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.
Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.