Welcome Danika! Thanks for taking some time to chat about writing. First, a few quick-fire questions: Snow or sand? Big dogs or small dogs? And which of your favorite foods has been difficult or impossible to get since COVID started?
Snow or Sand? Snow. Big dogs or small dogs? Big dogs. *whispers* …or small dogs. SORRY! I can’t choose on that one.
As for the food that I miss that I haven’t been able to get since lockdown, it would have to be movie theatre popcorn. (And movies, to be honest!)
"Big dogs or small dogs? Big dogs. *whispers* …or small dogs. SORRY! I can’t choose on that one."
Many writers are unsure of the next steps once they have completed their first novel. They might wonder whether to query agents, reach out to smaller publishers, or look into options for self-publishing. What was your journey of becoming an author like and is there any advice you have for writers who are just at the beginning of their careers?
My journey is pretty unique to me… which makes it completely NOT unique for a writer. That’s something I’d remind every young author. It doesn’t matter how much you plan it out, the journey to publication is going to be different for everyone. My second piece of advice is: finished is better than perfect.
As for my own journey, I started out with a book that I wanted to publish. I queried for months, and although I got plenty of good feedback from agents who looked at it, I didn’t have anyone willing to sign. I wrote more books… time passed. And when I felt that I had a manuscript that was even better than my first, I queried again. This time I had a number of agents reach out, and I ultimately signed with my first agent: Morty Mint of Mint Literary here in Canada.
"It doesn’t matter how much you plan it out, the journey to publication is going to be different for everyone. My second piece of advice is: finished is better than perfect."
We had a really good run together for about five years and Morty sold a number of my titles. One interesting fact is that while Morty was putting my thriller Edge of Wild (Stonehouse, 2016) out on sub, I sent a completely different novel, All the Feels (Macmillan, 2016), in the young adult genre, into an open submission… and it was selected for publication by Macmillan. Suddenly I had two books, in two completely different genres, and they were BOTH getting published the same year.
"One interesting fact is that while Morty was putting my thriller Edge of Wild (Stonehouse, 2016) out on sub, I sent a completely different novel, All the Feels (Macmillan, 2016), in the young adult genre, into an open submission… and it was selected for publication by Macmillan."
In the time since 2016, Morty has retired and I signed with my current agent, Moe Ferrara of BookEnds Literary. I have several more YA and thrillers out, and I’ve had many successes along the way. One thing I was particularly proud of was having Switchback selected as one of the “Best YA Books of 2019” by the Canadian Children's Book Centre.
See? Different paths… different journeys… all with the same end result: publication.
You have been able to find success with titles in both YA and Adult Mystery. A lot of ‘new’ writer advice suggests finding one genre and sticking with it. How were you able to navigate writing in two very different styles of books while maintaining your brand and identity as an author?
For me, the book tells me what genre it is, and I just follow the characters along, scribbling as fast as I can. Once I hit flow, I find it quite easy to stay in the right “voice”. My thrillers are suspenseful and highly descriptive. My YA are edited down to the bone, with dialogue taking a much bigger role. I don’t consciously think about these differences as I write. They just naturally occur.
As to “sticking to one genre” I happen to like exploring and writing in multiple genres—in fact, I just put a science fiction novel out on sub—so I’ve never really tried to limit myself. This works for me, but I could see it being a challenge for some authors. Again, I think whatever works… works.
My brand is a Canadian author who happens to write multiple genres. It does require a little bit of tone-shifting during promotions for books, since my thrillers are quite dark. Strangely though, I’ve got readers who follow me quite avidly and read books by me in both genres. That always feels good!
"For me, the book tells me what genre it is, and I just follow the characters along, scribbling as fast as I can. Once I hit flow, I find it quite easy to stay in the right 'voice'."
Perhaps the most grueling aspects of being a writer is just that: writing! As an author who has finished and published more than a half-dozen books, can you share a bit about what drives you? Are their routines that help you stay productive? Is it a natural part of you or did you have to train yourself into that level of productivity?
Writing gives me joy, so I find it quite easy to write and I’ll often lose track of time while writing. When I’m editing, however, I have to fight for every word. In those times, I set an alarm early and write before anyone else in my house is awake. I make myself complete a thousand words a day. It’s not actually that much, but it adds up quickly.
Yes, part of this is training, but it comes down to the fact that I look at writing as a job. You have to get the words down and the only way to do it is to sit down and WRITE. I make my deadlines—all of them—and I remind myself that you can always edit garbage, but not blank pages.
"You have to get the words down and the only way to do it is to sit down and WRITE. I make my deadlines—all of them—and I remind myself that you can always edit garbage, but not blank pages."
Many of your books, including All the Feels, Internet Famous and Ctrl Z, explore how our lives online often intersect, overlap, and collide with our lives in the physical world. As a writer, what interests or concerns you most about the newer technologies that are emerging today?
I am mostly quite technology-positive (if that’s even a word :), though I am quite careful about where I go online and what access I provide to strangers. Of course I have very serious concerns about things like the dark net and piracy and identity theft, but in a broader sense, my biggest concern is about how everyone interacts.
To explain, when people wear a mask as an anonymous poster, they behave more horribly than they ever would be in person. You see it all the time with people being harassed, doxed and threatened. THAT lack of empathy, to me, is one of the biggest dangers.
We have both spent time living near and exploring the Canadian Rockies. It seems that their impression has also made its way into our fiction! What other aspects of being a Canadian have influenced your work and what unique contributions do you think Canadian authors bring to the international writing scene?
Since Macmillan is based in the US, I have a list of “Canadianisms” that I carefully and studiously remove from my early drafts. Overall, however, I simply assume that my perspective as a Canadian is intrinsic to my work. Many of my novels take place in Waterton Park, AB, where I grew up, and the whole sense of place—the mountains and the forests—is a character unto itself. My particular perspective, as someone who loves and wants to preserve the untouched areas of Canada, certainly filters into what I write. In a bigger sense, I think that Canadian writers as a whole have brought the Canadian perspective to the world. I’m proud to be part of that tradition.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what your next major project will be? Any hints or perhaps a little snippet to get readers excited?
Sure! I’m currently writing a ghost story. It has no title (as of yet), and the ghost rarely listens to my direction, but I’m having a blast writing him. Here’s a snippet:
Too late, the dial tone buzzed in his ear, and he swore, setting the handset back into the cradle. There was no message; Grant didn’t have a machine for the house line. Whoever it was would have to call back. He hoped it was Caleb. The two of them needed to talk. There were chores to be done, and one person alone couldn’t do them. Grant winced. As angry as he was, he was going to have to come halfway on this, or there’d be no way for the farm to make it to spring. There was no money for a hired farmhand. It was him and Caleb working together or nothing. No use worrying about it. Just need to--
A faint creaking noise, like someone had opened a bedroom door on the second floor, interrupted his thoughts and Grant’s eyes widened. The house was empty… wasn’t it?
Wind howled around the eaves in reply, while upstairs whatever it was had gone silent. The kitchen where Grant stood was cloaked in darkness, the only light sifting through the windows from the porchlight outside the window. Everything in the room shone blue and purple, black shadows stretching ominously into corners and up walls. An icy finger ran the length of Grant’s spine.
“Just the wind,” he muttered uneasily, his voice loud in the quiet room. “Nothing to worry ab—”
Another sound, like a scuffling footfall, interrupted. Grant’s chin bobbed and he looked up. A single floor divided him from Logan’s empty bedroom. It was the same room the boy had occupied from a week after his birth until the previous summer (and the awful day that so often visited Grant’s nightmares.) The bed and dresser, pictures and coverlet were the same as they’d been many months before, his absence preserved like a leaf between two pages of a book.
Grant swallowed hard. I’m tired tonight. Done too much work. Ain’t slept in days.
Another footfall echoed.
Grant stumbled backwards, his legs banging against the cupboard in his haste. That sound had come from Logan’s room. No question. Between him and whatever had made the sound was a thin layer of plaster, wooden joists, floorboards, then… what?
Shaking, Grant took a single step away from the window. The whole house was dark, but it no longer felt empty. Wind rose again and something creaked in the upper floor.
“Caleb,” he called tremulously, “is that you up there?”
There was no answer.
The hair rose on his arms as Grant forced himself into the darkness. The faint light from the window didn’t fill this part of the house and the kitchen light switch seemed impossibly far away. Heart pounding, he forced his limbs to comply. The sound had come from his late son’s room. He was almost entirely certain of that, but that could mean anything. Couldn’t it? He reached the far wall and flicked on the light. A warm golden glow filled the kitchen and he let out a slow breath. It felt normal again. Fine even. Dirty dishes from the night before filled the sink, empty beer bottles lining the counter.
Grant grimaced. Nothing at all. Freaking myself out over nothi--
A crisp footfall snapped directly overhead. Grant’s heart jumped to his throat, his chest heaving with barely constrained panic. What if there’s a prowler in the house? his mind demanded, but that made no sense. Unless… unless… The floor above his head creaked again—heel, toe, heel toe—and Grant’s stomach dropped. What if it’s Logan’s ghost? his mind whispered. What if he’s here… NOW?
Last, but not least, where can readers find your books and keep up to date on your latest publications?
My young adult titles are available almost everywhere books are sold. My thrillers are for the more discerning, so they’re available in some big box stores, but much more often in smaller indie bookstores. ALL of them can be found online! And if you’re ordering online, I’d encourage you to consider an independent bookstore rather than a massive chain. Indies really are the lifeblood of publishing.
Details and information about upcoming releases is available on my website and on ALL of my social media accounts!
Thanks for interviewing me, Josh! It was great to chat.
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!
Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.