2017: The Year in Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Totals for 2017

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

What did I learn from this process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what didn’t I learn?

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

spells v2

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.

claire humphrey headshot 2

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!

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.

Scattershot September

My time in blogging seems to be marked more by hiatuses than by, you know, periods of actual, regular blog posts, doesn’t it?

My ongoing struggle to manage my time, and balance my responsibilities – family, work, my health, my writing, my writing about those other things – continues.

And obviously, my efforts last year to get a bit more consistent in posting here, via new topics, weren’t entirely successful – I’m still proud of the Breaking In interviews, but I didn’t keep up with them, and remember when I was going to blog weekly about reading James Joyce? Ha!

And yet. There’s something about this format that really appeals to me. I love Twitter, but I’m kind of terrible at it. By the time I can get a thought down to 140 characters, the tweet has often gone stale – or, more usefully, I’ve thought better of it. Facebook is such a walled garden; I like using it to keep up with friends, but it’s not good for getting ideas out there.

I like releasing my thoughts into the wild, and I’m not good with brevity. That should make me a freakin’ natural at blogging.

So, I’m going to start small – with this post, no big plans for series of posts about this or that topic. I’ll go a bit scattershot, throw a bunch of little updates into the air, and see what lands.

I finished the first draft of my new novel earlier this year. Then, over the summer, I finished the process of reviewing it, and going over notes – my own, and the ones from my writers group. Now I’ve started rewriting it. The middle, especially, needs a lot of work, to the extent that I’m starting there, and plan to follow the ripples I cast across the beginning and the end. I have no idea how long this will take, and given that I always underestimate timelines for this sort of project, I’m reluctant to even guess. I’ll share what I know, when I know it.

With some very welcome assistance from my aforementioned writers group, I also dusted off the query letter for my first novel. It’s almost ready to go, and sending it out to some potential agents will be a good way to keep that project from idling while I’m working on the rewrite for the new one. My first batch of queries – about a year and a half ago now – were not at all successful. I suspect that was at least partly due to weaknesses in the query letter, so I’m hopeful this revised version will get more traction, and some less disheartening results.

And I’m gearing up to do something that I haven’t done in forever – play D&D! I’ve got some of the books for the new 5th edition, I’ve got some great players lined up, and they’ve got awesome characters. So it looks like I’m going to be DM-ing a new campaign with the new rules. Typically for me, my attempt to run a plot-light, just-for-fun series of adventures has fallen apart even before it began. Quite without my intending it, this campaign already has a Plot, and maybe even Themes. But still: Dungeons will be crawled! Doors will be kicked in! Monsters will be slain and treasure looted!

(If you can’t tell, I’m really looking forward to this.)

In addition to all the political fun going on in the US, Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign – we go to the polls October 19th. I doubt that I’ll get into my thoughts on that directly here, but it’s still taking up a certain degree of mental and emotional real estate. My politics are a bit more on display on Twitter, if you’re interested.

But ah, wise readers that you are, you’ve probably already noticed the “directly” I deployed as a qualifier up there.

You see, I have this short story, and it deals in part with some political issues that Canada is facing, indirectly. Unsubtly, but indirectly. Because of that, I rather strongly suspect that this story has a best-before date that can now be measured in weeks, and will be quite expired after election day. It’s a story that I’m proud of, but that has never managed to find a market.

So instead? I’m going to run it here. Ah, I knew I’d figure out what my next post should be by writing this one.

Coming up next on the blog: A foray into fiction, with my short story ‘Final Issue’!