secrets. Her grandfather was murdered before Mirabella was born, and her mother’s death is looking less and less as if it came from natural causes. The only point in common to all their ruined lives: her father, the king.

Faced with a conflict between saving her family and saving her own life, the choices Mirabella makes will change the future of the kingdom—and magic—forever.

Alison is also a fellow contributor to the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), and this is one of a series of Breaking In posts focusing on the creators featured in the anthology. So obviously I’m Not Entirely Unbiased here.

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The Rose Queen: Book 1 of the Rose Trilogy, by Alison McBain

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

[AM] Thank you so much for having me, Stephen!

As to feeling like I’ve broken in, I’m still waiting for that idea to hit! I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like a “real” author, even if I sell a million books. I’m just a mom of three who started writing each night after the kids went to bed as a way to have something to do to contrast singing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” twenty times a day.

There have been some pretty cool moments along the way that make me feel a bit more “real” – for example, the first time I was asked to do a reading of my work, and the first fan letter I got. It made me realize that I’m not writing in a vacuum. I’m sure most authors feel the same way – we send out our work into the world and hope it does well, but most of our time is spent by ourselves at our computer, tapping away.

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 probably tried a million things that didn’t work, and I’m still figuring it out as I go. I started out thinking that I could just write a book and it would immediately be snapped up by an agent. I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling!

Well… it doesn’t work like that, at least not for most authors. Some agents I contacted liked my book, some didn’t. But my book didn’t get published.

Then I found out about online pitch contests, such as Pitch Wars, #PitMad, Query Kombat, and the like. I entered all of them, and again, I got some interest and met some really great authors along the way. But… my book still wasn’t published.

Then I was told to “build my brand” by getting a publications list, so I’d have something to show agents. I made a website, started a blog, got active in social media and writers’ groups. And, at that point, I fell in love with writing short stories and poems and forgot about writing books for a while. I did this for a few years, and it was amazingly fun. But book-length ideas began popping up again, and I returned to writing novels.

So I guess all of my strategies never really worked, but I still got there in the end. And the only thing that could be said that came from my original plan is that I am a persistent type of person, and once I start something, I don’t give up. Persistence is the only way to get there, no matter where the path to writing/publishing leads. The only way to fail is to stop writing.

Alison McBain

Author Alison McBain

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

While my journey hasn’t been straightforward, I’m not sure I would change anything about it. I needed to follow a lot of different paths to find out what worked for me and what didn’t. I needed to write a hundred short stories to find my voice and style, so I could write books again and know what I was doing (hopefully). And the great communities of writers and readers I’ve found – I would never have met any of them if I hadn’t needed to reach out because I had no clue what I was doing.

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

The angels showering down flower petals wherever I walk is sort of nice.

Ha. Nah, life goes on pretty much the same. I write, I send my writing out to the world, and I still get more rejections than acceptances. The only difference is sometimes people have heard of me and I’ll get personalized rejections for my work. “I really love your other stories, but this one… not so much.”

The one thing I didn’t expect is that now people come to me for advice. Whenever someone asks me a question about writing or to mentor a project they’re working on, I turn around and look behind me to see if they’re asking a different Alison. And when I realize I DO know what advice to give them, it’s actually pretty humbling that I know (a little bit) what I’m talking about. And very, very cool that I can help out other writers as I’ve been helped.

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What are you working on now?

I am the lead editor for an anthology coming out October 1st called When to Now: A Time Travel Anthology. I’m really excited by the amazing speculative fiction stories in it – we have steampunk to surrealist, and everything in between.

A collection of my short stories is in the works, in addition to two more novels that are completed and undergoing edits. One is a science fiction novel based on the culture of apartheid South Africa (the first of a trilogy), one is a contemporary romance (the first of a series). In addition, I’m writing an alternate history novel set in the U.S.A. in the 17th century, and a paranormal romance set in New York City.

How can people keep up with you online?

If you’d like to get updates on what I’m working on and recommendations for books I’ve reviewed at Bewildering Stories magazine, I’m on Twitter: @AlisonMcBain and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alison.mcbain.9. For the latest updates on live readings and new publications, my website is: http://www.alisonmcbain.com/. I also do a web comic about raising kids, which is available on Twitter @Toddler_Times.

Thank you to Alison for the interview!

I love a good time travel story, so I’m excited to hear about When to Now — and I’m really looking forward to reading her story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).

Coming up next on the blog:  More Breaking In stories from Nevertheless contributors. Next up, author Fiona Moore!

 

Breaking In: Interview with Meghan Bell

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to interview a creator whose work ranges across a breathtaking range of formats and media, Meghan Bell.

As she notes on her website, Meghan is a Vancouver-based editor, writer, graphic designer, and cartoonist, and the current publisher and graphic designer for Room Magazine, Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal. Her writing has appeared in over a dozen literary journals across Canada, including JoylandGrainThe PuritanPrairie Fire, and The New Quarterly. Meghan has worked in marketing, digital communications, and fundraising for multiple arts organizations in the Lower Mainland, including the Vancouver International Film Festival and Just For Laughs NorthWest. Meghan has two degrees from the University of Victoria, and is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she is working on her first novel.

Meghan is widely published as an illustrator, poet and a writer of both non-fiction and prose. Her webcomic, Bell Curved, appears weekly at her website.

Her short story ‘Anhedonia’ will be published in the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). So yes, this is one of my Breaking In interviews with a fellow contributor, and I’m clearly Not Entirely Unbiased.

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

[MB] I don’t feel this way. When I was younger, I was convinced I’d feel like I’d broken in as a writer after a few acceptances of short work from literary magazines and/or anthologies. Then that happened, and I felt the same as I did before. I might feel like I’ve broken in once I’ve published a novel, but I doubt it. I think I’ll always feel like I’m breaking in, but I don’t know what it looks or feels like on the other side, or if there even is one. It’s an ongoing journey and the goal isn’t the destination, but to stubbornly stick to carving a path that works for me.

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Meghan Bell, as she depicts herself in her webcomic Bell Curved. This strip is entitled Every. Damn. Day. I feel you, Meghan.

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

For publishing short work, I went a fairly ordinary route. I have a BA in Creative Writing, and am finishing an MFA now. I currently work as the publisher of a literary journal, and volunteered with the magazine for several years before it became my day job.

When I first tried sending work out to literary magazines, when I was about twenty-one, I was really insecure and discarded stories and poems after they received a single rejection. I stopped sending stuff out for a while and tried to work on my craft. I was volunteering at a literary magazine at the time and reading and editing slush-pile submissions taught me way more than any university course or program. When I started sending work out again, at twenty-six, I sent a short story to a handful of literary journals, and it was accepted without being rejected. It was silly to me then, and embarrassing now—because I know how literary magazines work and I know they reject good work all the time—but I really needed that confidence boost to keep sending work out. I didn’t receive another acceptance until nearly a year later, but at least I started steadily submitting work and believing in it after rejections.

Strategies? I supposed perseverance, simultaneous submissions so you don’t get too emotionally invested in any one, writing work that you would want to read (even if, or perhaps especially if, you can’t think of similar examples), and finding a writing schedule that works for you. I don’t write every day, and prefer to adjust my schedule so I have blocks of four or more hours to work on a project, even if that means I don’t write for three months—I have tremendous respect for people who are able to write every day, whether it’s because they have the free time and energy, or because they are superhumans who write in ten-minute bursts on their lunch breaks, in waiting rooms, or while taking public transit, but that just doesn’t work for me. I wish it did!

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

Oh, oh my god, I would have actually kept sending out all that work I wrote in my early twenties that I stopped believing in after one rejection. Three of those bloody pieces have since been accepted, it turns out they weren’t as terrible as I thought.

When I was in my undergrad, a fiction professor told me that I didn’t belong in a creative program after I told her I was interested in writing young adult and speculative fiction. I was about nineteen and after that, I started trying to write what I thought was more “literary” fiction, i.e. writing like hers. My work really suffered, and didn’t improve until a friend lent me her book and I realized I found her stories as boring as she had apparently found mine. I started experimenting again, and writing stories I thought I might like to read, and, yeah, they’re about a million times better. Now, whenever I want to explore heavier topics in my fiction, I often turn to speculation. I’ve explored parental neglect and narcissistic abuse through superheroes, sexual assault and trauma through time travel, and in my Tesseracts contribution, depression and mental illness through a global pandemic.

There will always be people who don’t enjoy your writing. If you’re unlucky, you will encounter this person as someone in a position of power over you early in your career and they will choose to push you to give up or write the way they do, instead of helping you improve your own work. Don’t let that person crush you. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that I didn’t need to listen to that particular opinion.

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

Haha, see my answer to question one!

What are you working on now?

A young adult novel about a teen hockey player who starts acting out—and lashing out—after her older sister dies in an accident.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m on Twitter at @meghanlbell, and you can also find me and my work at meghanbell.com and roommagazine.com (the literary journal I work for).

Thank you to Meghan for the interview! I look forward to reading her story in Nevertheless, even though as it happens my story in the anthology is also about the aftermath of a global pandemic and when I realized that I had a wee attack of writer anxiety and am now absolutely convinced that I’ll only ever be remembered as the author of the book’s Less Good Global Pandemic Aftermath Story.

But hey, in that case, why not pre-order the book so you can see for yourself?

Coming up next on the blog:  More Breaking In stories from Nevertheless contributors. Next up, author Alison McBain!

Breaking In: Interview with Kate Heartfield

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview an acclaimed writer of short fiction, novellas, and novels, who also happens to be having a bit of a banner year – author Kate Heartfield.

As she notes on her website, Kate is an author, editor, journalist and teacher. Her interactive novel The Road to Canterbury was released in April 2018 and her historical fantasy Armed in Her Fashion was published by ChiZine in May. In November, her time-travel novella Alice Payne Arrives will be coming out from Tor.com. I told you she was having a heck of a year!

Kate’s short fiction has been published in a range of prestigious venues. A sequel novella, Alice Payne Rides, will be published by Tor.com in 2019, as will a new novel from ChiZine.

It doesn’t sound like she’s going to be slowing down in 2019, does it?

A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

The first novella in a series about Alice Payne, her scientist girlfriend Jane Hodgson, and Major Prudence Zuniga. Coming Nov. 6, 2018, from Tor.com Publishing.

Kate is also a fellow contributor to the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), and this the first in my series of Breaking In posts focusing on the creators featured in the anthology. So obviously I’m Not Entirely Unbiased here.

Cover, Alice Payne Arrives

ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES, by Kate Heartfield (cover art by Cliff Nielsen; design by Christine Foltzer)

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

[KH] Thanks very much for having me! It’s probably in the nature of writers to never feel as though they’ve broken in. But if there was a turning point for me, it was when I signed with my agent, Jennie Goloboy, in 2014. That came about a year after I made my first short-story sale for pro rates, and it was around that time that I qualified for active membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). So 2013/2014 stands out.

 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 path was a long and tedious one and I don’t recommend it to anyone! I’ve written fiction since I was a child, and I’m 41 now. I finished my first novel manuscript when I was 19, but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I printed it out on my dot-matrix and mailed it to a few publishers and then despaired. And then went to grad school. In my mid-20s, I tried again. It wasn’t until my third attempt that I started to write speculative fiction, which had always been my love, but I suspect I had subconsciously absorbed the notion that SFF wasn’t Important Literature. I had also absorbed the notion that trying to learn the craft of writing would destroy my Art. Both these notions were very damaging, but it took me a while to get clear of them.

Once I started writing what I really wanted to write, and once I recognized that I had a lot to learn, lo and behold, I started to get better. I studied creative writing by correspondence with Paul Quarrington through Humber College, and I started writing short fiction to try to understand the mechanics of story-telling better. I joined critique groups, took courses and workshops, read books and generally opened myself up to learn everything I could. From there, it was just a matter of time and effort. A lot of effort.

So I suppose I didn’t set my feet on a useful path until I was in my mid-30s. I’ve wished more than once I’d been clever enough to see that path when I was a teenager. But maybe I had to go through all of that flailing around first.

Kate Heartfield Author Photo by John W MacDonald

Author Kate Heartfield (photo by John W. MacDonald)

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

I definitely would have sought out teachers, peers and mentors, and written short fiction, and written my own kinds of stories instead of the kind I thought I was supposed to write. The internet really allows writers to connect with each other and support each other and it’s been such a help for me, but it didn’t exist in the same way when I was starting out.

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

Being a debut novelist has been wonderful in many ways, especially the connections I’ve made with readers. Holding my first novel in my hands, with that incredible cover by Erik Mohr, is and will always be a thrill.

It has also been … emotionally unsettling, I think is the best way to put it. I had settled into a comfortable despair during the years when I couldn’t get much published. Now, the despair has been replaced with things my brain is eager to worry about: sales and reviews and rankings and all the rest. There is always more promotion you could be doing: a bookstore to visit, a festival submission, whatever the case may be, and it will eat all your time if you let it. I’m doing my best to maintain the mentality that served me well when I was trying to break in, which was to focus on what I could control (my work) and not the external results, which are largely outside my control. But it has required some mental recalibration to get used to the new normal. If you let yourself, there will always be a new thing to worry about, even if that thing is whether or not you’ll stay on the New York Times bestseller list for another week or whether you can juggle all your Guest of Honour invitations (I’m a long way from either of those worries!). So I try to remind myself of that and just keep focusing on the work.

The fact that it took me a while to break in has actually been a mixed blessing in one way: I didn’t have to face what many writers face, which is the contract for the second book after the first has sold. I sold two novels at once, and two novellas hard on the heels of that, so there’s a little less pressure on my current works in progress.

Tess21-500x750ish

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another interactive novel for Choice of Games. That one should be done and ready for release sometime in 2019. It’s lots of fun. I’m also deep in a rewrite of a novel that hasn’t sold yet. Both those projects are historical fantasy, although in different places and times.

I’ve turned in the manuscript for Alice Payne Rides, the second novella in that series, to my editor at Tor.com Publishing, so pretty soon I’ll be working on copyedits and proofreading for that.

I have some stories coming in anthologies this fall: there’s my story in Tesseracts: Nevertheless, of course, which is about a flying carpet in a dying city. I also have a story in the new anthology from Laksa Media, which is called Shades Within Us and is about migration and borders. And there’s a prequel story to my novel Armed in Her Fashion coming soon in the anthology Trouble the Waters from Rosarium Publishing.

I plan to be at Can*Con in Ottawa and Scintillation in Montreal, both in October.

I also teach journalism and creative writing. This fall, I have an online course called Write Your Novel at the Loft Literary Center that’s designed to include a lot of feedback and mentorships for writers who are working on novels.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m easy to find on Twitter: @kateheartfield. My website is heartfieldfiction.com and I have a monthly newsletter you can sign up for at tinyurl.com/katenews.

Thank you!

Thanks to Kate for the interview! I don’t know about the rest of you, but for my part I’m now deeply interested in what will happen when Alice Payne Arrives, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m also excited to read Kate’s story in Nevertheless, which, I will be shamelessly reminding you throughout this series of posts, is now available for pre-order from the publisher!

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with Nevertheless contributor Meghan Bell!

Announcement and Cover Reveal: Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One)

I’m back from a long and busy blog hiatus, and I have news!

Because I’m ridiculously pleased to be able to at last announce my prose fiction debut. My short story ‘Green Leaves Don’t Fall’ will appear in the upcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), a collection of optimistic Canadian speculative fiction.

The ebook is now available for pre-order through Amazon US, Amazon Canada (or, you know, whatever your local flavour of Amazon happens to be – just search for the title!) and will be released on September 3, 2018. A print edition will be available later this year. I’ll let you all know as soon as the publisher confirms that date.

In the mean time, we have a cover! And a Table of Contents and back cover copy and everything! Please join me in basking in this moment.

Tess21-full

 

Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-one) is a collection of optimistic speculative fiction stories, each optimistic in a slightly different way. These stories explore the optimism that drives us to seek out new worlds, that inspires us to sacrifice for others or fuels us to just keep going when everything seems lost and in so doing turn the idea upside down and inside out.
One of the best reasons for doing an anthology of optimistic futures this year was because no matter which side of the political or social spectrum you land on, it’s been a tough year. Nevertheless we try to remain optimistic. Nevertheless, we don’t give up. Nevertheless, yes, we persist. The stories in this anthology of optimistic SF are some of the darkest optimistic stories you’ll ever read but, nevertheless, they are optimistic. And powerful.
Featuring stories and poems by: James Bambury, Meghan Bell, Gavin Bradley, Ryan Henson Creighton, Darrel Duckworth, Dorianne Emmerton, Pat Flewwelling, Stephen Geigen-Miller, Jason M. Harley, Kate Heartfield, R. W. Hodgson, Jerri Jerreat, Jason Lane, Buzz Lanthier-Rogers, Alison McBain, Michael Milne, Fiona Moore, Ursula Pflug, Michael Reid, S. L. Saboviec, Lisa Timpf, Leslie Van Zwol, Natalia Yanchak.

I’m deeply honoured to be part of the latest instalment of Tesseracts, Canada’s renowned speculative fiction anthology series, and to be sharing a Table of Contents with such outstanding authors. My thanks to the publisher, Edge, and especially to our editors, Rhonda and Greg, for all their work assembling the anthology and their faith in my story.

In the lead up to the release of the ebook, I’m afraid that I’m going to be wearing my Shilling Pants on the regular. Hey, it’s my prose debut, I’m excited. I promise that I’ll also do my best to make the process as interesting and informative to you as possible.

So, please, do consider pre-ordering? It would mean a lot to me.

But also, starting next week, I’ll be running a series of special Breaking In posts, featuring my fellow Nevertheless contributors. I’m excited that I’ll have the opportunity to get to know them better, and I hope you’ll join me.