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.

Open Call for Breaking In Interviews

The Breaking In interviews are one of my favourite kinds of posts here, and not just because they’re easier than writing 1,000 to 2,000 words on my own. Many of you seem to agree — with a couple of exceptions, they’re my most-read and most-shared posts by a wide margin. (And thank you – I really appreciate it when you take the time to do that!)

So I’d love to run more Breaking In posts. Heck, I’d be thrilled if I could run one a week, although that would probably force me to up my game in terms of my own posting – hmm, maybe not such a bad thing at that.

To run more interviews, I obviously need more interviewees. So far, I’ve been contacting writers myself, but there are so many authors out there – each of them with a unique path to breaking in. It makes me wonder what inspiring stories and useful ideas I’ve missed.

This is a call, then, for authors (or publicists) to contact me. Please let me know if you’d be interested in participating in a Breaking In interview!

Generally, I use the same template questions, because I want to keep focused and on topic. But interviewees are free to take the questions in any direction they like, and shouldn’t feel too bound by them.

I include at the start of the interview some brief biographical details and information about the writer’s latest work. I like to break up the text with images – book covers and a picture of the author, most often, although if a writer would rather not have their picture used, that’s fine too.

I prefer to schedule posts so they go live around the release of a new book, or something similar – so the extra eyeballs on a writer have the most impact.

My focus is on writers of short stories, novels, and comics/webcomics/graphic novels.

I’m specifically interested in interviewing authors from communities that are marginalized or under-represented in fiction writing  and would particularly welcome being approached by those writers. I’d like my interviews to reflect the true range of diversity. This definitely includes but isn’t limited to writers of colour, women and non-binary writers, LGBT writers, neurodiverse writers, and writers from other marginalized communities or identities.

Plus, it’s important that you’ve actually, you know, broken in.

Interested? Good! Please get in touch with me via the information on my Contact Me page. I look forward to hearing from you, and learning about how you broke in as a writer.

Coming up next on the blog: Probably an update my Big Rewriting Adventure, PerNaNoReWriMo. I also may have some thoughts on Dylan Horrocks’ graphic hovel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. After that, heck, I might just have some more interviews to run!

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!

Breaking In: Interview with SL Huang

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, as an unabashed fan of stories about smart people kicking butt and lots of explosions, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview SL Huang, self-described speculative fiction writer, mathematician and gunslinger. (The first two I get; I’m not sure if the last is meant literally, or if it’s a deft metaphor for self-publishing!)

SL has had short fiction and essays published in a wide range of venues, but is probably best known for the Russell’s Attic series of contemporary science fiction thrillers. The self-published series focuses on Cas Russell, a mercenary heroine whose superpower is being really, really good at math. SL just released the third volume in the series, Root of Unity:

Cas Russell has always used her superpowered mathematical skills to dodge snipers or take down enemies. Oh, yeah, and make as much money as possible on whatever unsavory gigs people will hire her for. But then one of her few friends asks a favor: help him track down a stolen math proof. One that, in the wrong hands, could crumble encryption protocols worldwide and utterly collapse global commerce.

Cas is immediately ducking car bombs and men with AKs — this is the type of math people are willing to kill for, and the U.S. government wants it as much as the bad guys do. But all that pales compared to what Cas learns from delving into the proof. Because the more she works on the case, the more she realizes something is very, very wrong . . . with her.

For the first time, Cas questions her own bizarre mathematical abilities. How far they reach. How they tie into the pieces of herself that are broken — or missing.

How the new proof might knit her brain back together . . . while making her more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Desperate to fix her fractured self, Cas dives into the tangled layers of higher mathematics, frantic for numerical power that might not even be possible — and willing to do anything, betray anyone, to get it.

Root of Unity, and the other volumes in the Russell’s Attic series, are available through your preferred online bookseller. You can find a complete list of SL Huang’s works, and how to find them, here.

Root of Unity, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

Root of Unity, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

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

[SLH] It feels so funny to be asked this, because I still feel like a raw beginner!  When did I break in?  Um.  Ask me again in ten years?

I think the funniest thing about “breaking in” is that it rarely feels like I think it will.  It always feels like just another day, just another step, just the next piece of work.  And suddenly people are looking at me saying, “how did you get there?” and all I can think is, “Well, I took a step, and then I took another step, and another one . . .”

Zero Sum Game, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

Zero Sum Game, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

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

I had something I thought was a strategy (publish book! publish more book!), but it turned out only to be the beginnings of a journey — essentially, I had the tools to jump off the ledge, but I had no idea what I’d find as I fell.

Did it work?  Well, yes, I jumped!  But at every turn I’ve learned more or found new opportunities, so to mix some metaphors, since then my journey has been multiplying and growing in unexpected directions like some sort of weird fungus.

If I feel qualified to offer only one piece of advice to beginning writers, it’s this — embrace that expanding fungus!  Say yes to opportunities.  Let The Plan branch.  If you find yourself holding the ball, don’t question it, run with it — as fast as possible and as far as possible and as long as possible.

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

Sadly, the things I’d like to do differently mostly involve stuff that’s beyond my control.  For instance, above all I really, really wish I were a faster, more prolific writer.  I can push myself to an extent in this area, but I don’t naturally write as fast as I’d like to in order to grow my career in the way I’d prefer.

But that’s all right!  Because something else I’ve been discovering is that there’s never only one path to anything.

Half Life, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

Half Life, by SL Huang (cover by Najla Qamber)

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

It’s unlike what I expected in that, in a lot of ways, it’s exactly the same.  Every day I try to write more of the next book, and it’s hard work and I doubt my abilities and I worry about whether people will like it.

The only difference is that I’m making enough money through writing to pay for my health insurance.  Oh, and perhaps that I get asked to do author interviews about having broken in! Ha!

What are you working on now?

The bulk of my writing time right now is going to Book 5 of the Russell’s Attic series.  That book will be called Golden Mean, and it’s a story more about Cas’s friends than it is about her.  Book 6, Binary Operator, will return to the larger mytharc.

At least, that’s the plan.  But you know what I said about plans above . . .

How can people keep up with you online?

My website is, and it always stays up to date with my latest books.  I blog at Bad Menagerie, but I’m most active on Twitter as @sl_huang.  Drop by and say hi!

Thanks to SL Huang for such a thoughtful and informative interview! I’ve been a fan of the Russell’s Attic series from the moment I read the first two lines of Zero Sum Game:

“I trusted one person in the entire world. He was currently punching me in the face.”

I mean come on, what more do you need?

Coming up next on the blog: I suppose after three interview posts in a row, I should really talk about myself again? So, a State of the Me post it is, then. Also, because people have been asking, a call and some guidelines for others who might be interested in participating in a Breaking In interview.

Breaking In: Interview with Nicole Winters

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

Today, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to interview a gifted writer who works outside my usual genre comfort zone, Nicole Winters.

As she notes on her website, Nicole’s own journey as a creator took her from being a reluctant reader herself, to being a published YA author writing for reluctant readers who “don’t love reading… yet”. Her first novel, TT: Full Throttle, was published by Lorimer in September, 2013. It’s the pulse-pounding story of a young man driven to fulfill his late father’s dream of riding in the most challenging motorcycle race in the world.

Her latest novel, The Jock and the Fat Chick, represents a first foray into YA romance.

No one ever said high school was easy. In this hilarious and heartwarming debut, one high school senior has to ask himself how much he’s willing to give up in order to fit in.

 Kevin seems to have it all: he’s popular, good looking, and on his way to scoring a college hockey scholarship. However, he’s keeping two big secrets. The first is that he failed an assignment and is now forced to take the most embarrassing course ever–domestic tech. The second is that he is falling for his domestic tech classmate, Claire.

 As far as Kevin is concerned, Claire does have it all: she’s funny, smart, beautiful, and confident. But she’s off-limits. Because Kevin knows what happens when someone in his group dares to date a girl who isn’t a cheerleader, and there’s no way he is going to put himself—or Claire—through that.

 But steering clear of the girl of his dreams is a lot harder than Kevin thought…especially when a cooking project they are paired together for provides the perfect opportunity for things to heat up between them outside the classroom….

(I know people don’t always trust marketing copy, but I’ve read this story, and it really is both heartwarming and hilarious. I love it.)

The Jock and the Fat Chick is available right now in ebook from Epic Reads Impulse  (an imprint of Harper Collins). You can get it directly from the publisher or from your preferred ebook vendor.

The Jock and the Fat Chick, by Nicole Winters

The Jock and the Fat Chick, by Nicole Winters

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

[NW] Thanks for having me as a guest, Stephen. I think I finally felt like I’d broken in as a writer when I signed my first contract for TT Full Throttle. But even then it still felt surreal, so I went online and bought a ball cap that said “Writer” on it and wore it around the house, mainly giggling.

TT Full Throttle, by Nicole Winters

TT Full Throttle, by Nicole Winters

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 to breaking in consisted of two business strategies: polish the product and polish the sales pitch.

When it came to outlining, editing and finalizing the story, education and persistence was key. I would use every waking moment around my day job as an opportunity to work on my writing. I’d carry roughly 20 pages of the novel with me all the time and looked for chances to edit (commuting to work on the streetcar, lunch hour, in line at the bank and so on). Then at night, I’d type the changes into the computer and it was basically rinse and repeat. When I needed a break, I’d read books on the craft, talk shop with fellow writers, watch films, attend professional organization meetings (like CANSCAIP and the Romance Writers of America’s Toronto Chapter), and attend workshops and retreats (like WildAcres).

Once I had the story polished, I signed up on QueryTracker and took my time researching agents, trying to find the best fit for my work. Meanwhile, I endured the arduous task of writing the query letter. Ugh, it’s the part of being a writer I hate the most. I’d read blogs like QueryShark and study good and bad examples. I’d write a draft query and story summary, then leave it for a few days and come back to it fresh, then tweak it and leave it, and repeat. After that I’d send it to my writer’s group for feedback and more tweaking. I don’t enjoy this part of the process at all, but it’s incredibly crucial and important that it’s not rushed and that it’s done right. It’s like watching Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank where the entrepreneur has a great idea/product, but is bombing in front of the investors because the pitch lacks preparation, or doesn’t match up with the product, or they simply didn’t know how to sell it. I’ve learned a lot from watching those shows.

Author Nicole Winters

Author Nicole Winters

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

Stephen, if I could throw money at the query letter and one-page summary I would… I’d hire me a really good sales person, like a character from Glengarry Glen Ross,  (then remove all the offensive language and swears). Seriously, I think helping my friends with their queries and summaries also helps me too. It’s so much easier to write a good sales pitch when it’s someone else’s story.

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

When it comes to the business side, where decisions are mainly in other people’s hands (agent, publisher, editor, etc.), I wasn’t at all prepared to feel so many highs and lows. With a regular job you pretty much know what to expect: punch in, do job, punch out, get paid. With writing, I’d hear nothing for weeks on a story submission, then I’d get a bite, then more waiting, then a contract (or rejection), etc. It’s like being on a roller coaster. I’m either sitting, waiting for the ride to begin, or it’s stalled half way up the first hill (and I have to climb off), or I’m suddenly flying down the other side.

How are you dealing with it?

At first I tried to ignore the small victories and told myself only to celebrate the big ones, like a contract, but it didn’t work. Celebrating the small victories is what motivates me to persevere. It’s letting my imagination get carried away with future possibilities and setting myself up for disappointment because it never happens like I imagine it would in my mind. I’ve learned to celebrate in the moment for what it is and nothing more, no matter how tempting it may be to daydream.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two different goals, one short term and one long term. The first is my next YA book, The Conjurer, and the second is branching out as a middle-grade author, but under a different name. In some ways, it’s like I’m breaking in all over again.

What led you to consider a pseudonym for your middle-grade writing?

Shelving my middle-grade novels next to my YA novels with a more mature content is not a great idea. By choosing to write under N C Winters for my middle-grade books it makes it easier for publishers, booksellers and branding. Of course once that happens, I’ll continue to have all my books on my website, just under separate webpages.

Speaking of your website, how can people keep up with you online?


Facebook: Nicole Winters YA Author

Facebook: The Jock and the Fat Chick

Thanks, Stephen!

Thank you to Nicole for an interview that was both heartfelt and full of practical advice! The Jock and the Fat Chick is being released the same day this post drops (October 13, 2015) and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Coming up next on the blog: We just keep breaking in! Next up is an interview with author SL Huang.