After he died we just got all the Good Guys teaming up like the freaking Avengers. Blech. (No hate on the actual Avengers, though, to be clear). As far as actual devastation goes, though, I have to say Brienne of Tarth in the books. IT WAS A FAKE OUT, I know that now. But I genuinely cried when I read that passage. She was my favorite in the books and in the show, and I was so upset when I thought GRRM killed her off.
So, my current only-child cat’s name is Thorin Oakenshield (after the Tolkien character, of course). If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect! If my husband gets his way Tali will end up being a puppy, which sounds pretty great to me too!
"If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect!"
I recently read a blog post you wrote about the required (and/or forcibly acquired) virtue of patience as a writer. As you shared in your post, you are not a particularly patient person, nor am I. Yet we somehow managed to survive the publication process! What are some tips for writers in the ‘weary middle’ of this grueling journey?
Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest, there are about fifteen ‘weary middles’ throughout the writing and publishing process. You wait for feedback from beta readers, responses from agents you’ve queried, responses from editors you’ve been subbed to, the list goes on. My best tip is always to keep busy. Sink yourself into something new. For me it’s always a new writing project - something else I can fall in love with and let myself get distracted by while I’m waiting for [insert part of the process here].
"Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest,
But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it. So I think it’s also important to have hobbies outside of writing to help reset your brain a little bit. For me it’s fitness - kickboxing, weightlifting, all that good stuff. Maybe for you it’s the same, or maybe it’s running! Or knitting! Or puzzles! Whatever it is, my advice is to find something else you can sink yourself into aside from writing.
"But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it."
Time management can be a huge issue for writers. I constantly hear newer writers complain that they would write if they could only find the time. How do you manage to balance your career, your personal life, and writing schedule?
I am super lucky to have a really supportive husband who viewed my writing as a second job long before I even got an agent, which makes things easier. I also don’t have any kids, which I know makes things way easier.
So, to sum up, no one has the time, everyone has to make the time. But the great part is, if you write for eight hours every day, sure, you will end up with a book. But if you only write for one hour? Twenty minutes? You can still end up with a book if you keep at it long enough! Write however much you can fit in without going absolutely crazy or shirking other important responsibilities, and don’t let other people bully you into thinking you’re “not a real writer” if you can’t squeeze in some massive, arbitrary word count every single day.
Fantasy, as a genre, has historically struggled with diversity of representation. How does diversity play into your character cast and what advice might you give to writers who struggle with implementing this in a meaningful way?
This is such an important question. I’ll start by saying I think this ties in with the world-building question below. Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that. The main cast of Among Thieves is made up of characters from every corner of my fictional world.
"Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that."
My biggest advice to other writers, though, would be to make sure you’re reading broadly in the genre. In other words, if all the fantasy authors you’re reading look a lot like me… you need to expand your selection. There are so many awesome fantasy authors of color out there! N.K. Jemisin, Sabaa Tahir, Tomi Adeyemi, R.F. Kuang, I could go on naming all day. I also think it is important to remember to make sure you're telling a story that's yours to tell. Ask yourself if you’re really the right person to be writing the story you’re thinking of writing. Lastly, make sure you seek criticism on your work early and often to make sure the representation present in your story is not harmful.
Your first novel, Among Thieves, is set to be released in 2021 by Saga Press. It takes place in the Five kingdoms of Thamorr where Ryia Cautella is deftly navigating the criminal underworld of the port city of Carrowick. What inspired this story and what kinds of feelings are you hoping to awaken in readers?
Not to give too much away, but Among Thieves involves a high-stakes heist. I personally love a good heist in any genre. What tips do you have for building the mystery and suspense around a heist without letting it detract from the overall narrative?
Let me tell you, it’s a tough balance, haha. You want to give enough info that the reader can follow what is happening without giving away all of the fun. The heist elements in Thieves went through about… ten(?) full rewrites to try to get that balance right. And god, I hope I got it in the end! My best tip for any story that has several complicated webs woven together (like a heist) is to outline.
For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots, planning out every aspect of the heist. That meant having solid plans for how each individual character wanted each step of the heist to go so I could make sure their motivations and actions would be clearly blocked out and fit together with each major plot point. Then, of course, I made sure to have a solid plan for how things actually turn out.
"For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots,
Moral of the story, the most important part of building mystery is making sure you know all the secrets yourself. That way you can pick and choose which parts of the puzzle to reveal when.
I don’t let any Fantasy writer get through a Q&A with me without talking about world-building. Talk us through your world-building process for the book. What were its evolutionary stages? How did it evolve? What was the greatest challenge you had and how was it resolved?
Where on the map is this particular kingdom located? What are some of the customs here? What sport or game is most popular? What kind of foods do they prepare? Holidays, religions, rulers, kingdoms they’re allied with - all of these things are crucial. Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book, you can’t make a world feel real to a reader if it doesn’t feel real to you.
"Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book,
For the world of Thamorr (the world in which Among Thieves is set) I actually had done a good portion of the world-building before I even started this particular story idea. The basis of the magic system and a good part of the geography actually comes from an old, dead project of mine. I’m a big fan of cannibalizing old projects for parts. The plot of that old story was not workable, but there were parts of this world that I still loved, so I stole them and built them up to ultimately create the world of Thamorr!
The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t. I always want to put too much in the MS, which can get info-dumpy. Then I usually reel it back too much in my early edits and beta readers have no idea what is happening. Finding that balance is always a challenge for me.
"The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t."
Where can readers find more information about the release of Among Thieves and about your future works?
Among Thieves is scheduled for release in early 2021, but does not have an official release date yet! I will keep everyone posted about Thieves and any future projects on my website, on my Facebook page, or my Twitter account.
Also, don't forget to add Among Thieves to your Goodreads!
Besides writing your novel you also manage to write for online publications such as the Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, USAToday, and Time. What type of schedule or routine helps you maintain that level of productivity?
Since my head injury I have less capacity to write, but I still do a lot of that writing, partly for income because I live in Vancouver which is expensive. But I also write because it's something I enjoy. So for me as a disabled person, for now it’s about pacing myself and being really open. The interesting thing is that I struggle with using screens so I can’t always write. Then I have to get creative. I write with my eyes closed. Sometimes I write a draft on paper and then transfer it over. And sometimes I just write on the weekends. I like to write in the morning on the weekends. It’s the first thing I do. Right now I am doing a lot of editing for my creative work rather than writing so I have to balance it all.
"Then I have to get creative. I write with my eyes closed. Sometimes I write a draft on paper and then transfer it over. And sometimes I just write on the weekends."
You and I have a common connection in Rob McLennan, a Canadian poet who runs an amazing blog promoting Canadian writers. With your background in CanLit, where do you think Canadian fiction is going and what would it take to boost the signal for Canadian writing around the world?
I think in Canadian fiction a lot of marginalized writers are getting more of a voice and receiving more recognition. I absolutely love seeing that. In fact, I think that some of the best writing is coming from writers who have traditionally struggled to get published.
I also think there is a lot of fiction that is becoming a bit more experimental as writers play with form. As a novelist and a non-fiction writer who is interested in form and experimental writing I think that to get more exposure internationally Canada needs to continue to promote a diverse array of voices. The freshness of those voices and the level of the work being done really speaks for itself.
"The freshness of those voices and the level of the work being done really speaks for itself."
Much of your work has centered around advocacy for the community of writers living with disabilities. Who is one writer in particular from this community that inspires you and that you believe should be getting more recognition for their work?
I’ve noticed a common theme in your columns and that is plenty of praise for the great English writer Virginia Woolf. What is it about her life and craft inspires you in your writing?
As I said earlier, when I was about sixteen I picked up the book To the Lighthouse. What was interesting about this for me was that I had to read the first sentence twice because it was very wrong. Virginia Woolf tried to rethink what a sentence could be as a very literal and deliberate act. What she brought to everything that she did in fiction was a deep engagement with what fiction could be, what it should be, and how she wanted it to be right down to the level of a sentence. She put a lot of thought into what a sentence could look like, how it could be different, why it should be different, and what it could potentially do.
"What she brought to everything that she did in fiction was a deep engagement with what fiction could be,
Your novel Unfinished tells the story of V.E. Clark, a young author who revelled in a decade of literary success before disappearing into small-town Connecticut. When it is revealed that she is dying of cancer her publishers send a biographer to dig into the shroud of questions that cloud her existence and so her tale unravels. With ‘all things unfinished in life’ as a central theme in the book, what has been the greatest challenge for you as a writer in crafting the story?
When I try to talk about writing this book it’s hard because it has been written through the darkest part of my life. As I wrote this one a loved one was dealing with thoughts of suicide which was the most painful path I’ve walked in my life as it just broke my heart to see him in so much pain. My whole life became centered around trying to help him. At the same time, some of the themes in the book came from the fear and the belief that we often try to accomplish things that we are unable to finish. It was a theme that was very alive for me in that moment because I wanted to write and I wasn’t really able to write a lot. It was coming in drips and drops which was really, really hard.
"When I try to talk about writing this book it’s hard because it has been written through the darkest part of my life."
After he recovered, I had a very serious head injury and it was through this period that I was trying to edit the book. As I was getting close to finishing it, I experienced extreme amounts of ableist abuse from various parts of my life and people I loved dearly. And so now, if this novel ever gets finished it will be an incredibly emotional moment in my life because it is a symbol of all of my deepest struggles. Hopefully it will also be enlightened by those experiences as well. We all go through difficult times and this is a story about a person dying as they worry that they won’t be able to finish what they started.
Though my own personal literary adventures take me into medieval Icelandic texts, I am intrigued by your interest in experimental writing. Who are a few authors in this field who inspire you and do you have a particular recommendation for a book to start with for those interested in learning more?
It’s really interesting because when people talk about experimental writing they have a very specific view of what that looks like. Often it’s this image of fiction that is very difficult and drab. In fact there have been a number of different debates in literary culture about whether it's too complicated or whether it's bad for fiction. Very famously, Jonathan Franzen wrote a piece called Mr. Difficult which sparked a debate within the community of people who support experimental writing.
Where can readers keep track of your latest writings and stay up to date on the publication of Unfinished?
The best best is to follow me on Twitter as I’m on there all the time. Feel free to send me a DM!
Sweet. I have a devilish sweet tooth, and have since I was a child. I was the kind of kid who reached into the cookie jar when no one was looking. I still do so today, but as an adult, no one can really stop me!
There are a great many things that would pose a threat to one as curious as I in H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. The most likely bane for my existence would be Yog-Sothoth. I feel like my current quest for knowledge would eventually, and undoubtedly, lead me to this Outer God. A being locked outside the universe that knows all that occurs in space-time would likely overload my brain, causing me to bleed from all facial orifices while incoherently sputtering the deepest secrets of all life. That is, until I would shrivel up into a mumbling husk doomed to be cast out into an unfeeling, unthinking void, with nothing but my long sought secrets to keep me company.
"The most likely bane for my existence would be Yog-Sothoth.
Your original artistic pursuit was in film and TV but you opted to focus your creativity on writing. In what ways has your training in film influenced you as a writer? Do you write screenplays as well or are you committed to the text-only format of books?
There are many ways to tell a story. Visually, auditorily, or in written form. Film and TV focus on the visual and audio aspects, but everything always starts from the written format (script). My education in broadcast television allowed me to learn about how to create content for an audience. My writing could be the best work to ever grace this planet, but if no one wants to read it... well, it doesn’t really matter then, does it? I learned how to create a story from people who have been doing so professionally for a long time. Working with professionals like this allowed me to develop an understanding of how to create the kind of story that people want to experience.
"There are many ways to tell a story. Visually, auditorily, or in written form. Film and TV focus on the visual and audio aspects, but everything always starts from the written format (script)."
I no longer write scripts/screenplays. I used to in college, and shortly following college, but I discovered more freedom in more traditional styles of writing. I found the formatting for scripts and screenplays (interior vs exterior, types of shots, location and character names, etc.) to be a drag. Having to expend effort for such things for stories that I don’t plan to shoot seems like a waste of effort. Effort that would be better spent fleshing out lore and building a literary world.
You and I are both Canadian authors which, if you walk through the average Chapters bookstore (pre-quarantine, of course) is fairly rare. What unique challenges has being a Canadian author brought to you? Are there any advantages you’ve found to living north of the US/Canada border?
"Canadians tend to be less inclined to push their way to success,
For a similar reason, I feel that Canadians have an advantage on our home turf. Mark, an author I worked with recently, told me of a time he was doing a book signing for his work at a bookstore in Waterloo (his home town). That day, there was a promotion going on for a recently released Stephen King book, but Mr. King was not there to do any reader-interaction stuff. That day, Mark’s new book outsold Stephen King’s. All because he was a local author who came out to see his readers, and King didn’t. No offense to Stephen King, I’ve heard he’s a cool dude, I’m just saying that taking advantage of your home town and local bookstores can be a great boon! Especially when we can all return to our beloved bookstores in the, hopefully, near future.
One of the things that many newer writers really struggle to do is to finish things. Perhaps they write three quarters of a story then abandon it or even complete a first draft but never edit it. What advice do you have for writers who find themselves stuck within sight of the finish line?
I think I’m kind of a freak in this regard. These days, I always finish every writing project that I start, but that was not always the case. I wrote the first half of Inner Expanses during 2014/2015, but stopped when... life... and death got in the way. There was one week in March of 2015 where I completely lost sight of my life and temporarily devolved into a wretch of a man. After a little while, I regained my humanity, but found that I was not able to pick up where I left off. I felt that if a life can end suddenly and without reason, then so can a book. I purposely left Inner Expanses unfinished as a testament to this notion. It wasn’t until 2018 that I picked up the pen once more, so to speak.
"I think I’m kind of a freak in this regard. These days, I always finish every writing project that I start,
The reason I reached for that pen once more, and why all writers should do so themselves regarding unfinished work, is quite simple, though hard to see until you have a paradigm shift. Because you can. And because you want to. When I think of potential… when I think of what could be, I cannot rest. Write because you want to, but remember that if your writing is never completed and no one reads it….it’s pointless and useless. This is harsh, but I feel these are words all writers need to hear. No, not hear, FEEL!
No one cares about a half-written story. No one is going to write it for you. If you truly care about your story, finish it and share it, otherwise it won’t matter. You can write for yourself, if you want, but why deprive the world of your beautiful words?
Your book Inner Expanses is a dimension twisting story about two planes of reality that swirl and collide, one that is full of battles with monsters and another that is familiar to our own world. I am always intrigued when Fantasy and Sci-Fi genre elements are mixed. How did you manage to balance these two threads? Were they blended into one in your mind or woven together?
"When you define the rationale behind concepts, they go from being 'unknown magic'
For example; long ago, people thought natural disasters were the work of Gods or monsters, but today we know that they are the result of nature’s natural rhythm. Fictional concepts always come to my mind on their own, but always get swirled into the vortex that is my brain. There, they live with their neighbours of different origin and reason. Much like the beings of the realm of nightly battles, from Inner Expanses.
As well as being an author, you are also an artist. In fact, you created the art for your book Inner Expanses which many writers, I’m sure, would love to have the skill to do. Do you often visualize your stories through art as part of your writing process or is your artwork reserved only for covers?
Art has always been a huge influence in my life. Particularly visual arts, such as painting, sculpting, and even modern artforms like photography and videography. I use them as lenses to see certain things through. Things that I cannot experience personally, but things that I can appreciate the aesthetic value and meaning of. Horrific concepts not of this realm, long dead romances of tragic heroes, tales of fairies and wizards and dragons.
"Art has always been a huge influence in my life. Particularly visual arts, such as painting,
I don’t always incorporate art with my stories, but it is relatively common. The acts of creating, both in writing and visual art, are just two mediums in which to tell stories. There are much more, but these are just the two I use the most often...and probably the best, if I’m being honest. Creating the covers/accompanying art for my stories, including the silly little “figures” in my ongoing newsletter story, has given me a valid reason, or rather an excuse, to use a visual medium of storytelling in conjunction with the written.
I live on Vancouver Island and absolutely love living by the sea. One of your upcoming works follows the adventures of Captain Charles Salt as he becomes a dreaded pirate. Can you give us any sneak previews or hints as to where his adventures might take him and his feisty crew?
Firstly, let me state my envy. I’ve been to Vancouver Island and really enjoyed my time there! I wish I could live in a place like that someday. My dream home would be a lighthouse, I think.
Ah, yes. Captain Charles Salt, along with his brothers and sisters, will be the protagonists in my next full length novel ‘Salt On the Waves’. So far, this tale exists solely as concepts and daydreams, albeit somewhat organized ones. I don’t even know if this story will be a single book, two, or even three. There’s certainly a lot of fuel for adventures that the Salt crew could have. I have been playing with ideas for Salt On the Waves for years now, many of which tie into the book that I’m going to be releasing this summer, ‘Unusual Tales for Curious Minds’. This is actually the first time I’m typing out the title, on my website it is still ‘Untitled’! I may change that soon, though.
Picture a world, similar to ours in cosmic geography and geology, but there are no great land masses. Just many islands. Some big, some small, but all very interesting and unique. Due to ancient and secret reasons, there is a great degree of variation between islands. The amount of different kinds of life in this world, known as Okeanós, is staggering. This includes, but is not restricted to, colossal sea monsters the size of islands, vicious pirates hungry for gold and blood, and many curiosities of prehistoric and sinister nature.
"This includes, but is not restricted to, colossal sea monsters the size of islands, vicious pirates hungry for gold and blood, and many curiosities of prehistoric and sinister nature."
Where can readers keep track of your latest writing and stay up to date on your next publication?
My newsletter and my website are the best places to do that. I have added a ‘Latest Updates’ board on the homepage of my website to let everyone, myself included, know of recent changes and developments. I also mention the same things on the board in my newsletter, in addition to giving my subscribers short stories, art, and poems. All of which are EXCLUSIVE to the newsletter.
Twitter is also a great place to keep track of my work and get in touch with me. I’ve made plenty of friends in the writing community there. I tweet daily and am always looking to connect with new readers and writers!
And amplify a sense by a factor of ten...hmmmm. I would say sight because my vision suuucks, so amplifying it by a factor of ten would probably just about give me normal vision, yay! In all seriousness, yes, I’d say sight. I feel like all the other senses being amplified would be really rough in different ways.
I love both Sci-Fi and Fantasy in all their forms. However, I sometimes wonder why they are grouped together as, for me, they seem distinct in many ways. As a writer of sci-fi and fantasy yourself, how do you distinguish the two genres? Can there be any crossover? Should they be considered separately or are they just two ends of the same spectrum?
That’s a really great point, and it’s a pretty big part of my concentration. For my major, I chose to study The Concept of Otherness in Speculative Fiction, and one of the things I talked about a lot with my adviser was the use of the term “speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction” or “fantasy.” For me, speculative fiction means anything that lets the writer make observations about the human condition, society, technology, or really anything, without setting the story in our own world. I would say that sci-fi and fantasy have always been grouped together because they take issues that exist in the here and now and comment on them through creating these other worlds, whether those worlds involve magic and whimsy or tech and innovation. For that reason, I see them as two ends of the same spectrum working towards a similar goal. And as for whether there can be any crossover, my WIP merges magic and technology because I love both genres so much. Whether that crossover is effective is up for debate, but I enjoy it and always look out for it to read!
"I chose to study The Concept of Otherness in Speculative Fiction, and one of the things I talked about a lot with my adviser was the use of the term 'speculative fiction' instead of 'science fiction' or 'fantasy.' "
You host the online journal Satyr Central which posts “anything soulful and non-conformist”; I personally find this focus so refreshing as almost every publication I have encountered is looking for something so specific that it seems that all but a dozen people on earth are disqualified from submitting. What have been some of the highlights of hosting Satyr Central?
Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. And shoutout to one of our editors, “Jon the Semite” for coming up with that little blurb on our About page.
I think the biggest highlight of hosting Satyr Central is knowing that I can post some really weird stuff and not worry about “Oh, does this meet guidelines? Oh, is this too weird to publish?” I’ve accepted some great submissions where the authors told me when they submitted that they weren’t sure what category the piece fit into, so they thought it would work well with us, and it did! From theological rants to odes to headless women to articles rating books by how nice they feel and sound, we’ve got some bizarre stuff on Satyr, and I say that with a lot of pride.
"From theological rants to odes to headless women to articles rating books by how nice they feel and sound, we’ve got some bizarre stuff on Satyr, and I say that with a lot of pride."
Most writers spend a fair amount of time sending queries and submissions. You have experience on both sides of that conversation. As someone who receives and reviews submissions, what are some tips you have for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Other than that, the biggest tip I can give writers looking to submit anything--whether it’s queries for a book, article, short story, poem, whatever--is that it’s a good idea to (politely) follow up if we take too long to look at your submission and get back to you. I love getting submissions, but with everything going on, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and I always appreciate someone giving me a gentle nudge and saying, “Hey, I sent you this a few weeks ago and just wanted to confirm that you got it.” Now note that some publications/publishers/lit agents don’t like it when you do that and will say that they’ll get to you when they get to you or to take no response as a rejection, and that’s where reading guidelines carefully comes back into play. But for me personally, I appreciate those quick nudges and it’s helped me get back to awesome writers whose submissions I somehow managed to entirely miss. So there’s that!
"...the biggest tip I can give writers looking to submit anything... is that it’s a good idea to (politely) follow up if we take too long to look at your submission and get back to you."
Sci-Fi and Fantasy as genres offer writers almost unlimited freedom in creating worlds and characters. As always, in the words of Uncle Ben, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. What are your thoughts on the power of that freedom and what do you think should guide writers in their use of that power? Are there any limits? And where have you seen this power wielded masterfully for the greater good?
"I do think the best stories—Sci-Fi and Fantasy in particular—have the power to
You and I share an interest in myths and mythology. One of the joys of engaging with the writing community online is the opportunity to learn about myths from all over the world. Which is your personal favorite flavor of mythology and are there any mythological personalities that you think deserve more air time?
Wow, this is a great question (and a tough one!). I grew up on Greek mythology and have always loved it, but in terms of mythological personalities that don’t get enough air time, I’d have to say the legends from The Ramayana. I got to be a student mentor teaching a high school class this Hindu epic, and it was such a joy to explore all of the themes, characters, and political and religious context for the story of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana. Yet I had never, ever heard of the epic before being invited to take part in that program. I think that’s a real shame and I highly recommend that any lovers of mythology check it out.
"I grew up on Greek mythology and have always loved it, but in terms of mythological personalities that don’t get enough air time, I’d have to say the legends from The Ramayana."
Can you give us a hint about your current project? Any tantalizing clues or sneak-peek quotes?
I’m planning on finishing my first short story from my work-in-progress, which will hopefully be the start of some sort of web series I can post on my website. I want to hold myself accountable because I’m a chronic procrastinator, so I’d love to include the first paragraph from the short story!
“It had been two years since the first time Kamiel had been to the Hex Market on the border between his home district and the worst, most loathsome district in The Core City. Since then, he’d gotten accustomed to the hushed conversations, the shifty-eyed patrons, the bubbling of Imaginate elixirs used for something far different and more sinister than their intended purpose, and even the occasional Rending when tensions were high and fights would break out...”
Fingers crossed I can actually finish it, ha!
“It had been two years since the first time Kamiel had been to the Hex Market on the border between his home district and the worst, most loathsome district in The Core City..."
Where can readers keep track of your latest writings and stay up to date on your next publication?
I am all over social media, but the best way to keep up with my writing is to subscribe to my blog’s newsletter! I promise we don’t send hundreds of emails a day, but you will get an update when we have a newsletter out or a brand new post weekly.
However, my wife will always choose something new. Always. I have to admit that I owe some culinary revelations to this habit of hers, including my addiction to sushi and a discovery of the treasure trove that is Lebanese cuisine. But to be honest, the majority of new dishes we order are disappointments that we have no desire to encounter again. Is it worth it for the rush of discovering a delicious new food? Sure. Is it enough to stop me from ordering a pulled-pork sandwich or a pad thai for the one-hundredth time? Definitely not.
So what does all this have to do with writing genre fiction? Well, some might say that reading genre fiction is a bit like ordering pulled-pork sandwiches over and over, that it makes you predictable (i.e. boring). Others might add that writing genre fiction is little more than an act of trying to resuscitate long-dead tropes while trying to pass off cheap imitations as original work. Given these two stereotypical notions, especially within the writing community, there can be a lot of shame or defensiveness around reading or writing these kinds of stories. Therefore, I feel the need to present an argument in defense of genre fiction, its readers, and its writers.
"Therefore, I feel the need to present an argument in defense of genre fiction, its readers, and its writers."
I would love to include a comprehensive list of all that is included under the umbrella of ‘genre fiction’, but there are endless branches and sub-branches which spiral down toward infinity in fractal patterns. Some of the most popular are Romance, Westerns, Mystery, Horror, Thrillers, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. If you are a writer or reader of any genre, or aspire to be one, this rant is for you. (And if not, feel free to go read a dictionary…)
So I’ll just go ahead and say it straight: I write Fantasy. I write cursed swords and magical monsters and medieval feasts with calorie counts high enough to kill an olympic weightlifter. I don’t have a BA in History, in Poetry, or in Literary Criticism (though I’m sure those are all great degrees to have) and I don’t aspire to be published in a literary journal. My aim in writing is not to win an argument or to show off my intellectual prowess, and it is certainly not to win prestigious literary awards to line my shelf with.
"I write Fantasy. I write cursed swords and magical monsters and medieval feasts
"My highest aspiration as a writer is this: to write the book that people keep on that extra-special place on their shelf, the book whose pages are wrinkled and stained from use..."
I write Fantasy because I strive to create the kind of stories I want to read. I want adventure. I want magic. And most of all, I want worlds unbounded by the shackles of our present reality or belaboured past. That is the kind of story I crave when I feel numbed by the drivel of the day-to-day, when I feel crushed between the cogs of ‘the system’, or when the itch for adventure is so insistent I can no longer ignore it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t reference history or challenge real political or philosophical ideas; what it means is that I have a safe place to explore and create, a cushion between raw reality and a mental other-space where it is easier to think, explore, and feel.
"That is the kind of story I crave when I feel numbed by the drivel of the day-to-day, when I feel crushed between the cogs of ‘the system’, or when the itch for adventure is so insistent I can no longer ignore it."
Despite my love of Fantasy, many writers of genre fiction get it wrong. Really wrong. Their plot lines get tangled in tropes, their characters end up skewered on tired stereotypes, and the overcooked hyperbole of their world causes it to collapse in on itself. In fact, these fumbled attempts at imitation, rather than creation, are what give genre fiction a bad name in the writing world. So where does good genre fiction start? Well, it starts with a promise.
"Promise is the foundation of genre fiction... You must fulfill the promise of your genre
But don’t stop there. Give your genre fiction something extra. Zest it with a character or an idea that will catch your reader off-guard, that will make them think, that will stay forever impressed on their minds. Give them the rush and the escape that they have felt before while reading that genre and then dazzle them with something they never expected.
So don’t be ashamed of writing or reading genre fiction. If you are a writer then start with the promise and build off of that foundation. If you are a reader, don’t settle for dry characters or soggy plot lines.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me because I am really craving a pulled-pork sandwich...
For more advice about writing genre fiction, Joshua recommends listening to the Writing Excuses podcast.
"When I’m feeling fancy: prosciutto and fresh arugula. When I’m feeling basic: pepperoni."
As a writer of thriller and fantasy, you know how to get the reader’s adrenaline pumping. What common pitfalls have you encountered, either through your own development or through reading others’ work, when writers try to amp up the tension but end up falling flat?
Several things can make the tension fizzle. The first that comes to mind is info-dumping or excessive flashbacks / background in the midst of the action. If you want to maintain the tension throughout a scene, you have to stay as much as possible in the present moment. I’m currently reading Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas and am thoroughly enjoying it, but I nearly put it down in the first five chapters because it felt like every other moment in the scene was interrupted by detailed backstory. It’s something I have had to work on with my writing as well. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is a good example of how to keep the tension going, with backstory woven in more subtly.
"Several things can make the tension fizzle. The first that comes to mind is info-dumping or
There are many new avenues open for authors to share and publish their work online but being an author today also comes with a whole new set of challenges. What strategies helped you find success as you built your audience online and off?
As a first step, you have to identify what your goals are: do you have a published (or soon-to-be published) book that you’re ready to start marketing? Or are you more interested in building community at the moment? I, personally, am currently focused on community-building. I do my best to align my social media engagement with what feels good and authentic to me - my personal goal is to organically connect to readers and fellow writers. This means I gravitate toward the platforms I enjoy using, regardless of whether or not they have a good reputation for producing sales or click-throughs. Facebook, for example, is generally considered helpful, especially for indie writers, if you can learn how to leverage its targeted advertising system. But I do not enjoy Facebook. At all. So I prioritize my time on Instagram and Twitter, which perhaps aren’t as good at generating click-throughs, but are wonderful sources of inspiration and connection with fellow writers and readers.
"I do my best to align my social media engagement with what feels good and authentic to me -
"Second, as clichéd as this may sound, you have to show up as you. What you see on my social media feed
And last but not least, focus on building a positive and welcoming space on your social media feeds. We’re all inundated with negative news on a daily basis (now more than ever), so I try to provide as much entertainment and escapism as possible. To that end, the best decision I've made was to launch a newsletter. It has helped me connect more deeply to the wonderful people I've met online, and it allows me to give back to the community - every month, I run a book giveaway exclusively for subscribers, because I love sharing the books that I’ve enjoyed (recent giveaways included Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Sinner by Sierra Simone). I also share things that I love talking about with friends: trailers for upcoming movies or TV shows (especially thrillers and mysteries), books coming up soon that I’m excited about, and interesting articles about real-life stories that are stranger than fiction and could be great inspiration for thrillers. The key is that I love doing all of this - and because I’m talking about things of general interest, other people seem to be finding enjoyment or a bit of distraction from the newsletter as well.
It may take some experimentation, but take the time to find the things you enjoy and focus on them. That way, it won’t feel like work. A while ago, I drafted a blog post answering this question with some more detail, in case it's helpful.
Writing can be a lonely endeavor and it helps to have a community of writers around you for encouragement, critique, and, let’s be honest, to just blow off steam sometimes. You have established a healthy community of writers around you through your website and through Twitter events that you host. What advice do you have for writers who feel alone and are trying to connect with other writers?
If you’re new to the twitter writing community, probably the best way to get started if you don’t know anyone is to follow some of the big writing hashtags. My favorites are #writingcommunity, #vss365, #indieapril, and #writerslift. The “vss365” tag stands for “very short stories, 365 days of the year,” and is a fantastic community of writers who craft single-story tweets based on a prompt word that the host of the month shares every day. I would start by supporting other writers on the vss365 tag - read their stories, like their tweets, and comment with words of encouragement. If you’re feeling brave, contribute your own stories!
"I would start by supporting other writers on the vss365 tag - read their stories, like their tweets, and comment with words of encouragement. If you’re feeling brave, contribute your own stories!"
If you are an introvert, or have social anxiety or otherwise feel uncomfortable being very open and communicative on social media, I completely understand that “Have fun!” isn’t going to be doable for everyone. Please don’t feel like you have to push yourself to be someone or do something that goes beyond your comfort zone. If you feel comfortable with a more limited form of engagement, you could start simply by reading through the above hashtags and getting familiar with the writing community online. And if you do a search of “how to build an author platform if you're an introvert,” quite a few resources pop up - rest assured that you’re not alone!
"If you are an introvert, or have social anxiety or otherwise feel uncomfortable being very open and communicative on social media, I completely understand that “Have fun!” isn’t going to be doable for everyone."
Your short story The Calving takes an honest look at environmental issues through the story of a young couple facing an uncertain future. New writers often make the mistake of letting the message overshadow the narrative in a way that makes the story feel expository or preachy. How do you manage to write about issues that really matter while also keeping the narrative vibrant and engaging?
"In fiction, our job is to take the larger world and whatever big-picture issues
The dry story about the big-picture issue is: dozens of reporters are killed in war zones each year as they try to expose human rights abuses. The personal story is Marie Colvin’s own life, which reads very much like a thriller - so much so, that a Vanity Fair article about her was adapted into a movie a couple of years ago. Whatever subject matter you want to tackle, no matter how broad or epic it might be, put yourself in your characters’ shoes and make it as personal to them as you possibly can.
The Apartment, a short film which you wrote the screenplay for, is now in post-production. What was the experience of writing for film like and what advice do you have for brand new screenplay writers who are trying to break in?
It was a surreal experience to write words on a page and then see people bring those characters to life (I also directed the short, which my best friend and immensely talented filmmaker, Matthew Newton, produced). It was also rather frustrating. With fiction, you can write whatever you want - there are no budgets and production practicalities to hamper your vision. With a screenplay, by contrast, you start with your dream vision (locations, scenes, the “look” of it all) … and then slowly whittle down that vision to a budget, production schedule, locations, and cast and crew hours you can actually afford. It is simultaneously a humbling and thrilling ride.
"With fiction, you can write whatever you want - there are no budgets and production practicalities to hamper your vision. With a screenplay, by contrast, you start with your dream vision ... and then slowly whittle down ..."
I’m not trying to get an agent or sell a feature screenplay at the moment, so I can’t quite speak from experience about the industry, but I can give the following tips:
"The Scriptnotes podcast, hosted by Craig Mazin and John August, is a fantastic resource. I have learned more about the screenwriting craft and the industry from them than from any book or website."
2) Read as many screenplays as you can! Some of my personal favorites are Sicario (fantastic action sequences), Michael Clayton (brilliant dialogue and character development), and Traffic (great structure). Incidentally, all three scripts are examples of movies that take a big-picture political or social issue and make it intensely personal. There are so many other stellar scripts you can learn from. You can start with a search of the “top ten most important screenplays for a writer to read.” Or you can let your curiosity be your guide and start with the scripts of the movies you love. Either way, read with a critical eye and pay attention to plot structure, rhythm, dialogue, and all of the other craft elements you should examine when you’re reading to learn.
What is the next big project you have on the go? Can you give us any sneak peeks or hints around what it will be about?
"I’m really excited to indie-publish my first supernatural mystery novella! Mile Marker Eight combines the small-town weirdness of The X Files with the dark comedy of Fargo."
I’m also currently revising the first draft of an adult supernatural thriller that melds three of my favorite things: super-strength, telekinesis, and mixed martial arts cage fighting (MMA is my favorite sport). It’s heart-pumping action, ticking-time-bomb danger, and a heavy dose of steamy romance. I hope to be ready to start querying agents in the fall. Until then, I’m sharing little details through my newsletter but otherwise playing this one close to the vest.
Where can readers find more of your work and stay up to date on your latest publications?
I’m at @rrvaleauthor on Twitter, where I host writing sprints and write vss365 stories, and on Instagram, where I share writing motivation and tips, book reviews, and moody shots that inspire some of my writing. And you can sign up for the monthly Thrills & Magic Newsletter for exclusive updates, giveaways, and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.
Any writer who actually finishes a piece of work, whether it's a short story or a novel, will at some point get ‘stuck’. What do you do when you get to that sticky point and what strategies do you have for working past it?
As I have always done with life in general, when I am stuck I walk away. It’s a learned behaviour, but it does come in handy when writing. I plan a lot in my head, so when I do sit down to write and become stuck, I walk away from the computer or the notebook for a while. This way I can (usually) clear my head and refocus. The downfall of this is that sometimes I stay away for extended periods of time and I don’t revisit the piece I was working on and then it is left incomplete.
I could publish a book entitled: The Complete Incomplete works of Joanna McQueen. I am working on this. No it’s not procrastination! Well maybe it is a form of it...
"I walk away from the computer or the notebook for a while. This way I can (usually) clear my head and refocus."
You are querying agents and publishers for your first book, a children’s story written in a lyrical style. From your experiences so far, do you have any tips to share with other children’s authors who are just beginning to wade into the waters of querying?
Keep writing! Keep trying! Never give up! This is my daily mantra.
It has taken a very long time for me to see myself as a writer/poet. The internal voices telling me I wasn’t good enough spoke very loudly and persistently, so I believed them. Unfortunately, some of these voices came from real people and not just self-deprecation. I am learning not to listen to them.
So my best advice is don’t believe the voices (or the people/letters) that tell your work is not good enough, or right, or it’s not the right time, or you should just give up. Don’t believe them. They are lies/liars!
"The internal voices telling me I wasn’t good enough spoke very loudly and persistently, so I believed them. [...]
In your story, a young boy who has been grounded finds himself transported to a magical library. What role do you see libraries playing in this internet age as so much media gets transferred away from traditional paper onto digital platforms?
Stories can be so powerful in communicating ideas. It is especially challenging, I would imagine, in a children’s book where your word count is limited. How did you manage to take the whole narrative and boil it down to the words that ended up in the story?
Another good question. I believe I have been creating this story and ones like it, in my head, for a long time and one day I just wrote this particular one. The magic of this story flowed through me. It just worked. I can’t explain it. With that being said, I am a mother and a teacher and I love stories, especially whimsical rhythmic ones. I have read a lot of children’s books so I have been able to explore them quite extensively. I especially enjoy Dr Seuss and have several of his books memorised. He is an inspiration and I suppose I followed his narrative, unknowingly.
Understanding the narrative and structure of children’s books is important and writing to fit the specifications can be challenging but sometimes, just sometimes, a story works all on its own.
"The magic of this story flowed through me. It just worked. I can’t explain it."
Many authors day-dream about having an artist illustrate their work. What tips do you have for finding and working with an artist if an author chooses to go that route?
I’m not sure if I am the right person to give advice on this as I am so new and the experience of working with an illustrator is as well. The illustrator I approached is the daughter of a long-time friend and I just love her. I asked her to illustrate my story not only because of the association, but because I see her as a talented artist that should be recognised for who she is. Knowing her as well as I do, I knew that she would be able to create with her hands, the images I created with my mind. Thankfully, she said yes and is delighted to work with me and I am so very pleased.
"Knowing her as well as I do, I knew that she would be able to create with her hands,
I suppose any advice would entail choosing an illustrator that will compliment your work, if this is an option of course. I reviewed a children’s book yesterday and the only negative thing I would say about it was that the illustrations didn’t fit the story. It was a lovely story but the illustrations did not do it justice. So now, I believe that illustrations complimenting your story are quite important. Hence why I chose who I did.
Where can readers find more of your work and stay up to date on your latest publications?
Because I am so brand new, I am still organising the platforms to promote myself as a writer. I have an Instagram account where I talk about books: adult, young adult and of course children’s. My pages are the title of my book: The Library of Imagination. My email is the same. I have very recently started a Facebook page also of the same name. I will create a website in time. It’s on my ‘to do’ list. I can be contacted on any of these platforms and would be happy to engage with people.
Find out more about Joanna's book The Library of Imagination on Instagram.
Eric Schumacher presents the harrowing flight of young Olaf Tryggvason from the vengeful sons of Erik Bloodaxe in spectacular close-up detail through the eyes of young Torgil. Caught up in the deceptive schemes of Erik Bloodaxe’s sons, the two boys follow Torgil’s father, Torolv Loosebeard, as they flee to safety along with Queen Astrid, Olaf’s mother, and her retinue.
"Eric Schumacher presents the harrowing flight of young Olaf Tryggvason from the vengeful sons of
"In this, he has captured two equally vivid sides of Viking life, the valorous battles fought with
Schumacher shines particularly bright while narrating battles at sea. These conflicts, fought in close quarters and on choppy waters on the far-famed Viking longships, were a defining feature of life in the East Sea in the time of Olaf Tryggvason. Through his retelling the reader feels as if they are aboard the ship in the thick of battle alongside Olaf and Torgil as they dodge deadly arrows and thrust their sharpened seaxes.
"Schumacher also infuses his deep knowledge of Viking history into the narrative with details such as
Any complaints I had were small. Queen Astrid, though stoic, seemed to me to lack both the tenacity and cunning required of Viking queens of the age, particularly in the first section of the novel. Second, though the narrative follows an epic and heart-breaking arc, I felt at times the need for a bit more comic relief between the heavy subjects of the book such as the abuse of slaves and the death of parents. That being said, neither of these issues prevented me from thoroughly enjoying the book.
I highly recommend Schumacher’s Forged by Iron for anyone who has an interest in Viking history, particularly if they enjoyed The Long Ships (Frans G. Bengtsson) or The Half-Drowned King (Linnea Hartsuyker). Forged by Iron can be found on Eric Schumacher’s website and will be available as of April 15th, 2020.
Rarely, if I really need to get fired up for something or I’m struggling to get something done late at night, I’ll put on some rock or metal. The Who’s Live at Leeds album is a real good one to light a fire under your ass. Favorite villain is definitely Roy Batty, because you understand the motivations behind his brutal actions, and even come to sympathize with him quite a bit. Yet he’s still scary as hell. Honorable mention goes to the Serpent Society from Marvel comics, just for being a bunch of awesome weirdos in snake costumes. I would rewrite the end of the Avengers to include the Serpent Society.
"Favorite villain is definitely Roy Batty, because you understand the motivations behind his brutal actions,
Many newer authors are intimidated by the idea of sharing their work. What gave you the confidence to put your creative projects out into the world and what advice do you have for those who might be nervous about sharing their art?
A little while back you were part of a project to turn one of your stories into a short film. What were some of the joys and challenges of adapting your story as described in prose to the big screen?
I discovered that I love screenplay format. That mode of storytelling really worked for me, just in terms of the way you have to describe things in a visual way, and you have to be concise and clear. I also got to travel to England for more than a week!
"I discovered that I love screenplay format. That mode of storytelling really worked for me,
Writing screenplays is a fairly competitive market, but sometimes the right tool can give a writer the edge on their competition. What platform would you suggest for writers who are interested in adapting their novel for film?
The industry standard is a program called Final Draft. I’ve never used it, it’s damn expensive. That said, screenplays have very specific formatting demands, so you need something. I discovered that Scrivener, a piece of software originally designed for organizing and writing novels, has a screenplay mode with a bunch of shortcuts that make screenplay formatting incredibly easy. And it’s got a very reasonable price. No one has ever looked at one of my Scrivener screenplays and said, “Why wasn’t this done in Final Draft?” I don’t think anyone would know the difference.
"I discovered that Scrivener, a piece of software originally designed for organizing and writing novels,
You are also a part of a band called Spacelord with several albums available on Bandcamp. Do you see writing music and writing SFF as separate creative endeavours or is there cross-over influence in your work?
They’re separate in the sense that there are very different sets of skills involved and totally separate paths to (and measurements of) success. But they’re very connected in that the things I’m interested in and influenced by affect both of them very deeply. My songwriting is heavily influenced by Tolkien and Robert E. Howard and Blade Runner, and my fiction is influenced by Dio and Led Zeppelin and The Sword. And of course every independent creative person is trying to build an audience for their work, and I think there’s a connection there as well. Someone who likes Spacelord is likely to be into my fiction too.
"My songwriting is heavily influenced by Tolkien and Robert E. Howard and Blade Runner,
You wrote an article for Gizmodo back in 2013 titled “What's the connection between heavy metal music, horror and fantasy?” One of my current ‘most listened to’ bands is Brothers of Metal who pull heavily on the Norse myths for lyrical content. Why do you think metal bands are drawn to mythological themes?
"Who better to explore epic mythology than bands whose singers sound like demons or gods, with drums like marching armies and guitars that evoke the mightiest heroes battling nameless beasts from the Underworld?"
You’ve got quite a range of experience when it comes to music and writing. What has been the focus for you recently and what can readers look forward to as your next big project?
On the fiction side, there’s a novel in progress, and some short stories. I seem to bounce back and forth between horror and epic fantasy. On the music side, Spacelord was literally days from starting the recording of our third album when the world ground to a halt. So right now we’re working on an acoustic EP of all new songs, with our guitarist and I sending sound files back and forth so we can get it done without ever actually being in the same place. We’re moving fast on that and I hope to release it by the end of April.
"On the fiction side, there’s a novel in progress, and some short stories.
Where can readers find more of your work and stay up to date on your latest publications?
Well, I’m pretty terrible at updating my website, so people should probably just follow me on Twitter.
You heard the man! Follow him on Twitter.